“We ride this train a lot to see each other, and we often ride together,” he says to me, peering earnestly across the table the three of us share—a table laden with caviar and empty bottles of vodka. The Ural Mountains that separate Europe and Asia are somewhere out there in the inky blackness beyond our window.

I’ve happened into a conversation, and a meal, with a handsome young couple—Liza, a 21-year-old blond-from-a-bottle beauty from Moscow, and Kazbek, a strapping 31-year-old man from the north Caucasus who makes his home in Yekaterinburg. We’re in the dining car on the Number Nine train on the Trans-Siberian line, which runs between Irkutsk, the capital of eastern Siberia, and Moscow. The families that had taken their dinner here earlier in the evening have long since left and safely ensconced themselves in the train’s little cubbyhole cabins, and the car’s grey tables and cheap polyester tablecloths host only us and a table of four tough-looking characters sporting greasy mullets and designer track suits. This is the last night of three that I’ve spent on this train, which I boarded way back in Irkutsk, a city that (residents claim) is known as the “Paris of Siberia”… [read more at]