August 26, 2012

Trans Siberian – Moscow to Irkutsk

Filed under: Russia,Trips — pearsey @ 5:09 pm
Tags: , ,

Other person: “You went on the Trans Siberian. Woah, that would’ve been cool.”
Me: “Yeah, but it was 90 hours on the train.”
Other person: “Did you seen any snow?
Me: “It was summer, definitely no snow!”
Other person: “Wow that would’ve been so cool, on the train all that way, that would’ve been fantastic.”
Me: (softly) “It was 90 hours on the train, or the best part of 5 days and 4 nights.”
Other person: (finally dawns on them how long 90 hours is. On a train.) “Oh. But still…”

Carriage 9, train 350, Moscow to Irkutsk, home for 5 days, 4 nights

That’s how a typical conversation goes with those back home when discussing the Trans Siberian. But still, yes the Trans Siberian is an amazing trip, don’t get me wrong. However, our trip was 90 hours and as much as I enjoyed it, I (and all the others in our group as well) were definitely ready to get off when we did. This section of our Trans Siberian route was a distance of about 5192km, from Moscow to Irkutsk (we completed a couple of other sections later on, more on them later). We travelled through about 4 or 5 time zones, gaining about 5 or 6 hours over the course of the trip. Every time zone was celebrated, and even though it wasn’t, it seemed like we were another hour closer to our destination, to getting off that train!

Moscow time? Local time?

We saw some amazing scenery. And some very repetitive scenery too. We passed some trees, more trees, pine trees, and then the trees changed to birch trees… then some rolling hills and open plains.


Each exception to the typical scenery was greeted with awe and wonder. Like when we passed a river or a lake. We would get excited – “RIVER ON THE LEFT”, or whichever way it was, so that we all had a glimpse of it. We saw some snow ploughs on goods trains ready to be transported somewhere – that was a bit of a novelty. There were also plenty of typical Russian cars as well. And it seemed like there was a train going past us every time something remotely interesting came along, or the trees would come back, interrupting the view of the interesting things.


But along the way we got to witness some Russian culture, away from the hustle and bustle of the big cities. The houses changed noticeably, from the high rise of the cities, to the stand alone houses that were built to with stand the freezing winter temperatures on blocks of land. There’d normally be a vegetable garden alongside or behind those houses, chock full of vegies, often being attended to by the women in their bikinis, oblivious to being observed by the passing train passengers. It was often an hour or more until the next stop, but passing through this large expansive land didn’t mean that you would see houses. In fact, it was rather strange. Most houses were gathered in clusters, and that’s where the train stopped and the land in between was dormant, not being used for either crops or livestock. Maybe the summer is really too short.

Houses and gardens

Then out of nowhere, some industrial sized chimneys or apartment blocks would pop up, hinting that we were arriving at the next big town. At these places we would be greeted by Babushkas on the platform. These Babushkas were eager to sell as much of whatever they had as quickly as they could. Some were hardened, their faces told of a life that couldn’t easily be put into words, of hardships endured, aged beyond their years. Others were younger than those, new to the scene, but just as eager to sell you their wares. Don’t mess with these ladies. Perhaps their tough exterior hid a compassionate and gentler side, but in the hustle and bustle of doing as much business as possible in a short window of time, this side was rarely shown.

Fish anyone? Babushka selling fish

Anybody who wanted to part with their roubles could buy from these older ladies selling their home grown and baked goodies, or stall owners selling everything from ice cream, chocolate, fish and noodles to tissues, hats and stuffed toys. These stops were the longer stops, anything from 15 to 30 minutes, a welcome time for everyone to get off the train and get some fresh air. The first place we had a big stop (ie about 20 minutes) we got off and had some really nice berries. Strawberries, blue berries, gooseberries, raspberries – all cheap and tasty. Nothing else ever lived up to that stop. We bought berries at another stop later in the trip. This babushka was a little cunning. The berries looked good. Within about half an hour, they were mush. The good berries had been strategically placed around the top of the container. As soon as you removed the top berries, you were greeted with soft berries, already turning to juice in the warmer weather.

Berry time!

As the berries became scarcer, the need to replace those berries with something of equal or better value became more pressing. That’s when the ice cream became more important. Unless the babushka or store owner was selling ice cream, we weren’t interested! Our group was like the mafia, infiltrating each little store on the station until we found what we were looking for. A quick yell would bring everyone running and it was a first in first served deal with the ice cream.

Ice cream at the station in front of a goods carriage

Many places we stopped at for no longer than a few minutes, where regular passing trains, the lifeline between the east and the west of the country, were nothing more than a necessary interruption. The train stopped for such a short time that it was nothing more than a quick drop and pick up of passengers.

As we headed further east, we noticed at some of the smaller country towns that there were blocks of garages toward the edge of town. I think in these towns most of the houses didn’t have a garage on their block, so this was their garage. I guess in summer you could always park your car closer, then in winter if you couldn’t actually use it for months on end because you were snowed in, you had a place to store it out of the way.

Garages for the small town

It was summer, and it was the weekend (two of the four days anyway) and we passed a river, where it just looked like a typical river back home in Australia – nice holiday houses, people having picnics beside it, people floating down it on inflatable things and people generally out enjoying the sun. Good to see that even on the other side of the world people can appreciate a good river!

Floating down the river (with the obligatory power pole in the photo!)

We met some interesting Russians in another compartment in our carriage. They only spoke Russian. We only spoke English. We did however learn that they worked for the mines and were on their way back to work. You have about 3 or 4 months on working, then some time off. While you’re on site, you’re not allowed to drink. These guys made the most of their last night of freedom and we were quite happy to see the rowdy Russian miners disembark on the second day.

Bye bye miners, back to work for you!

We passed the marker marking the place where Russia is theoretically divided into two continents – Asia on the east and Europe on the west. Thankfully it hadn’t quite got dark yet, so we were able to see it. That highlight aside, we went back to what we did best: gazing out the window looking at everything, but nothing.

Asia Europe Continent Marker

Yep, our 90 hour odyssey through Sibera was only a snapshot of Russian life. We didn’t have time to linger and enjoy the local hospitality, the stunning scenery or to explore the little back streets in the many towns we passed. Half of the 5000km we did while it was dark. But what we did get to experience was a section of one of the most amazing train journeys in the world, through a part of the world that most people will never get the chance to see. That in itself made the trip worth it.

Coming up in my next post – some common questions about the Trans Siberian.



  1. […] it’s a great experience and I would recommend it. See my earlier post! #gallery-1798-2 { margin: auto; } #gallery-1798-2 .gallery-item { float: left; margin-top: 10px; […]

    Pingback by Trans Siberian, Moscow to Irkutsk, Train 350 « Thumper… — August 27, 2012 @ 1:36 am | Reply

  2. […] arrival in Irkutsk was greeted with absolute relief. The last morning on the first stage of our Trans Siberian journey we were up early, packed, eaten, enjoying the last of looking out the window for a while and […]

    Pingback by Lake Baikal at Bolshoe Goloustnoe, Russia « Thumper… — September 27, 2012 @ 5:56 pm | Reply

  3. […] Indian overnight train: I’ve been on overnight trains in Russia, Mongolia, China (two trips) and Vietnam, so I have a fairly good idea of what to expect, although […]

    Pingback by India Day 13 – Varanasi | Thumper... — January 9, 2017 @ 9:09 pm | Reply

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at

%d bloggers like this: