Have you ever dreamed of taking the romantic train ride through the depths of Siberia? Watching the snowy scenes race by as you dream of you next icy destination? If you want to go, but find yourself wondering what to expect from the Trans Siberian Railway then read on…
What To Expect When You Board…
Arrive at the station with plenty of time. Some stations will have security bag scanners which you will need to put your luggage through.
Be aware, many (if not all) of the signs will be in Russian so make sure you look up the Russians spellings of your destination in advance.
Once on the platform, head down the train to find your coach. You won’t be permitted to enter anything other than your own carriage!
Look out for the numbers displayed in the windows.
What To Expect From Your Friendly Provodnitsa…
A man or woman called a Provodnitsa will be the person who checks your tickets and passports before you board.
They will be the most important person on the train!
Generally, there will be two of them responsible for your carriage and everyone on it. Sleeping in a compartment at one end and work in shifts throughout the whole train ride.
They are there to look after everyone and you can go to them with any problems or questions you have.
For safe keeping, they keep your tickets throughout your journey and return them to you just before you disembark. To ensure no one overstays their welcome, they know when your stop is and tend to know how long the train stops and where.
They clean everything, from the toilets to the corridor floors, collect trash and will give you rubbish bags if you need one. Clean bedding is also provided by them and they take it away when you leave.
They maintain the furnace that keeps the water hot for all your noodles. They also sell tea, coffee, a variety of snacks and will even loan you teacup if in need. Not only that, they have a number of lovely, but fairly over-priced souvenirs on offer that we had to politely decline on more than one occasion!
They really are the life and soul of the Trans Siberian Railway!
They can vary in strictness and Babushka level fierceness. We witnessed one very angry lady tell off a group of men who were smoking at the end of the carriage. Needless to say, they stopped pretty quickly. Many can come across as quite stern and even annoyed, however, we found all to be incredibly helpful.
Regardless of gender or age we also found the Provodnitsa were universally respected by passengers from all walks of life.
On the longest train ride from Moscow to Irkuskt we managed to make friends with ours. Two young gentlemen were in charge and seemed quite fascinated by two English tourists joining them in 3rd class. We gave them some English currency to keep and they were super excited about it!
What To Expect From The Stops…
The stops vary however, on average it’s between every 3 and 6 hours. Most are very short. Occasionally you get half an hour to an hour stop or longer at bigger cities. You can get off and wander around to stretch your legs but keep an eye on the train and Provodnitsa.
Russian trains have been known to leave without warning and without passengers!
If you find yourself in that situation, you can ask a guard to contact the station ahead to remove your stuff from the train and catch the next one.
An alternative is to grab a taxi and race the train to the next stop. Taxis are inexpensive so an hour long dash to the train may not even cost you more than £20.
This is a riskier option, but the pay off is greater as you get to save the hassle of booking and boarding a new train!
You can find a list of stops and how long you stop for up on the wall along the train.
What To Expect From Security
There is no real form of security on the train.
You can’t lock things in a safe, unless you bring your own (not recommended)
The Provodnitsa will obviously keep an eye on who enters the train but your stuff will be fairly unprotected unless you are present.
There can be theft on the trains from other passengers however you can take measures to ensure you aren’t affected!
- Keep your valuables in a small bag and take it with you everywhere. Including the toilet and keep it under you pillow when you sleep.
- Keep all the things you don’t immediately need under your bunk if you are on the bottom.
- If you’re on the top you might want to secure your bag with a bungee chord on the luggage rack so it isn’t easy to take at night.
I did this for my peace of mind more than anything. I didn’t really feel like I was at risk of theft at all, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
What To Expect From The Facilities…
There are two toilets on each end of every carriage.
The toilets are very basic and not particularly enjoyable to use.
The flush simply opens out onto the tracks, sometimes letting in a flurry of snow and always a rush of cold air into the tiny room. Depending on the train, they can be quite old and vary with levels of smelliness.
As one can expect with toilets on a moving train, it can get a little messy.
Despite the Provodnitsas best efforts, they can be a bit gross. It is advised to wear shoes at all times in the toilet as the floor is generally sopping wet. Hopefully just from tap water spilling over the sink – but you never know!
Don’t expect soap or toilet paper!
It’s generally there at the beginning of the trip but don’t count on it being refilled along the way. Personal hand sanitiser is an absolute must, unless you wish to share a bar of soap with 60 strangers.
Also, be aware that the toilets can be locked from anywhere to 10 minutes to an hour before certain longer stops so it pays to be privy to when those times will be!
The train is nearly always a comfortable temperature.
The train is well equipped to deal with the vastly different environments it can experience.
Trains have heating in winter to keep it nice a toasty despite the freezing temperatures outside. Similarly, there is air conditioning and windows to stop it from getting hot and stuffy in the 30 degree summers.
What Not To Expect From The Facilities
Depending on the class of ticket you have will determine whether there are showers available.
To put it simply, they don’t have showers in 3rd class.
Showers are available in 1st class and sometimes in 2nd class however, it will depend on the train you book whether this is an option.
I have heard that it is possible to bribe your Provodnitsa to allow you to use a shower in a different carriage. I didn’t bother.
Cold showers in sub-zero temperatures aren’t really my thing
Wifi is not available on any of the Russian trains. Plain and simple. Even if you have a sim card you’ll probably struggle.
Good luck finding a phone signal in the middle of Siberia guys…!
Save yourself the hassle and prepare for an internet-less few days.
This again depends on which class ticket you have.
In 3rd Class there are virtually no plug sockets available
There will possibly be one or two available to use at random points on the carriage. Great if you end up being next to it.
However, it’ll probably be an effort competing with the other 60 people you share a carriage with who are also fighting for that outlet.
There are generally more available in 2nd and 1st class with at least one or two per compartment. Sometimes they’re located inside, others in the corridor, but it won’t be as much of an issue as 3rd class.
What To Expect From The Food
The Dining Car
There is a dining car available on every train, even though you may have to walk quite a ways to get there!
The walk is actually a fun little detour for those bored of the same four walls!
Unfortunately, our single experience of the dining car wasn’t really that great.
It featured some oily chips, an anaemic omelette and a suspiciously grey piece of chicken.
Not an unprecedented result for a moving train, but still fairly disappointing. However, I have read some very favourable reviews of the Trans Siberian Railway food so maybe we were just unlucky!
You can buy ‘just-add-water’ noodle and mash potato pots from the Provodnitsa compartment.
There’s also crisps, chocolate and other snacks available. However, whilst good for a treat or emergency meal I wouldn’t recommend relying on this.
Once this supply runs out, it runs out!
Bring your own food, it’s much more cost effective!
Unlimited Hot Water
There is a large water boiler, otherwise know as a Samovar on every carriage.
It is commonly kept hot by a furnace, which also keeps the train heated in the winter.
It is maintained religiously by the Provodnitsa and provides all passengers with unlimited hot water. Something that will become very valuable to you when all coffee, tea and meals you have with you, rely on the essential ingredient of hot water!
What To Expect From Your Compartment…
This all totally depends on which class ticket you bought!
We never experienced first class. However, you can expect a compartment designed for two people only. Two beds, luggage space under each bunk, a table, a mirror and sometimes a sink or even private bathroom.
1st class compartments are obviously way more expensive than 2nd and 3rd, which is why we never got it! They do boast complete privacy and a lock though.
Each compartment has four beds. Two sets of bunk beds, around a table. The door is lockable and you’re able to get out of your area simply by taking a walk along the corridor if you need to!
2nd Class compartments are compact but spacious compared to 3rd Class
They obviously offer a little more privacy than 3rd Class, especially if you end up being the only people in there.
However, we felt that this could also be a downside. If you cabin mates turned out to be annoying and spoke too much or something, you could be in for an awkward few days. At least in 3rd Class there are a wider range of people available that might make sharing a bedroom with strangers less uncomfortable.
It’s a bit of pot luck really.
3rd Class is where we spent most of time. It is essentially a dorm room on wheels, with no compartment walls and zero privacy.
Unless you count struggling to change in a tiny wet toilet as adequate privacy.
Each carriage consists of a long, doorless corridor, full of beds organised in sections of six. Two sets of bunk beds straddling the window with a table in-between. Another two beds running parallel to the corridor.
The beds are only 160cm long so expect to have some amount of limb sticking out. If you’re super tall or you absolutely need to stretch out, maybe consider 2nd Class for the longer trips!
It was obviously the cheapest available ticket and also allowed us to experience the ride as one of the locals. Most of the people in 3rd class are ordinary Russians and the Trans Siberian is a common way for people to get around.
If you want to talk with real, normal, Russians: 3rd Class is for you!
Top or Bottom Bunk
There are a number of different pros and cons when considering which bunks to book.
On top bunk, you get ultimate privacy because no one can (or wants to) sit there. However, if the person below you is sleeping you’re stuck on the top.
That is particularly rubbish as you cannot sit up very well and regular attempts to do so will result in a bumped head.
On the bottom bunk you can sit up with ease and use the table whenever you want. However, you will have to share your seat with a potential stranger from the top bunk and lack a bit of privacy if you wanted to stretch out or sleep.
If you’re in a couple, the best bet is to book a top and bottom bunk on top of each other. That means you can save an awkward, stunted conversation with a sleepy Russian man because you desperately need to use the table to eat.
For 3rd Class, I totally recommend the berths running parallel to the corridor
The bottom bunk is a table that folds out into a bed, so gives you total control over your area. Especially if you are in a two!
What To Expect From The People…
When I first started telling people I was going to Russia, I was told the following. The Russians don’t like English People and they don’t smile at all.
I found that to be totally untrue.
First of all, loads of people smiled at me. Granted many didn’t, but I found that smiles were much easier to come by than I was lead to believe.
Secondly, it didn’t even matter if my smile was met with a stern look.
So many people were mega friendly.
You’ll be offered tea, food, even vodka! At least one person will want to practice their English on you and many will be very interested in where you’re from and why you’re doing this trip.
And, sure there will always be people who would rather keep themselves to themselves, some who might smell or be a bit unsightly in some questionable pjs. But, it’s all part of the fun and as long as you are respectful and friendly you shouldn’t expect any problems!
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