The life of the train

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June 6th 2017
Published: March 10th 2019
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R: So by now it was Tuesday and we had one more day across Siberia before our first stop in Irkutsk. We had a lie in in the morning, mainly because the cabin was now so hot that it was difficult to move! The scenery had changed by now and there were more scattered villages, small holdings and animals roaming around. It certainly felt more rural.

Between us, we had tonnes of information about the route. Richard had brought the Trans-Siberian Handbook, which has incredibly detailed information about the things you would pass. There are little white markers along the track that show your distance from Moscow which help you work out what you are passing. (We were now 4098 km from Moscow). This was quite entertaining, especially when there was nothing else to look at, and often had quite colourful descriptions and histories for small mining towns of little outward interest. I had opted for the Lonely Planet which was a bit more "fluffy", and was more helpful at our various stops, but between them they gave us a good narrative of what we were passing.

We said goodbye to Petr at Krasnoyarsk, where he was giving a presentation and we had the compartment to ourselves again. We had started to run low on drinking water so we were pleased to stop at Krasnoyarsk for long enough to collect some new supplies on the platform. There is hot water available of course from the Samovar, which was boiled.... but it did have a sort of rusty quality to it, so it was nice to get some clear water. For lunch, we ate all our remaining snacks from our bags. We didn't want to carry these past the train and some of the bread products were starting to become a bit... stale.

Our next stop was a long way further (4377km) at Ilanskaya. A dull little town, but there was a pretty sunset. This was a shame as both guide books had told us the platform staff at this station are very unwilling to let you photograph anything, so we were advised to leave the cameras on board the train. As the train trundled on we had entered an area of plains with carpets of pretty orange flowers which proved impossible to photograph at speed. Also, the train had become dirty on the outside since we left Moscow so we were finding it harder to take good photos out of the windows now. Not so on the inside, which was still being meticulously cared for by the Provodnitza (who seemed to have lost interest in us now), and we got used to our regularly daily hoover and dusting in our compartment. The rest of the day was spent reading/snoozing in the compartment, especially as we now had it to ourselves again.

We headed for our last dinner in the dining car for the evening. Alexander appeared happy - at one of the recent stations we appeared to have collected more food, so there was more to offer from the menu. I had a delicious fried steak with cream cheese sauce and olives, while Richard, aiming for the healthy option ordered a salad which had more cheese on it than a four cheese pizza! These were tasty but expensive, but we were quite happy just to be out of the compartment by now. (You can ask the Provonitza to lock the cabin from the outside, so we stayed till late). I tried the Baltica '7 beer which had now come into stock on the train which was a fairly decent Russian Lager. Richard decided to be restrained from drinking too much - one of the irritations on board is the closure of the washrooms for around an hour each time you get near a station so its hard to predict when you might get caught short. We finished the evening with the vodka and some card games in our compartment - with the door shut of course - it is actually not allowed to bring alcohol onto the train, we found out. We figure that if you don't cause a problem, it is probably tolerated. Finally we packed before our early morning stop.

We arrived into Irkutsk (5185km) at 02:30 Train (Moscow) time, and stepped down from this train for the last time, saying goodbye to our friendly Provodnitza. This train was heading on to Beijing. The strange daylight and rush hour around us reminded us it was actually 07:30 local time. We took our bags to the left luggage centre at the station and went off to explore. We were doing a very express itinerary so come 21:00 we had to be back on another train. Or is it 18:00? I wasn't sure. We checked several times to make sure something didn't go wrong. What a daft system. We hopped over to the tram stop to head into town where a surly conductor approached us and took our 20 Roubles (£0.23) which I paid with a 1000 note. How to make yourself popular in a foreign country.

Soon I had Richard packed into a mini-bus which was blaring out Russian pop music, clad in fabric and tassels (the van, not Richard) and heading for Lake Baikal.

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