Published: July 21st 2012July 17th 2012
The guy who drove us to the station was the same one who picked us up when we arrived from St Petersburg, still as grumpy as before so it wasn't down to the early start as I'd assumed. Still, although he didn't speak a word of English he was able to get the message across about which train we should catch, which platform it would leave from and what time we could board - most of which was printed on the tickets or I had found online while I should have have been working (hello Andy!).
Boarding was a long walk down the train to find our wagon and show our tickets and passports to the conductor (or Provodnista in Russian - see I'm learning!). Our compartment was more basic than our Cologne -> Moscow sleeper but pretty much identical to our short overnight St Petersburg -> Moscow sleeper so we knew where everything was and where to store luggage. The only difference is that the aircon was broken in our carriage so we're having to suffer the heat both during the day but especially at night. With all of the carriage windows open it is ok while the train
is in motion but it heats up during the sometimes long stops. It's not unbearable though and is good practice for China and Japan that will be very warm!
I'm writing this on Tuesday 17th July having just passed through Omsk in Siberia, the time is BST+6 so we're in our 5th timezone in 11 days. The trains all run to Moscow time so no one is really sure what time it is and everyone eats their meals at a different times. I'm pretty sure I'm going to end up jetlagged without going near a plane when we arrive in Irkutsk (Moscow time: 4:10am Local time: 09:10am).
The first day we spent having very basic one word conservations with our cabin mates, a woman who only stayed on for a few hours and an old bloke called Valerie (I don't know the Russian for "that's a girl's name" but I don't think I would have said it even if I did...). We also bumped into a fellow English speaker Barry from Ireland and we headed to the restaurant car for dinner and a quick beer. The restaurant car is supposed to be the social centre of the train
full of other travellers but it was pretty dead when we got there. Each restaurant car is a privat company and not run by Russian Railways so they vary in quality and price. This one seems to be ok quality food but it's a little pricey (dinner and a beer comes to about £12 each which is quite steep by Siberian prices). Barry, John and myself did end speaking (and gesturing a lot) to some locals, out came more beer and eventually vodka. This carried out until they kicked us out of the restaurant car at some time (not sure when, time zones you see...) and we stumbled to bed.
The next morning we drank far more of our bottled water than we should have (we did only have 4 bottles) and spend the morning feeling a little sorry for ourselves and just looking out of the window. Valerie left and for 6 hours John and I had the cabin to ourselves. Barry got off at Ekateringburg so we didn't see him again, our we got one new cabin mate Sergey (I've met a Sergey in Russia - think this trip is a success already. Just need to find
a Natasha now). Sergey speaks about as much English as I do Russian which is actually some so we've had some small conversations. He's 46, from Ekateringburg with a girlfriend with which he's had a son with and works as an electrical engineering professor. We shared our shortbread with him, and ended up getting salami and bread in return. I had brought a lovely Dalwhinnie with me so that got opened, he says he prefers it more than vodka but judging by his face I'm not sure. Still, it's heavy so I want rid of it. Not quite as big of a hangover this morning.
So, what do we do on a train journey that takes 5 days? Time is passing suprisingly quickly. Looking out of the window is very interesting, listening to music, reading and trying to speak to Sergey. The train stops every 6 hours or so at a stationfor at least 30 minutes giving us chance to buy more water and snacks as well as having a bit of a walk around. Also at these stops there are often women selling fresh food, beer and snacks. This is the main way the Russian stock up on
food as the restaurant car is out of their price range. We've bought the odd ice cream and water but I've not yet gone for any Russian gherkins/pickles that seem to be everywhere. Aside from dinner in the restaurant car for dinner we're mostly eating the local pot noodles and the Russian pot potatoes (these are very tasty). At the end of the carriage is the "samovar" which is a large boiler so there's always freshly boiled water available, useful for the pot noodles and making tea and coffee (without milk though, boo).
Going back to reading, this a bit of a sore point at the moment, something (I think the very laptop I'm writing this on) has damaged my Kindle screen so it's useless and I've only brought one paper book. Oops... Hopefully the friends we're meeting in Beijing can bring me a new one but for the next week and a half I'll have to read my book sparingly and steal John's
when he's not looking!
Mostly I've enjoyed seeing the architecture change slowly, as well as the faces of the people. We officially entered Asia last night, marked by a small Oberlisk I managed to
snap a photo of. We'll see how the rest of the journey goes!
Hmmm day three ended up with us drunk again, we met met a fellow Brit from London called Ben and thought the restaurant car would be a good place to socialise. Sergey came along and ended up ordering us pickled herring and a 0.5l bottle of vodka. Although this was called Finla and had "Country of Finland" embossed on the bottled Serget assures us it's actually from Khasakstan, from the taste I believe him. I did wonder about this until John pointed out it's no different from Fosters prentending to be from Australia. It did the required job, and we also managed to polish off 4 cans of Baltika 3 each and also the rest of my whisky - this defintely worked as Ben admitted to forgetting half of the evening including a 45 minute stop at the 3rd largest city in Russia Novosibirsk.Listvyanka
Day four was spent recovering (it seems Sergey is a firm believer in hair of the dog arriving back in the cabin with two cans of beer at 7am) as we realised we have crossed 3 time zones and it's
These exist all along the route - but they are all museum pieces. I've not seen a working engine - the entire line is electrified
now Moscow Time + 5 hours. We arrive at 9:17 local time so we better sort our body clocks out so we're not falling asleep into our breakfast...
If you're reading this then we've successfully arrived in Irkutsk and I've found WiFi!
There are more photos below