Published: September 22nd 2006September 12th 2006
What do you do with five and a half days (six nights) on a train? The answer is - absolutely nothing. The days fly by in a greasy, grubby, smelly haze. I tried reading a book or two, but I just couldn't stay focused on it. I felt like I had too much in my schedule to be bothered with reading. We tried playing chess or backgammon, but these are desperate measures that neither of us felt were necessary.
We did have a Trivial Pursuits night with a few others but to be honest, we were all glad when the train stopped halfway through our game and we were allowed just enough time to sprint to the station shop and procure a few cans of Extra strength Russian lager. (It wasn't the company that caused this need for a break, it was the frustratingly strange questions - the answer to which always seemed to be "Howard's Way"?!)
With five and a half days of free time I managed to do absolutely nothing - no writing, reading, learning a language (despite purchasing a Japanese Dictionary, a Chinese Phrasebook and a Korean Phrasebook). I didn't teach myself to play a musical
Carriage No. 6
Mockba to Pekin baby!
instrument, reseach any of the countries we're going to visit or learn self hypnosis, meditation techniques or any form of alternative medicine.
In fact, in those five and a half washless days, the sum total of my activity would best be measured by the amount of dirt that fell off my body during my hour and a half shower on reaching our hostel in Beijing.
To begin with I thought that I could make it the entire length of the trip without changing my clothes (and I'm taking ANY of my clothes), however, out of pure sympathy for my cabin mates, I felt it the decent thing to at least find a fresh pair of socks.
What I never allowed for was the way that dirt, and in particular dust, is allowed to circulate around the cabin by windows that might as well just be open for the size of the gaps round the edges. This presented particular (respiratory) problems during a dust storm in the Gobi Desert. With the window as tightly closed as we could manage and the cabin door locked shut we still seemed to end up with most of the desert across our
Our Home & Our Host
Carriage number 6 and Mr Lee (famous for his 69% proof Chinese Vodka)
When I lifted my head off my pillow in the morning, where my head had been was a shade or two lighter than the rest of the pillow which had several fine layers of dust over it. A quick wipe of the face with some Moist Toilet roll showed that we too had turned a shade or two darker overnight.
And on the subject of moist toilet roll... that stuff is a strange revelation for me. I was not aware of its existence until Vik bought some in Poland "incase we need it on the train". And boy did we need it. Tip No. 1 for anyone planning a Trans-Siberian trip - for God's sake take some toilet roll - take lots of the stuff. The trains don't keep much of a supply and it runs out fast making those with access to sheets of bottom velvet very powerful people. The single most tradeable commodity on the train is bogroll. It is gold. It will make you a king. Anyway - so Vik had bought this packet of Moist toilet roll. That is some weird stuff. My buttocks were both disgusted and thrilled by the feeling -
Shop Til You Drop
Everyone out for 5 minutes of leg stretching and haggling with local old ladies for a Pot Noodle.
but had it not been for this mysterious, strange, hideous (I love you - I hate you) stuff, we would have been forced into using the napkins we purchased as tissues at one of the stations. They were rough. I think they may have even registered on the sandpaper grading scale at B&Q. Tip 2: don't even think that you'll be able to buy loo roll at one of the many stops - none of the entrepreunerial babushkas or Mongols has discovered the value of toiletries yet - oh, and robbing the public loos at the stations of their precious paper bounty is a non-starter as the locals got there first.
The second reason you should take along a healthy supply of three-ply extra soft "Love Your Bum" stuff is because if you take it, it will be the only healthy thing you have. Nearly everyone on our train got ill. We're talking colds, sore throats, coughs and in my own case - a close to death, all hope lost fever. Packed into a (sometimes) roasting carriage like pigs on their way to market, disease and pestilence (flu) spreads like soft butter on a warm crumpet. As you can
Cabin Number 2: Home
Home for Me, Vik and a very nice Dutch couple called Kalle and Tettje.
probably imagine, this only exasperates the dire need for something into which one can empty ones nostrils/lungs. With no loo roll, you're left with two choices - either an item of clothing or two large corks inserted firmly into either nostril. Thankfully - Vik had her emergency measure so we had... moist toilet roll. If my buttocks were unsure by the sensation; my nose was repulsed. Its like using a tissue that has already been used until it's so wet through that it feels so wrong to use and yet... well, I only have two T-shirts with me and I'm not going to use my trousers... It was after a few blows into this Devils loo roll that we discovered the joys of B&Q Napkins at one of the stations and so both our buttocks and nostrils found blessed relief of sorts.
So Tip 3 for the Trans-Siberian railway is take some cold & flu relief remedies - Lemsips, throat lozenges... really go to town on the drugs. As I lay on my death bed on days 3 and 4, I looked into the depths of the Gobi and saw a mirage... it was a shimmering wonderful vision that
The spirit of International Cooperation is never stronger than when a clean window is required. A Norwegian lifts up a Japanese on his shoulders.
filled my bloodshot, runny eyes... it wavered before me, beckoning me in like the Siren it was. A wondrous vision of Boots the Chemist on Fort William High Street. Shelves stacked to overflowing with wonderful, wonderful drugs... women in white... maybe angels, but with name badges that say things like "Tracey - Pharmacist".
But I beat it folks... I stayed strong. I raged against the dying of the light. I was not going to travel 7000 miles only to have my life slip away from me through my nostrils. Plenty of hot water from the boiler - extra helpings of German Cup-a-Soup and passing the worst of it on to my wife did the trick. I was saved.
There are more photos below