Days merged into one. Time became meaningless. Life became a dream…
We spent three days on the Trans Siberian Railway crossing the icy, endless expanse of Siberia; our longest straight stint on a train throughout our entire 50 day journey from London to Hong Kong.
Late on a cold Thursday afternoon, laden with our heavy bags, we ambled around Moscow train station. Nervous, but excited, to board our home for next few days: the № 070Ч train to Irkutsk. We trudged up the icy platform with our carefully prepared tickets and passports; ready to present them to the carriage Provodnitsa
After a scrupulous examination of our documents, we haul ourselves up the steep steps and squeeze our way through the narrow corridor to our assigned bunks. Coach 13, beds 8 & 6. The two top bunks in our section of 6.
We had decided to ride 3rd class for the unique experience, but mostly to save money.
Our new bedroom was essentially a dorm room on wheels.
We heaved our bags onto the luggage racks above our beds and took a minute to sit and take in our surroundings.
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.
We contemplated the next few days.
How well we would cope with spending such a long time in such close proximity to strangers?
We were about to find out…
Our moment of reflection however, was short lived. Just as the train was moving off, an old Russian man with an entire set of gold teeth appeared. Before we could appreciate the fact our journey was officially beginning, he sternly waved us off of the bunk we were sitting on to store his luggage underneath.
We watched as he expertly set up his small area. He meticulously placed his food on the table and a small valuables bag under his pillow. He took out a set of flip flops and deposited his boots under the bunk with the rest of his baggage. We discreetly observed, discerning he was a regular on the Trans Siberian Railway, taking note.
It wasn’t long before the Provodnitsa was handing out bedding to all the passengers. Our travel companion wasted no time in preparing his bed for the night. We too followed suit, careful to avoid bumping into new members of our quickly filling, immediate vicinity. A middle-aged, stoney faced woman had taken up residence underneath James and an energetic Russian man had arrived on the top bunk opposite.
It wasn’t long before we began to make friends
The Russian man was called Dimitri. He was incredibly enthused that he was sharing his compartment with a pair of English speaking tourists and was eager to chat. Despite limited knowledge of each others languages our broken conversation revealed he was travelling back to his hometown of Novosibirsk. He seemed particularly appalled that we had chosen to ride through cold Siberian during January, out of choice!
He was also kind enough to lend us some tea bags – a life saver!
Before long, our compartment had retreated to their beds for a doze.
Luckily for us, the table seat beneath Dimitri was free. We able to enjoy some noodles using the hot water boiler, called a Samovar, situated at the end of ever carriage.
We took the opportunity to break out our Monopoly card game, an ingenious Christmas gift from my Mum.
It was to become a valuable source of entertainment in the days to come.
Sadly, our leisurely game was cut short when a young Russian boy boarded the train to claim the table as his seat. We retired to our beds for the evening, consigned to lying down for the rest of the night. We quietly read our kindles as the day slowly slipped into night. The train began to descend into peaceful stillness.
The rhythmic pounding of the tracks, punctuated only by the quiet murmurs of passengers further down the carriage, lulled us into an uneasy sleep.
Day one of our three days on the Trans Siberian Railway was over…
Asleep was a difficult state to maintain on the train.
The regular stops and the periodical arrival of new passengers was enough to wake me from a slumber of any depth. The rush of cold that would accompany any traveller returning from a midnight cigarette, bit at the toes just escaping from my slightly too short blanket. People heading to the toilet in the dark would accidentally knock my feet that protruded from my bunk, jolting me awake.
On the longer stops you would be treated to the echoing clanging of the Provodnitsas bashing the underside of the carriage to remove the build up of ice. A necessary evil at this time of year, but not much comfort when the sounds of metal on metal reverberated round my head in the early hours of the morning.
But rest was not something desperately needed during three days on the Trans Siberian Railway
Not much energy is needed when on the Trans Siberian Railway. From there, the days began to roll into one. The nights came faster as we moved through the time zones. Our waking hours became utterly devoid of routine as we napped, ate and bathed at random times of day. Reading or staring mindlessly out at the beautiful landscape for hours on end without conversation became normal. What was there to talk about?
The monotony was broken only by the coming and going of travellers and the occasional long stop, which afforded us the luxury of stretching our legs on the platform. Due to the increasingly frigid air, these icy excursions became shorter and less frequent as the ride went on.
The carriage might have been giving me cabin fever, but at least it was warm.
On day two, Dimitri and the stoney faced woman had left us. We were sad to see them go, but thrilled to have a potential seat with actual headroom available. To our dismay she was immediately replaced. We were faced with another long stint hunched uncomfortably over our various books, devices, snack of choice!
On day three, unable to stomach yet another bowl of barely nutritional and overly spicy instant noodles, we opted to visit the buffet car! Hungry and anticipating actual food, we set off on the journey, passing what seemed like most of the train.
The freezing inter-carriage sections we unheated and unprotected from the elements. Small drifts of snow were forming on the edges of the corridor and every bump and turn of the train seemed to be amplified, causing me to wobble and fall against the walls.
The deafening roar of the train was overpowered only by the icy blast of cold air that came with it.
The train was long and walking its length felt like an eternity. Each time we moved to a new carriage, the shock of cold was just as bad as the first. The warmth washing over you as you reached the other side, just as soothing. Each carefully closed door, to keep that warmth in, brought a new carriage and a new set of people having their own experience of this surreal ride.
Soon, we reached the second and first class and caught a glimpse of the slightly flashier life; more privacy and space. Here we saw way more tourists like us. I wondered how different our ride would have been had we not been as surrounded by locals Russians as we were.
At long last, the Dining Car came into view
To our total disappointment, the food was as bad we feared. Oily chips, anaemic omelette and a suspiciously grey piece of chicken. Still, not an unprecedented result given we were on the Trans Siberian Railway. And not a bad way to break up the tedium of day!
By day four, I was ready to leave.
However, in a strange way I had grown attached to our tiny little home and the people we shared it with. Although now tiresome, the lack of activity had forced me to reach a level of relaxation and chill I never thought possible. In particular, the lack of internet connection had done a world of good. The little bubble we had created was safe and warm. The outside world cold, yet beautiful, raced past unaware of our presence.
The prospect of entering the real world again almost seemed daunting.
As we stepped off the train, bleary eyed and freezing, into the heart of Siberia, I almost wished for a moment I could get back on the train and huddle back up into my warm bunk and sleep away the world.
Three days on the Trans Siberian Railway was enough!
Alas, new adventures awaited!
If you want, here’s a more practical guide on what to bring and what to expect on the Trans Siberian Railway!
Have you ever been on the Tran Siberian Railway? Do you have any cool stories to tell?
Let me know in the comments section!
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