We are currently rolling through the Russian countryside around 1096 km from Moscow heading for Yekaterinburg (we just passed a km marker but these are not always accurate). We are eating a breakfast acquired from the platform of a station where we the train rested for several minutes. In all we are settled and ready to spend the rest of the day watching the autumnal scenery as we move from through Russia, into the Urals and from Europe into Asia.
Our trip to Yekatrinburg began with an organised transfer from our Moscow hotel to the station. As we are travelling with a company called Real Russia, but on an unaccompanied tour we were curious as to whether we would meet any other travellers on the transfer from the hotel. We didn’t and the short transfer quickly passed with only a few grunts from our Russian driver as he left us in a car park and pointed at a station entrance.
The arrival at the station was very early. Our train was due to leave at 16:50 but we had been dropped off shortly before 14:00. This left an unexpectedly long and unnecessary 3 hours to fill. First stop was to get provisions. We weren’t sure what would be available on the train and from platforms so made sure we had the essentials: beer, coke and crisps (we already have the vodka). With a lot of time left to fill and a serious lack of seating in the station we headed for a nearby Subway for a sandwich and to pass some time. At this time our train was not even showing on the departure board but we had at least found evidence of it on a timetable so were confident we were in the right place.
After what felt like forever, a platform for our train eventually appeared on the departure board. We moved to platform 2 and found our carriage but they weren’t yet ready for us to board. We stood and watched streams of Russians pass along the platform carrying all shapes and sizes of baggage. With no restriction on carry-on luggage enforced at the Russian end of the Trans-Siberian trip, if you can get it to the train and get it on, then go for it. Most people had at least a large laundry bag of clothes (very few had suitcases). Some had their own trolleys to cart a mound of possessions. Others even recruited passers by into helping them carry bags, piles of toys, electrical goods and kitchen sinks to the train (ok, not quite sinks but anything else).
As we were waiting we took few photos. What I believed to be a Russian approach to wait at the same door as us. He started taking photos too. After I had got in the way of one of his photos we established that he wasn’t Russian and was actually Mike from Walthamstow who is also travelling with Real Russia. He is now in the cabin adjacent to us. The reason we had not seen him so far on the trip is that he is on an Explore tour and we are on Discover. There are some differences in accommodation (he has homestays while we have hotels) and we have more tours arranged. It is possible there are other Real Russia travellers on the train still as we are in first class (cabin for just the two of us) but there was also an option for second class travel.
The train carriage is a lot more modern than we expected. It is probably from the 1990s at the earliest and even has comforts such as a flat screen TV and a power socket in the room.Vicki did have dreams of old wooden panelled carriages, more like those we travelled on from Vilnius to St Petersburg, however this is more than acceptable being comfortable and spacious for the two of us in our cabin.
On leaving Moscow we spent time exploring the cabin trying to see how things work and settling in. Some things took a while to work out such as putting the seats back after stowing luggage took us about 5 minutes of fiddling to achieve. The provodnista (train lady) came to check our tickets and tell us about the train. She spoke extensively(in Russian) for a couple of minutes but all we took from it was toilets down the corridor to left, restaurant car down corridor to right. She then tried to sell us various items such as food, slippers and very optimistically Russian crossword puzzles.
After 2 hours of travel we had our first stop. We couldn’t tell you where this was but we had 20 minutes there which meant we had time to step out onto the platform. We didn’t stray far from our carriage for fear of being left behind by the train however all sorts of traders came to us. We were offered flashing trinkets, glassware sets, chandeliers and even taxidermy owls and squirrels. We politely declined all offers – 10 weeks is a long time to be carrying a squirrel around.
Back on the train, Mike had found another English speaker on his movements through the train. Pauline Scott is a 72 year old lady travelling on her own from St Petersburg to Beijing. She is on a longer tour than us with more stops but has the same initial leg to Yekatrinburg. We all descended on Mike’s cabin where his Russian bunk mate, Valentin, seemed quite welcoming to 4 people he had very limited means of communication with. Over vodka and cokes we learnt a lot more about Pauline as she has many stories to tell of her time as a carriage driving competition judge, pub landlord and world traveller.
As Valentin was to leave the train at 4am we left his cabin to allow him to sleep. Instead we moved to the restaurant car where a beer and Russian salad were waiting. The food was much more reasonably priced than we expected at 100RUB for a beer and 159RUB for the salad. That makes about £5 for the meal overall. The food was good and conversation continued until we decided it was time to retire for the night.
Back in the cabin I decided to watch a movie before bed. On the recommendation of Rob WA (friend from Imperial hockey) I brought a film called Tran Siberian along. This is a thriller about drug smuggling on the trans Siberian. It seemed appropriate ton be watching it on board even at the risk of nightmares about being left behind or falling out the back of the train.
Our nights sleep was unsettled as it seemed they were trying to cook us alive. The heating would occasionally be set on full blast and in a small enclosed cabin it quickly became sweltering. Our discovery that the window opened saved us and allowed us to cool the cabin a bit. Unfortunately it was too windy to leave the window open all the time so brief periods of cool were used when the heating was put on too high. Fortunately the heating was not always on, at times it pumped out a cooling breeze instead. At this point we were very glad of being in a cabin for 2. Sharing with others in those temperatures would have been torture.
We woke as late as possible in the morning, eventually raised by the provodnista wanting to hoover our room. This wasn’t required however she insisted by repeated knocking only eventually to have here efforts thwarted because I had spilled my change on the floor in the night so she couldn’t hover anyway.
Being woken meant we were dressed and ready for our second significant stop. Again a 20 minute stop meant you wouldn’t want to leave the station. Luckily, traders were again on hand to provide supplies. We decided to get breakfast from the platform and I managed to buy two apple pastries before sending Vicki out to try and she managed a meat and an apple pastry. It was a case of just pointing and hoping what we got was edible which seemed to work just fine.
The train ride continues now. I will be staring out the window for a while now and Vicki is taking a nap. We have a Moscow post to write up, some photos to sort I am sure we will read a bit. Generally we will just be taking it easy before our arrival in Yekatrinburg this evening. Onwards into the unknown…
End of Day Update:
We have arrived in Yekatrinburg. I spent the day continuing my theme of Trans Siberian movies and watched Dr Zhivago. Thanks to Nathan (BAML) for the recommendation of this one. The film stars Omar Sharif as a doctor/poet struggling to come to terms with post-Bolshevik revolution Russia. A large part is set in Siberia during the winter. I am glad our travels across Europe and Asia are in more comfort than theirs was. Very different to last nights thriller but a good way to pass 4 hours allowing me to look out the window at the same time.
Over the day I also manage to take a lot of photos of blurred trees and villages. Vicki spent a large part of the day reading. All in all a very relaxing way to travel.
After a bit of a wait at the station for our guide we made it to our hotel. A quick (but excellent) pizza for dinner and we are now looking forward to a tour first thing tomorrow morning. Mike from Walthamstow will be joining us on this.