Let me tell you a bit about the Pectopah.
Firstly you have to understand that time stays still on the railways. Wherever you are on the system, on a train or within a sstation it is Moscow time, 2 hours ahead of the UK. The timetable is Moscow time. Times, by the way, are amazingly punctual with arrival and departure and stopover times accurate to the minute even thousands of miles along the track. Time only passes outside in the real world. Put simply, every 24 hours traveled equates to putting the clock on 1 hour. That is outside the train. So 4 days out of Moscow, train time is 0830, outside time is 1330, UK time is 0630. Got it?
So, the restaurant car its found a few carriages up. Images of a comfortable bar area with tableclothed tables set out with napkins and place settings and glasses are immediately dashed. A stulag dining room comes to mind with Formica tables and functional benches aligned on each side and lacey maroon curtains around the windows. If not a stulag then a chapel at a crematorium.
The place is empty except for two females counting till receipts. Characters out of Dickins come to mind. They look up. A frown reinforces the tight lipped scowl that greets me. One is young, skinny, pale & a bit spotty. In her black uniform and regulation tights, she seems to be looking longingly at my neck. The other is a large lady wearing a floral nightie and displaying huge trunk legs. She looks as if she should be a friendly, bubbly character. She is not. The faces stare. Neither moves. ‘Food’ I mime. Nothing. I mime again and go and sit down. The skinny one sighs, gets up, comes over. ‘Beer, beer, beer’ she says. No food.
This is the beginning of the search for the cheese omelette. The following lunchtime, at 1145 I return. This time the skinny one brings up a menu. Quite extensive sounding good. The menu is in two sections: breakfast 1000 to 1200, lunch 1200 to 1400. The assumption is Moscow time. We’d been warned off anything with mayonnaise by the American missionary from Milwaukee. So the ‘eggs with cheese’ sounded a good choice. No. Forceful shaking of hand. No, that it’s on breakfast menu and that’s over. Anyway, no eggs. Ok. So the choice of a cheese sandwich from the lunch menu seems obvious. It is completely under-whelming, consisting of half a slice of the smallest brown bread covered with two thick slices of cheese. Goodness knows where the other half slice went to but it didn’t go on top. I order a second.
Thinking I have grasped the concept of the menu, I return the following day at 1900 for dinner. The two are still counting till receipts. At the stopover two crates of eggs are seen to disappear into the kitchen. Yes, omelettes must be on. No, no, no. NIET. Eggs and cheese are on breakfast menu. Loudly she flicks the pages and points, exasperated, to items from the lunch menu. my friends opt for salmon with lemon (3 minute slices on a saucer). I go for meat soup (a reasonable soup of onions and potato with 4 hunks of gristle; suitable fayre in a gulag).
I return the following morning to ascertain when the breakfast menu is available. I get a smile from the skinny one. Maybe she too is fed up with gristle and its holding herself back from diving into my jugular. With the help of drawings I ascertain that breakfast time is Moscow time plus 5 hours. The Pectopah is the only place on the whole Russian railway system which does not keep to Moscow time. Conspiracy theorists might argue that the staff just add hours so passengers always miss breakfast and they never have to cook a cheese omelet.
These guys have nothing to do with omelets. They were on the platform the stopovers. The style police might be hauling them up.