From Vladimir, Suzdal is an easy venture north, only about 35 kms, and it's indeed as picture-book pretty as it is potrayed in all the guide books. We spent a couple of hours here, enough time only to stroll around the blue-domed monastary and take in some requisite touristy sights and capture on camera plenty of photo friendly carved wooden window frames.
Our overnight train to Eketarinburg left at 19.50, and we managed to find the right platform at 19.45, naturally. 30 minutes previous to that, we realised that we had booked platskarny tickets all the way, and although we had wanted to try this on our journey we had not anticipated it so soon, and indeed a baptism of fire it was.
Third class on a Russian sleeper train can be a bit of a shock to the uninitiated. Think early nineties budget youth hostel in Poland and you're on the right track. At least 5o to 60 bunks are lined up along the walls of the train, it's uncomfortably hot, the scent of vodka hangs in the air, men walk around semi-naked and old ladies scold for, well, anything us crazy foreigners do. I found if I turned my head toward the wall while lying in my unbelievably hot coffin-like space that it became quite a bit more comfortable. In retrospect of course it does not seem so bad and even reading this I cringe at my over-reaction, but at the time it did worry me when it was difficult to shake off the drunken, grinning bloke following us around in the darkness, grunting in my ear, as the train barrelled through the Urals in the middle of the night.
In the morning and the clear light of day, things seemed a whole lot better and I even ventured to the bathroom leaving my bag unattended. The sink in the WC is a good place to hold onto while squatting over the less than perfect, albeit western style toilet. To be true, these toilet bowls are gorgeous compared to some I had the oppurtunity to experience in cities - Moscow's main train stations boast probably the absolute worst toilets I've even visited in my life.
We filled up our instant coffees at the samovar and started chatting with our cell-mates, through German.
As the trees got progressively taller, and the sky greyer, we exchanged brief backrounds of ourselves with Olga, a doctor from Novosibrsk, and Yuri, a train conductor with Russian Railways. Sitting opposite us was an older man travelling with his grandson who not hear of us skipping the geographical wonders outside of Perm. The grandson was delighted to practice his English greetings on the first native English speakers he had ever met. Unfortuately we never did make the attractions outside of Perm, a definate shame to not take up a local's advice.