The Transmongolian

Friday, April 8, 2011

4,500 kilometres to Moscow

We boarded the No.81 train from Irkutsk to Moscow at about 10pm in the evening of the 2nd for a 4,500 kilometre journey across Siberia spanning 4 nights and 3 days.

The journey was great.  Travelling 2nd class was cosy, but meant that we had an opportunity to meet ordinary Russians commuting between cities.  The Russians are all train veterans who travel extremely light (putting us quite to shame) and come fully prepared with train clothes and shoes.  Despite icicles forming on the train outside, the cabins are often overheated, and we were comfortable walking around in shorts, t-shirts and jandals.

Sergei (left) and Alexander who joined us on the final leg to Moscow
We shared our cabin with some 9 people over that time, most of whom would travel for around 12 hours before alighting.  As we progressively moved west, the English skills continued to improve which certainly made for more fun as we could share stories, photos and learn a bit of the Russian language.

Somewhat surprising was the consistency in the landscape over the entire journey.  From time to time the land would be hilly, but could never be described as mountainous (except for one mountain range which we passed through at night).  For the most part the landscape was incredibly flat.  Most of the scenery involved the massive siberian forests, but included regular villages with houses dotted along the hillsides constructed with a pretty wooden architecture.  It snowed heavily on our second evening adding to the large amounts of snow already on the ground.  However the snow made for a very picturesque view.
Snowing outside - a typical village (although the architecture has not been faithfully presented here)

The daytimes were passed reading books, talking to cabin mates, watching movies on the computer, eating and watching the landscape pass by.  It was easy to sleep at night and never cold.

722 kms to go...
Milemarkers on the side of the track count down to zero (Moscow) offering a great way to gauge progress and get a sense of speed.  Watching the distance clock down in 100 metre increments was also somewhat addictive - often half an hour would slip by unnoticed.

Svetlana the Provonista was incredibly kind and helpful, but a little camera shy
The stories we heard of wild nights spent consuming vodka, militant provonistas (cabin-ladies) and foul toilets all turned out to be quite mythical.  Although one of our cabin mates (Constantine) was somewhat of an alcoholic, preferring his brandy bottle to coffee for breakfast, very little drinking was done.  Our cabin ladies were also incredibly nice and overly concerned with our comfort, introducing us to any english speaking Russians who would enquire (on the behalf of the provonista) if everything was alright for us.  All in all this made for a very relaxing journey.

We purchased food from the platforms from old ladies who carry everything from smoked fish to grilled chicken, sweet pancakes and other home baked goodies.  The food was a little less abundant than we had expected (perhaps this is due to the season or maybe an emergence of platform kiosks banning this behaviour?), but when it could be sourced it was incredibly tasty and very well priced.

We arrived in Moscow at the unfriendly hour of 4.41am on the 6th...

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