After Skype with my family, including Rachel for her 23rd birthday, I got the fast train from St Petersburg at 13:30 on Monday 30 June 2014, arriving in Moscow at 18:00.
Had 6 hours to kill in Moscow before my Trans-Siberian train, so met up with Evgeny, who I’d CouchSurfed with in Moscow the week before. We went for a long walk, through parts of Moscow I’d not have seen otherwise. We then got some food from the supermarket and had dinner in a lovely park next to a lake. It was very nice, and relaxing.
At about 23:00, I got back to the station my train was leaving from, collected my bag from the luggage storage I’d left it in and used the free wifi one last time. At 23:45 the display board said my train was leaving from platform 1, so I headed that direction. A quick check of my ticket by the carriage attendant, and it was about my 4 day train to Irkutsk. This train is going further than that, towards Vladivostok I think but not actually all the way.
If I’d waited until the next day, I could have got the Moscow to Beijing via Mongolia train but that didn’t occur to me at the time. Sure, that’s still the route I’m going however that’s not the route the people on board this particular train are following. It seems to be just locals on board, as the train isn’t going on the most popular tourist route. The other train would be locals and tourists as it would go to local places but also the tourist hotspots of Mongolia and China. The guys I met on the train Warsaw to Moscow will be on that one too, so I’d have friends straight away.
It’s cool in some aspects, as it’s more of a “real” experience… But the only English I’ve heard so far is from the 8 year old boy in my compartment who is learning English. Some conversation and fun would be nice to pass the time. Oh well, it’s early yet as we’ve only been on board 10 hours and we slept nearly all of that. Maybe I’ll meet some interesting people later on!
I’m sharing a compartment with an 8 year old boy, as I said… And his grandad. Also some other guy who has totally kept to himself. They seem nice enough, and it’s not some crazy party compartment, so I should be able to sleep whenever I like.
I’ve got the bottom bunk, which is great – not only do I not need to climb in and out of bed, but also the bed lifts up to the bag storage place underneath. This means that if I put my bag in there at night, nobody can get to it without me getting out of bed! 🙂
The compartment is pretty cool actually, as the 4 beds all have enough space that you can sit up comfortably without hunching over. Both the other night trains I’ve been on (Prague to Krakow and Warsaw to Moscow) had three beds on top of each other so to have a seat, the middle one had to fold down. In this compartment you can leave them as beds, but still use as seats. It’s great! Ah, the small things lol
It means I can lie down during the day if I want, as the guy in the bunk above me can also sit or lie down on his bunk.
The beds also have a thin mattress that you roll over the seat to sleep on, which is great as the last train was so firm I couldn’t get much sleep. Although this still wasn’t the most comfortable place to sleep, it wasn’t too bad. I’m sure I’ll get used to it by night 4!!
This morning when I woke, I made some coffee (Mmm coffee) with the boiling water from the end of the carriage, and the awesome coffee sachets I brought with me. After my coffee, I went to the restaurant car as I’d read they do eggs and ham for breakfast… Um, no… Not by the look of it! I was handed a menu by a lady who doesn’t speak a word of English, and it was all lunch type foods. I settled on a cheese sandwich, and OMG it was not the best thing I’ve ever eaten haha welcome to the Trans-Siberian!
Luckily I got plenty of coffee sachets, so washed it down with another coffee. I brought some instant noodles and cuppa soups with me, so I can have one of them later too. Once we get into more rural areas, there will be people selling food on the platforms, so I’ll investigate that.
For now, I’m going to look out the window for a while and consult my Trans-Siberian handbook to see where I am and what there is to see… Then return to my novel.
If there was one thing I could change about the physical train, it would be to make the window in the compartment open for fresh air. Yesterday, it got amazingly hot and I couldn’t get air circulation, last night I got a new roommate (kid and grandad left) and OMG he smells awful, and still I can’t get fresh air. Sure, the windows in the corridor are open but not a lot of that breeze makes it into the room. I spend a lot of my time standing in the corridor, looking out the window with my face in the fresh air.
It would also be nice to have some good conversation, but nobody appears to speak English and everyone is keeping to themselves. Where is this social aspect I’ve read so much about?
As I said before, I think I’m on the wrong train… If I could go back, I would book the train Moscow to Beijing via Mongolia, but still get off at Irkutsk. Perhaps next time? Next time I’d probably bring a friend too, it would have to be somebody who is happy to sit and read for hours (or days!) at a time, but also chat and keep each other occupied.
Aah, it’s all part of the experience and adventure! I’m not complaining, and do not regret coming (yet! I’m not halfway though lol) it’s definitely the biggest adventure and self discovery experience of my life so far.
I’ve also not seen many people at stations selling stuff, but then we haven’t got to Siberia yet, I assume this will happen more as we get into the rural Siberian areas.
For dinner, I had possibly the weirdest meal ever! I went to the restaurant car, which is lovely and cool… Perhaps I’ll spend a fair bit of this afternoon in there with beer and air con. Anyway, the food… It was egg with crab. I’m not sure what I expected when I ordered it, perhaps a seafood omelette? But no, it was literally 2 full eggs in a dish with a few bits of crab meat. It must have been baked in that dish, but seriously just looked like two fried eggs and some crab meat. I actually quite enjoyed it, but it’s not something I’d eat regularly.
This morning I didn’t bother going to the restaurant car for breakfast. I had some of my 2 min noodles and the instant coffee sachets I brought with me. Much nicer than the awful cheese sandwich they gave me yesterday.
Over night we passed through the Urals – the mountains separating European Russia from Asian Russia. There is actually a sign you can see showing the border of Europe and Asia, but sadly I slept as we past it late at night. Perhaps another reason to be on a different train – to be awake at the right times and see cool stuff!
When I woke up, we were stopped at a city called Yekaterinburg, which marks 1816km since we left Moscow. From what I can gather, it’s the first city in Asian Russia. We stopped here for nearly an hour, perfect time to run off the train and see if there are shops or anything… But as I said, I only woke up when we were stopped here and in my sleepy haze didn’t think of that. In about 6 hours we stop at Tyumen (2144km from Moscow) for 30 min, so I’ll see what supplies I can collect there.
The time zones are starting to confuse me too… The trains in Russia all run on Moscow time, but we’ve crossed 2 time zones since Moscow. My phone automatically updates the time, so says 12:45, but it’s also 10:45… I’ve got both times on my phone, in fact I have a bunch of times on my phone! The restaurant car says it’s open 09:00 – 23:00, but I’m not sure whether that’s Moscow or local time! Probably whatever the staff feel like at the time.
I just had my first Siberian experience of buying food from a lady on a platform of a station. It was not nearly the crazy experience in Belarus, but it still made me happy – mainly because I got some real food! It was chicken with potato and veg. It was 150 Rubles (£2.60 / $4.70) and although not the best meal I’ve ever had, it was the best meal I’ve had in the last 40 hours while aboard this train.
I’m now sitting in the restaurant car having a beer (about £2 for 500ml), in the refreshing air conditioning. My room stinks of my room mate, who smells like those homeless people you smell before you see. And it’s not because he’s been on this train for 2 days without a shower, as he only got on last night, and smelt like this to start with. And as I said earlier, there isn’t very good ventilation in the compartments.
While I was sitting in the restaurant car, a middle aged Russian man invited me to join him at his table. I explained I only speak English, but he insisted. It was quite an amusing conversation… From what I can gather, he had not really used English since he learnt it in school, and I’m the first Australian he’s ever met. He’s a truck driver, and I think he was trying to say he’s getting the train to somewhere and driving a truck back. We spent a lot of time laughing as we had no idea what was going on. We then went for a smoke between the carriages (which I read you’re allowed to do) but before we got halfway through the cigarette, a grumpy carriage attendant told us off… In Russian of course but I got the idea! Turns out they recently changed the rules and you’re no longer allowed to do this.
Anyway, the conversation in very broken English continued, and he finished his bottle of vodka in the meantime. The conversation had lots of handshaking, which started to linger into awkwardly long hand holding. He was obviously trying to be friendly, but getting quite drunk. He insisted that I not be scared of Russia, that lots of people are but I should tell them Russia is friendly and nobody should be scared of Russia. He then ordered another bottle of vodka, so I decided it was time I retreat to my compartment!
It was good to meet a local on the train and have some sort of broken conversation and a good laugh. It took a lot of effort though! I’m now back in my (still smelly) compartment, drinking some of the vodka I brought with me. I’m quite happy to note that the brand of vodka I bought is the same the guy was drinking while we chatted. Woo! Real Russian vodka! It says “Siberian vodka” on the neck, in English… Which made me wonder whether it was dodgy tourist vodka. I’m gonna tell myself it’s the real stuff.
It’s now 1:30pm Moscow time, 4:30pm local time and we’re stopped at Tayga station. It’s 3570km since Moscow, and by my count, 27 hours until I reach Irkutsk.
I still have my smelly friend in my compartment, though perhaps he had a bit of a wash with the sink in the toilet, as he doesn’t seem to smell so bad now. Perhaps I’m just getting used to it. I’ve been making up stories in my head about him…
Perhaps he’s been in prison in Western Russia and has been released, so is heading home to the East. I get this idea from his smell, the fact he doesn’t seem to have any luggage, and his rough, sausage like fingers (like he’s done years of manual labour). He seems like a nice guy though, he doesn’t speak English at all, but he seems to get along well with the carriage attendants and also had what seemed like a friendly conversation with our new room mates (compartment mates?)
The new people joined our compartment this morning, they appear to be a mother and son. They have a very Asian appearance, but speak Russian… So I guess they’re from Eastern Russia, and I assume they’ve got a more Asian appearance there. It is close to Mongolia, China and Japan after all. They’re going to Irkutsk, the same as me but I’m not sure whether that’s where they’re from or if they’re going for a visit.
The mother is super friendly and keeps trying to chat with me, but speaks hardly a few words of English. The son, who I’m guessing is late teens or early twenties, has helped by translating a bit. He seems to find it amusing but also a nuisance, preferring to listen to music and play video games rather than converse with anyone. Shame! I may yet forget how to speak!
While they were boarding, making up their beds etc, I was wandering the platform stretching my legs and seeing what sort of interesting things I could buy to vary my diet. I got a sandwich with veg, sausage and sauce. What exactly was in the sausage and sauce, I still do not know – even after eating it! I also was a good boy, and got myself a banana… It was half squashed and bruised, but I could still eat the other half. I figure I can reward myself with a chocolate bar from the carriage attendant later. My other purchase was two boiled eggs. Yum! I love a good fry for breakfast and having 2 minute noodles for breakfast the last few days, although not bad, really doesn’t hit the spot!
Our lovely carriage attendant just came in for our daily compartment clean. She takes the rug and shakes it out, mops the floor and replaces the rug. She’s a middle aged, plump, friendly lady who doesn’t speak much English, but just enough to explain to me some simple things like how long we’ll be at a stop. There is another lady who relieves her when it’s time for her to sleep, and that one I don’t like so much. She’s younger, blonde and skinny and always looks suicidal. I mean, she does the job ok… But it’s just not the same!
Well, it’s clearly been a hard day, so I think I’ll have a siesta! I think we have a stop in about an hour and a half for 20 mins, so will siesta now so I’m hopefully awake to see what that stop has to offer.
A word of warning, if you ever do this trip – always double check how long the stop is for, keep the train in sight so you can see people getting back on board, and always take your valuables, money and passport with you. Obviously, you don’t want to leave them unattended, but also if the worst happens and you get left behind, you’ll need these things!
After my nap, I ventured out on the platform for our 20 min stop at Mariinsk. I had a smoke as I wandered up and down the platform watching all the people. Ladies were selling food, but what I could not be sure, some was clearly dried fish, sausage and mash, eggs… Other stuff – no clue! After a while, I bought a bread roll looking thing knowing it would be filled with something, but god knows what. At the end of the day, it was only 60 Rubles (£1/$1.80) so if I hated it, all good! It was actually very nice… Fried bread with a stuffing of onion and minced meat, or mushrooms, or something. Point is, I quite enjoyed it!
The Russian Asian woman continues to try desperately to communicate with me, with limited success. Her son finds it all highly amusing, and all he does is laugh at us. He only translates when she specifically tells him to. It’s all good fun, and is keeping us entertained.
I’m now sitting in the bar (ok, it’s the restaurant car but I’ve come to think of it as the bar). Partly because the people selling stuff at the stations don’t appear to sell alcohol (wtf?), and partly just for a change of scenery.
I’ve finished my first book of the trip, ‘The Body Thief’ by Anne Rice, the fourth book in The Vampire Chronicles. I’ve just started the fifth book in the series ‘Memnoch the Devil’ but I keep getting distracted by the view out the window, and the realisation of where I am and what I’m doing!
I’m in Central Siberia on the Trans-Siberian Railway! Argh!!
This is so cool.
I totally admit that I go through stages of going crazy with boredom, thinking what the hell have I got myself into. But in all honesty, it doesn’t last long… The sense of wonder comes back, the changing views, the different people, the buildings – small wooden houses that look as if they’ll fall down at any moment. This is their life, it’s a real place, and it’s beautiful.
I’ve got about 24 hours left until I reach Irkutsk, where I’ll stop for 3 nights, and I think that will be a good time to stop, as I may just start going mad. There is only so much scenery, good books and siestas you can deal with in a week stuck in a tiny room with random people who you can hardly communicate with.
All in all, this has so far been an amazing experience of self discovery as well as world discovery. Ever want to get totally away from everyone and everything and spend some time thinking and relaxing for a few days or a week? I recommend the Trans-Siberian.
Day 169 (I mean 5)
It’s 10am Moscow time! I’ve just had my lunch of another random bread roll thing, with god knows what in it, and washed it down with a cuppa soup. Breakfast at 10am? Well, it’s 3pm local time, and only 4pm in Sydney!
Today marks exactly 2 years since I arrived in the UK, from Australia and have been dealing with the 9 to 11 hour (depending on time of year) time difference with my family. As of today though, it’s only 1 hour difference, how strange! I’m not even jet lagged, as I’ve got used to the time difference 1 hour per day as we’ve travelled across Russia.
I’m starting to lose interest in the train now, giving in to the rising cabin fever… I’m not sure whether it’s because I’ve been on the train so long, or because I know I’ll be off it soon. By soon, there is still over 6 hours to go… And I think that’s my problem, my brain is trying to tell me it’s nearly over, and getting restless – but there is still a whole day to go.
The idea of being off the train is actually kinda weird. I’ve been on this train longer than anywhere else I’ve been in the past month, apart from Saint Petersburg which was also 4 nights. When we arrive in Irkutsk, I’ll check in and have a shower! OMG I can’t wait for a shower. Then, I really hope there is a good pizza place open. Mmm pizza.
Now, I could stare out the window, read some book, or have my 2nd nap of the day… Hmm perhaps nap!
These photos are just a couple I took on my phone, as I’ve not been able to upload the photos from my camera yet. Keep an eye on my Flickr account to see all the pics uploaded over the next few days.