11-15 August, 2017
My mind wanders away as the train traverses the green landscape. The train pushes its way through the vast green pastures as we stare out of our little window. The rocking of the train is pretty similar to that of a boat and the motion seems to have some sort of sedating effect on my thoughts.
Safe to say I sleep more than enough aboard. It took me no less than one hour after boarding to shift my mind into a lower gear and to feel fully relaxed. Anna-Lena, of course, took much longer and only got a good nights sleep the next day.
We have been in this train for many hours, and we won’t reach our destination for another day and a half or so. I guess I might have underestimated just how long 74 hours are in reality. Just think about it, that is more than three full days or almost two weeks in working hours. Considering that we “already” get out in Irkutsk makes you wonder how it is like to go all the way to Vladivostok, which takes an entire week.
The Trans-Siberian Railway is the longest railroad on earth and is on the top spot of many bucket-lists. Finished in 1904, the track stretches for almost 9 300 kilometres accross the Russian tundra and Ural Mountains, from Moscow in the West to Vladivostok in the far-East. We are taking this epic trainride to Irkutsk at Lake Baikal. From there we switch and take the Transmongolian train through Mongolia to Beijing in China.
When we left Moscow it was dark and the lanscape changed within the first hour or so, from an urban area with ugly skyscrapers to stunning green pastures. Part of me thinks of home as the landscape (minus the hills) reminds me of it. For tourists the train is the adventure of a life-time and for the local population the train is a life-line to civilization for necessary supplies.
Several times a day the train makes a little stop of about 20 minutes each time before continuing its journey. We use these stops to stretch our legs, get some fresh air and supplies at one of the many little shops at the track. Local sales women called “Babushkas” sell their home-made foods and goods at the platforms. It looks incredibly tasty!
When we were in Moscow on a tour we learned about an expression about the cities oldest church All Saints na Kulichkakh. As this church was built outside medieval Moscow, the locals called it the church in the middle of nowhere. Now it is a common expression russians use to call a place in “the middle of nowhere” – “U cherta na Kulichkakh”. That expression has been wandering around my head for some time now as its very applicable to the view from our train window. When you step off the train you realize just what “the middle of nowhere” actually is. Most train stations have nothing more than a single concrete platform with a few shops selling drinks and snacks, with a tiny village not far from there. Nothing more, nothing less.
Sitting in this train makes you realize just how vast this country really is. Considering we crossed several timezones allready is mind-boggling.
The train we are in is called “Rossiya” and it is the flagship and pride of the Russian railway. Our train has about 12 carriages consisting of one on-board restaurant, one locomotive and 10 carriages, that are sub-divided into compartments. In first class you have nine compartments with each containing two small beds. In second class you have the same constellation except that you’re having to share it with double the amount of people, four per room. In third class you sleep in a open compartment with approximately 50 beds and seems only suitable for locals and the adventurous (slightly odd) traveler.
For us personally, we decided that first class would best suit our needs as we were very much in need of some relaxing, quiet quality time, which tends to work best when you are not sharing your space with others. First class is far more expensive of course, but it has its perks.
Each compartment has its own “provodnista” which is basically your personal assistant for the whole trip. They are available 24/7 and will show up by the press of a button.
Gina, our designated provodnista, has taken exeptionally good care of us. She is very friendly, polite and helpful. Just like 99% of the Russian population she doesn’t speak a word of English. However, this hasn’t formed a problem, as we have become expert communicators with our hands and feet and are able to find out most things like that. It has worked like a charm. An exeption was the button we thought meant paging the provodnista, it turned out that it was actually the emergency break. Luckily for us (and the rest of the train) we figured that out just in time 😅.
Included in our “ridiculously expensive” ticket was a complimentary lunch, which was served on the second day. Until then all we ate were GoodNoodles and snacks, so it felt like a feast fit for a king. I took the baked Salmon with a side of green beans and broccoli. Anna-Lena had the vegetarian pasta. The dishes were served with some fresh tomatoes, paprika and cucumber. We also got some cold drinks and a ripe orange. Overall nothing spectacular, but a welcome change to our diet!
We mainly used our time aboard with staring out of the window, reading, eating, watching movies, playing cards and drinking beer. The beer is far more bitter than at home, but beer is beer, so we enjoyed one every night before turning in.
Our breakfast was a couple of American toast slices with Nutella, Peanutbutter or Honey. Our lunch: a bag of chips, some cookies or some locally bought danish. Dinners consisted of a pack of GoodNoodles and some American toast with a drink. For dinner our tin cups (Leni’s Idea) came in handy as there wouldn’t have been any other way to eat the Noodles or drink tea or coffee.
We had a great time on board of the Trans-Siberian Train. Seldomly in our lives we were able to be this relaxed (to give you an idea, I slept for 17 hours on day 1🤣). Its was the perfect rehab from everything!