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Life on the Trans Siberian

Moscow to Ulan Ude

overcast 16 °C

When we made our Trans-Siberian reservation, we were careful to ensure we were booking for the Rossiya, or train number 002, which is apparently the most comfortable and fastest train on the Trans-Siberian route. We made the decision early on to incur the additional expense of having our own cabin, rather than sharing with two unknown companions, even though this effectively doubled the cost (and this route is not inexpensive!). The ‘first class’ cabins are almost identical to the ‘second class’, except that there are only two berths rather than four. This gives Lloyd and me a little more space, and also means that we can worry less about our belongings. The second class cabins look just fine, if cramped, and I think – given the ‘wrong’ roommates – we could have been quite miserable, so we’re both pleased with our ‘first class’ investment. For anyone thinking of the TSR, we were surprised to find that there is only one ‘first class’ carriage on the train, and in fact less than half of the eight cabins were occupied for much of the journey. While we had the Nevsky Inn in St Petersburg secure our tickets for us, I suspect that second class tickets would have been harder to come by!


Each carriage has an attendant (provodnista) who is responsible for – well, I’m not sure what! The cabins are not serviced at all, nor do the smelly, stainless steel toilets seem to get cleaned that frequently. At each station, an army of provodnistas stand outside their respective carriages in their navy and white uniforms which at the very least seems to discourage non-ticketed individuals from boarding the train and raiding the cabins (a la Indian rail service). But this service aside, it’s not clear what these ladies do!!



A 24 hour supply of piping hot boiling water is available which we’ve used for tea and coffee in the morning and – more recently – for some noodles. Incidentally, we bought the noodles at a kiosk in Tatarskaya station with some candies. The total price: 62 rubles. Lloyd handed over 70 rubles, and received 6 rubles and a sachet of sugar as change! Apparently a sachet of sugar (just like you’d pick up in a café) is fair exchange when vendors run out of small change. Two rubles is about 8 cents, or 4 pence.

I wasn’t brave enough to try the local noodles, but would kill for a chicken and mushroom pot noodle at this point, if someone could just pop over and drop a couple off for me. Aside from tea and biccies for breakfast, the lack of activity (getting on and off the train three or four times a day to stretch our legs hardly counts as exercise!) means we’re down to one main meal a day. While the buffet car’s menu is limited, and the ‘chef’, clad in his ‘genuine fake’ Addidas track suit) looks like he could be on his fifth consecutive trans-siberian round trip without bathing, the pork escalope and boiled potatoes qualifies as Jacquie-edible at a price of 275 rubles (about $11).


Our first time in the Pectopah (p’s are r’s, and c’s are s’s, and h’s are n’s), we created some fuss by asking for the Russian menu, which our waitress proceeded to hand write specially for us, taking care to copy the prices from the English menu!! Suspecting foul play, Lloyd intercepted a ‘real’ menu from a Russian who was not-so-discretely whisked away to the bar for the sole purpose of seeing the ‘real’ menu. The waitress was furious, and physically body-blocked Lloyd from approaching the Russian, and we thought we were about to uncover a scandal of substantial overpricing for non-Russians. We were almost disappointed to discover that while there were some differences in the prices on the two menus, the differences were one or two rubles here and there…. Nothing that would have merited the intrigue created by the very deliberate and defensive handling of the two menus! Needless to say, Lloyd has spent the last two days trying to get back in the good graces of our waitress in a vain attempt to avoid having our food maliciously tampered with behind the scenes…


Actually, we were planning on buying supplies from vendors at our station stops, but nothing has been able to tempt us after the unbelievably good roast chicken at Moscow station. We were able to buy a banana and some oranges at one stop, however, which was the first fruit I’d seen since Cape Town.

So, with our Trans-Siberian odyssey, I am actually completing my list of top three travel destinations: India (achieved with Dad in 2005), Easter Island (achieved as part of my MBA in 2005), and now the Trans-Siberian. While there isn’t actually that much to see (largely because much of the track is banded with thick forest), the adventure is the trip itself and that hasn’t disappointed, although Lloyd’s ability to speak Russian has smoothed things considerably. Four nights on one train is probably enough, but I think a small part of both of us wishes we were continuing on to Vladivostock rather than ducking out at Ulan-Ude tomorrow to join up with the Trans-Mongolian. The days have passed quickly and, I think, surprisingly easily, with a combination of reading, snoozing, playing cards and writing. Put us on a beach and we have no idea what to do with ourselves. Trap us on a train for four solid days and we’ve had no trouble relaxing! I think confusion over the time zones mean that we’ve been able to justify sleep at almost any hour (the train runs strictly to Moscow time, and yet we’ve crossed four time zones so far, adding four hours to local time), so our bodies are operating somewhere in between. Sleeping late and snoozing in the middle of the day mean that it has been hard to fall asleep at night, although Lloyd has yet to accept my challenge of 3am Yahtzee…

Posted by jacquiedro 19:37 Archived in Russia Tagged round_the_world

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