Our Trans-Siberian train trip, Day 1-2
We’re on Train 002 Rossiya: Moscow – Vladivostok. We caught the train from Platform 2 at Yaroslavsky Station at 1:50pm yesterday (Thursday) afternoon. Trans-Siberian trains always leave from Yaroslavsky Station, from platform 1 – 5 at the eastern end of the station. The nearest metro station is Komsomolskaya. Train departure times are displayed on a large board at the near end of platform 2, so it’s not really necessary to go into the railway station to get information. Platform number is only displayed 40 minutes prior to departure, so if you get there earlier, you just need to wait until closer to the time of departure.
The day before we caught the train, we did a ‘practice run’ from our apartment, changing metro lines and trying to work out the best places to stand so that we could get on the metro trains with all our luggage and the least amount of fuss. When we caught our first metro train in Moscow, we hadn’t realised how quickly the carriage doors close, and we both got stuck between the closing automatic doors – thankfully a local passenger who was already on the train helped us prise the doors apart! We gave ourselves plenty of time to get to Yaroslavsky Station with our gear, and during our practice run we had found a good local supermarket so that we could buy water and food for the trip. The station was full of people arriving, leaving and generally milling about, which was a bit of a relief because the day before we watched 2 police harass 2 travellers for their ‘papers’, which seems to be a common occurrence at railway stations, but best avoided if at all possible. More people means we’re less likely to stand out as tourists or targets. So we got Greg settled with all our bags and I went across to the Billa supermarket on the other side of the busy road outside the station. Access is via an underpass near Lenin’s statue in the car park to the east of the main station building. There is also a smaller supermarket east of the car park, which mainly sells cooked & pre-packaged food and drinks especially for train travellers.
The Billa supermarket has a good range of food and drinks & I bought bottled water, bread, apple pies, long life milk, breakfast cereal, instant mashed potato and noodles. The 2 men in front of me in the checkout line bought several bottles of vodka (?!?), and the woman behind me had lots of styrofoam trays of cooked pancakes, dumplings and salads. When I got back to the station, Greg wasn’t where I had left him, and of course I immediately thought the police had taken him away, but he had moved because he’d been waiting near a garbage bin and all the smokers congregated there. We got lunch from the cafe/takeaway place just near platform 3 – wraps filled with chicken and lettuce/tomato or cabbage/carrot. The service is fast, the food tastes good and the woman who served me spoke English.
The train was at Platform 2 around 40 minutes prior to departure, so we gathered our bags and walked down to our first class carriage, No 7. We have a 2-berth cabin with 2 bench seats that become beds, with a table in between. There is storage space under the seats, and there’s also a storage compartment above the door. The padded headrests of the seats lift up and have small shelves for a bit more storage. There are reading lights at either end of each seat, and a power point under the table. Greg bought a triple adaptor so we can plug in our small fridge, USB charger, computer and other electrical paraphernalia. At one end of the carriage there are 2 toilets with handbasins, at the other end near the carriage attendant’s office is a samovar, so hot water is always available. As far as we can tell, there is no shower. Good thing we’re only on the train for 3 days to Irkutsk, not going the whole way to Vladivostok (6 days) in one go. We do have a good supply of baby wipes.
So, we’ve been on the train for almost 24 hours. We have crossed 2 time zones and travelled 1500 kms so far. Our guide books (The Lonely Planet Trans-Siberian book and Bryn Thomas’ Trans-Siberian Handbook) both mentioned that it was possible to buy food on station platforms when the train stopped, but so far we haven’t seen any. The carriage attendant sells a range of drinks and snacks, and there is a dining car on the train and we’ll probably end up having a meal or 2 there. We went and had a beer there last night. On the second part of our trip, from Irkutsk to Vladivostok, our meals are included; for some reason we couldn’t just buy first class tickets, we had to pay for ‘services’ – meals – as well. The first class compartment isn’t full at the moment – there is an American couple who are also travelling to Irkutsk, then going on the Trans-Mongolian route to Ulaan Baatar, and several other people have hopped on and off the train at various stops.
The second class cabins are the same as ours, with 2 extra bunks over the bench seats. And then there are the 3rd class carriages, which have 54 bunks in an open carriage, arranged into open compartments of sets of double bunks at right angles to the windows on one side of the carriage, then a walkway, then double bunks arranged alongside the windows. Apparently the bunks at either ends of the carriage are best avoided (toilets at one end near the higher-numbered berths, smokers near the carriage door at the other), and the lateral bunks are short, so no good for anyone taller than 5’5″ and people keep bumping into them as they walk past.
Our Trans-Siberian train trip, Day 3
The Russian railways all work on ‘Moscow time’, so train departure & arrival times, and on-train & railway station clocks are all set to whatever the time is in Moscow. The timetable in our carriage has all the arrival and departure times for the whole Moscow-Vladivostok journey. Yesterday we were running a bit late, so our time at each station was shorter than stated in the timetable. We’ve read a few cautionary tales of people getting left behind, and there’s no warning when the train takes off, so we’re very careful about getting back on the train as fast as we can. Each time we stop, we make a quick dash for the nearest station kiosk to see what they were selling. Late yesterday afternoon we got lucky and found a shrinkwrapped (!) loaf of bread at one kiosk and some drinking yoghurt and filled bread rolls at another. The woman at the second kiosk did her very best to try and pretend I didn’t exist, by restocking and moving items around on her shelves, looking out the window, peering in the fridge and carefully avoiding any eye contact whatsoever, but when more customers lobbed in, she had to finally give in and sell me some stuff.
This morning when we stopped at Barabinsk, we hit the jackpot – babushkas (grannies) selling their baked goodies and berries up and down the train. They were also offering furry Russian hats, scarves and a range of other non-essential items. Greg spotted a supermarket nearby and dashed off to get us some beer and chocolate, and I bought some bread rolls on the platform. Next time I’ll try to be quicker and get some pancakes as well. We rushed back onto the train, leaping onto the nearest carriage ‘cos we couldn’t see anyone else on the platform and we thought it was about to depart, and then sat there for another 10 minutes. A little old lady with a box full of berries sold Greg a cupful at the carriage door. There were a few strawberries on top, but most of them are plump, ripe raspberries. Yum.
We are now in Siberia, and it’s a mixture of flat grassy plains (steppes) and forest, electricity sub-stations and with an occasional village or larger town. We just stopped at Novosibersk, the capital of Western Siberia, population 1.4 million, and the 3rd largest city in Russia.
3 days (73 hours to be precise) on a long-distance train trip is long enough. We are stopping for almost 6 days in Irkutsk, and Thank Heavens for that! Doing the whole 6-day train trip in one go would be very trying – no showers, limited food choices and only occasional stops of 25 minutes or less. I’d strongly recommend anyone doing this trip to at least stop for a couple of days somewhere along the way, for a chance to walk longer than a few hundred metres at a time, to wash clothes (and yourself!), to get a better night’s sleep and for probably a whole lot more reasons that I can’t think of at the moment. The beds on the train are only 55cm wide, so if you’re used to the luxury of a wider bed, even turning over in such a narrow space requires some thought and planning.
Even on the train, we have people coming and trying to sell us stuff. A guy came into our cabin and tried hard to sell us a battery-operated massager thing, then a while later a woman did the rounds with scarves. Closed doors are no deterrent and they are very persistent, so after that for a while after we left each station we would lock our cabin door
A video of our train trip. You can view it on Youtube in HD if you follow this link