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Published: March 9th 2019
R: We awoke to hammering on our compartment door. To prevent anyone getting in at night, the door has a lock on the inside which can't be opened by anyone, even the train staff. I must have been sleeping deeper than I thought as this shook me awake. Not sure what on earth was happening, I sat up, Richard hadn't yet come around. Despite being on the top bunk I managed to get to the door and open it a crack to find the night Provodnitza (who did not speak German) getting a little bit irate and saying a lot of things in Russian which I didn't quite understand. She pushed the door wide open and then I realised the problem - our new bunkmate had arrived, at 2am, from a stop at Yekaterinburg as we crossed the Urals. A guy about the same age as me entered the cabin shut the door, returning it to pitch black and greeted us in Russian. I said something to show that we didn't speak Russian and we were English and he simply said "OK. Good Night". Then laid down on his bunk and went to sleep.
When we woke up, we got
to vague introductions. Our cabin mate was Petr, a resource manager of sorts for Danone foods. He didn't speak much English, or German, so we had a very long winded conversation through Google translate. (Though Richard valiantly tried to use the Russian phrase book to help).
We had now been on the train for about 36 hours so I decided it was time to attempt a shower. The carriage comes with 2 washrooms at either end. The toilets, I'm not going to lie, don't smell that great, but the Provodnitzas did and excellent job of keeping them spotlessly clean. They were in there several times a day cleaning them out, so it really wasn't that bad. They came with a small wash basin and that was it. Each carriage also has a hot water urn that is powered by coal - called a Samovar - and it supplies hot water at boiling temperatures at all times of the day and night. I took some boiling hot water in my travel mug and headed to the bathroom. The shower was rather awkward, but I did manage to wash my hair and make myself a little more alive. I had heard
stories of people taking 2L coke bottles and poking holes in the bottom to achieve the shower affect - but I wasn't that desperate. (And I was quite scared the Provodnitza would come after me for messing up her clean wash room).
The morning was spent chatting to Petr and watching birch trees go by. It turns out his "region" is East Russia! Which is anything from the centre to the east... And the best part is, he doesn't like flying - so he does these epic long train journeys all the time. In fact, after this trip, he was heading to Turin with his girlfriend. She was flying, while he took the train. She was giving him a 2 day head start to get there!
Outside the train, the scenery was getting more sparse. One of the things you really get from this trip is the sense of space. Huge swathes of empty countryside with just a few houses and buildings. Also, when a building is finished with, they just seem to build another one next to it, and leave the old one to decay - the benefit of all the space I guess. We went off
to see Alexander in the buffet car for lunch. Still wearing the same suit as 2 days ago, he lurched over us while he explained mainly using yes and no, that the only thing available today was the "special express business lunch". He disappeared off, to drain the blood from some poor passenger, we presumed, but soon returned with a tomato salad, some Borsch, a out-of-date bread roll, a large frankfurter and some buckwheat. It wasn't great, so we were slightly dismayed that Alexander had added himself a 400 Rouble tip (£4.50). Grumbling, we went back to the cabin but not for long as we arrived at Omsk where we had plenty of time to get off the train.
Omsk was a bright green and white painted building. Quite impressive and had a large steam locomotive on the platform with a large soviet star on the front - you could just imagin these pulling the Trans-Sib in the Soviet days. There was a fair selection of shops here so I bought a few bits, but still not many rogue sellers. I was starting to think that was just a myth. We got moving again ; next stop : Barabinsk.
Now this was a different kettle of fish. Literally. As the train pulled into the platform, it filled with ladies holding ropes of smoked fish. Russians jumped off the train and bought plenty of them to bring aboard. We decided not to do this as we were a bit worried about how that would go down in a small shared cabin, but later we walked through third class again and there it was practically rude if you didn't have a smoked fish to cover up the unwashed odour of 40 people on a train. Our Provonitza had one of course, so we did get to enjoy a bit of the experience in our carriage too. There were also fur sellers - every kind of fur you could imagine.
As the train started to become invaded by very large mosquitoes, we headed off. The scenery was getting more hilly now but you could see for miles (this was the Baraba Steppe). On the horizon seemed to be a continuous belt of trees, but this turned out to be massive clumps of trees that when you looked from the train, appeared to cover the whole horizon. We got a great sunset
that evening, which was strangely timed at about 6:30pm. One of the oddities of travelling by train in Russia is that they maintain Moscow time on all trains and platforms. Given there are 12 time zones in Russia, this must be very confusing when you get to Vladivostok. In Omsk we were about 3 hours ahead of Moscow time really, and you lose a timezone at least per day so you can feel like time is really slipping away from you.
We invited Petr to the restaurant car in the evening for a beer. When we got there he insisted on buying us a beer and before we knew it he had bought more beer than we could drink for the table. He told us that younger Russians are increasingly turning away from Vodka - but he clearly liked his beer. We chatted through Google and discussed working life in the UK vs. Russia. As a mid level manager he earns 2 million Roubles a year (£23000) and was interested to know what he would earn in the UK. We shared some photos and maps of home with him and he showed us pictures of his family. The guide
book was finally right when it said you should bring these things to start conversations! It actually happened.
I got out of the train at Novosibirsk, capital of this region of Siberia, at around midnight local time (8pm train time) - it was 21°C and our cabin was extremely hot that evening. I managed to get some sleep, despite the A/C kicking in and out all night as we stopped repeatedly. Note to potential travellers ; being by the A/C on the top bunk has its advantages some times, but when it stops - the top bunk is the hottest place to be - and not in a good way.
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