After another two days ambling around Moscow, taking in the whimsical tree-lined boulevards of the city, majestic golden domed cathedrals, markets, art museums and cafes, we made our way to Yaroslavskaya station, the departure point for all TransSiberian and TransMongolian trains. I loved Moscow, but it is here the adventure truly begins.
With Moscow now 1000km behind us, we have settled into life in our cosy compartment on the no. 4 train to China. Unlike our Swedish neighbours, we will be stopping off in another 4,100 plus kilometres or so at Irkutsk (Siberia), on day 4 of this trains weekly journey to Beijing (we left Moscow last night - Tuesday, and arrive in Irkutsk on Saturday).
The two berth, first class compartment, has a mini dining table, a small seat, and shares a shower unit with the next compartment - the Swedes. It's not quite luxury, and doesn't quite meet up to the high standards of the Lhasa Express, but it's home for the next 4 days. It's small, that is for sure, and co-existing will be a little challenging, however our trolly attendant - the happy smiley Olga - sells beer at thankfully cheaper than Moscow prices. We also have vodka and brandy. This will help.
The first night sleep wasn't bad, after the two screeching stops at gone midnight and 3am. And the morning brought with it fantastic views of forested Russian hamlets smothered in deep snow. It's like a winter dreamland. We stopped shortly after breakfast at Kirov where we had the much needed opportunity to stretch legs, and some fresh air, while the coal truck efficiently serviced each carriage.
We are now headed towards Balyezino after which the Ural Mountains will unfold outside our window and see us through the rest of today.
Two days later ... Another 2,000kms under our transiberian belts and it feels like days since we left Moscow.
Since Balezerino yesterday lunchtime we have passed through worlds and worlds of snowy countryside, through the Urals and into the fringes of Siberia, stopping off for coal and passengers (the latter somewhat nonexistent) in several large ex-Soviet industrial cities: Perm, Yekaterinburg, Tyumen, Ismin and Omsk. At each we stop for anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes, time to stretch legs, breathe fresh air, buy a couple of beers, and soak up platform life. Back on board and off we go again.
While the train runs on Moscow time, we have already crossed 3 time zones, and time confuses all. Our last 48 hours have been a haze of sleep, planning for the albeit brief next stop, food and beers in the restaurant car, seemingly frequented only by the foreigners on the train (maybe we are the only people on the train), playing card games, sleeping more (napping becomes a favourite past time of all), taking vodka shots (brandy for me Alex) and of course, making new friends. It appears on this huge train (14 or 15 carriages plus one that we were not allowed into), there are, in addition to us, 4 Swedes, 2 Germans, 2 Dutch, a Canadian and one more Brit. Honestly we haven't seen anyone else other than our wonderfully helpful Chinese carriage attendants, who spend all day sleeping, smoking and cooking on their coal fire. I think there may be a few people hunkered down in the end carriage. These trains run pretty much every other day, but we worked out that night we left Moscow, another train left 10 minutes before us running all the way to Irkutsk. We chase it into each platform and out again. It looks pretty full.
So in first class the draw is (a) not having to share with 2 smelly snoring strangers and (b) a shower. I decided to brave it today but in lieu of the freezing water running from the taps, I opted for a makeshift shower made from a large water bottle pierced at the top and filled from the boiler at the end of the carriage. Pretty good shower for a train in the middle of Siberia.
Today we hosted a carriage pot luck and managed 6 people in our tiny cabin. I know I can't send this blog, until we get probably to Irkutsk. I have lost all sense of when that will be. In fact, I am not quite sure what time it is right now, except that Casey has advised me that it's nap time and after nap time it's dinner and vodka time. At an unknown time on an unknown day, sometime soon I will continue to tell our travel tales. And for now Stevie W can lead us to a Siberian napland.
(Written on 15th and 17th March posted on 19th).
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