August 27, 2012

Trans Siberian, Moscow to Irkutsk, Train 350

I got asked some common questions when I got back, so I thought I’d post some of the answers here.

What did you do? Ate. Looked out the window. Ate some more. Washed my plastic cutlery after my meal. Slept. Ate. Looked out the window. For something different, I looked out the window and took photos. One of our group translated the train timetable into English. Very useful – see below (thanks Jen). And by the way – the trains run by Moscow time. So as well as keeping track of local time (with all the changing time zones), we also had to keep track of Moscow time. Working out what time it actually was also filled in time. And of course, chatted to the fellow passengers in my carriage and got to know them.

Looking out the window

What were the facilities like? Facilities? Oh you mean the toilet, because there was no shower. The toilet was a vacuum toilet. That’s code for you press the foot thingy to flush and it goes on to the tracks below. That’s why it’s so important to know when the next big stop is – hence having a timetable in English is pretty handy! You can’t use the toilets half an hour either side of a major stop. As for the showers, we all got pretty good at “bird baths” while trying to avoid toppling into the toilet. At the Novosibirsk stop, we had 49 minutes. Our tour leader Yulia mentioned that at major stations they sometimes have showers if you can find them. We decided: let’s do it. We were ready. The train had no sooner come to a stop and we were off, heading to find the showers. Thanks to Yulia’s persistent efforts, we eventually got pointed in the right direction. We found them on the top floor of the station, tucked away in a darkened corner, administered by a couple of older Russian ladies who looked after the mothers room. They looked at us and said a shower is 170 roubles each. Without hesitating, we’ve all whacked the 170 rouble on the desk and said no worries, where are they. Somehow we managed to get 9 of us through 2 showers in 20 minutes. And the water was hot.

Shower straight ahead! Top floor Novosibirsk Station (night 3)

Was the train clean? Yes. We had two carriage attendants, an older lady and a younger lady. Between them both, they kept our carriage clean by vacuuming, straightening the carpet runners and cleaning the toilets. They also managed to tell nearly all of us off at some point for doing something they didn’t like. You can do your laundry on the train, but don’t hang it on the (seemingly) purpose built rails in the passage. You can’t open the windows. Don’t tie the curtains back (we kept on doing that). Don’t go to the toilet when you shouldn’t be. Etc. Etc. Of course they only spoke Russian and even though they knew we didn’t speak that, they would continually lecture us for at least 30 seconds despite getting blank stares and empty looks right back at them. Oh yeah – the attendants also made sure that we were back on the train in time at the stops and that it didn’t go without us!

It’s not as bad as it looks!

Was it air conditioned? Our carriage was. We were in second class. It was the only one on the train that was. Except when we were stopped at stations or it broke. Then we got told off by the attendants (and even a passenger) for opening the windows. Then when they finally realised it wasn’t working, they came and opened the windows…

Was there power? Yes, but it’s dodgy. There are only a few sockets that are the full voltage and one of them is in the toilet. Apparently one of our guys locked himself in the toilet for half an hour so he could charge his phone. The others work, but will take a very long time to charge your stuff. One Russian had obviously done train travel before. He ran an extension lead from the power socket to his compartment and spent the whole time on his laptop. Of course nobody else could use the power socket while he was on the train… (except of course when he was “accidentally” unplugged)

Any mobile phone reception? Hahahahah. Of course. At the major stops. Remember, you are in Siberia.

Where did you sleep? Each carriage had 8 compartments, with 4 beds in each. A top and bottom bunk either side, with a small table in the middle. The person on the bottom bunk had to pack up their bed each day so we had somewhere to sit to look out the window.

My house, in the middle of the train

Were you still rocking whenever you got off the train? Yes for quite a few days afterwards. It got to the point that we would wake up at night when we stopped because we were no longer rocking.

What did you eat? We were lucky enough to get tickets that included “service”. That means they served us one meal per day. We had tea one night, three lunches and breakfast on the last day cooked for us. We didn’t realise we were getting meals included, so we also had plenty of food that we’d purchased before we got on. The babushkas at each station could also keep us well fed if we got bored with the food we’d brought with us. The meals were served to us in our compartment. The lady would first come and take our order. After the first time she tried to ask us what we wanted and failed, she wouldn’t bother until our tour leader showed up to interpret for us. Then when she came around, she brought a brown paper bag. Opening that revealed a snack, plastic cutlery, bottle of water, a cup and tea bag. Whenever the brown paper bag showed up, we knew that our food was coming. Of course more times than not, the food coincided with a major stop, so we were all off buying ice cream for entree rather than eating the food prepared. The train also had a hot water urn, which was useful for cooking instant food with – ie noodles.

Train meal – rice and something…

Did you have a dining car? Yes. The food is overpriced and for some reason we never ate there (possibly due to the reasons given above). A few of our group had a drink there and we had our hat party there.

You have mail! Invite to the hat party

Final night Trans Siberian farewell hat party!

You had a hat party? Yep. As a final night party on the train, we had a hat party. Special invites were given out (written on dining car serviettes) and no admittance to the dining car without a hat. The dining car staff loved it. So did we. It was a highlight of the trip. Surprising the variation of hats made with our towels, paper bags, bowls, bottles and cutlery from the train.

Fascinating what you can do with plastic plates and cutlery!

Would you do it again? If I did I would want to do the part I haven’t done, across to Vladivostok. I went from Moscow – Irkutsk, Irkutsk – Ulan Ude, then Ulaanbaatar to Beijing. I’d also spend some time at towns along the way rather than going straight past them.

But, it’s a great experience and I would recommend it. See my earlier post!


1 Comment »

  1. […] since leaving Moscow (7 days ago), we could have a shower (apart from those who had found one at Novosibirsk station four days ago). Imagine our disapointment when we arrived at the hostel to find that there was one […]

    Pingback by Departing Irkutsk for Ulan Ude « Thumper… — January 20, 2013 @ 7:23 pm | Reply

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