Oct
4

The Trans Siberian Experience

So we’ve survived the longest train journey of our lives and are now here in China’s Capital - Beijing. The journey was certainly an adventure, which we both really enjoyed and would like to share with you. We kept a journal throughout the trip so this is snippets from that and what we can remember.

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Day 1 Tuesday 26/09/2006- Last day in Moscow - Train departs 21:35

We awoke this morning and decided to take it easy and get all our washing done prior to the trip. Also had to be out of room by 11 am so thought we’d better pack and catch up on some emails. Met up with Tom  & Christian who were also catching the train tonight and decided we would all head off and brave the moscow subway together at about 6 so we could get some provisions for the train.

Headed off to Yaroslavsky station (a one stop tube ride away) which was fairly uneventful and managed to find the train station failry easily, despite there being any comprehensible signs. Decided to go and grab a seat and a beer prior to catching train which was still in 3 hours time.

 All ready to start

Needless to say several beers later it was all of a sudden 21:00 and we still had limited cash, no supplies and a train to find. After a mad dash bought a few supplies in local grocers (poor choice crsips and packet noodles), got out some cash (poor choice 2 $100 bills and around 30 pounds in roubles), ran to train, found carriage and departed. There was a real feeling of excitement about heading off and it didn’t seem to take long to meet others in compartment and find the restaurant car (which also sold beer).

Day 2 Wednesday 27/09/2006 - Reality Bites

So after a somewhat sureal start to the trip awoke this morning with not only a mild hangover but with the realisation that yeaterdays’ drinking binge was not such a good idea. Had the worst nights sleep, as had spent all the Ruissian money in the restaurant car and nobody could split a hundred dollar bill to buy water. So awoke parched with nothing to drink or brush teeth in. All night long the door to our shower (room with hole in floor and basin with an extending hose) kept flying open setting off some very annoying buzzer.

 Shower Room2 Shower Room1

After much swearing determined you had to hold in green button when closing door to shut properly. Also awoke starving and Alasdair in a drunken stupor had eaten all our supplies (yes around 5 packs of crips and packet noodles!!!!). Managed to borrrow money from a neighbour which got us some water at the next stop and things looked brighter.

Balezino Station 

Throughout  the day had various visits from different people - Christain and Tom came up for a game of “scabby queen ” and met our neighbours Olivia and Marcus (Aussies returning to Oz after four years in Uk working & travelling). Spent much of the day becoming accustomed to the constant movement, shaking and noise of the train and the vastly changing landscape as we had now well departed the bright lights of Moscow. Temperature has droped significantly and are now surrounded by chocolate box houses.

 On the Way to Permi4 Leaving Omsk

Train is generally quite nice if not slightly basic. All the carriages are looked after by Chinese Guards who although appear strict are actually lovely. Our guy is a wee rounded chap who always has a smile and an endless supply of hot water for us.

Mr Conductor man2 

The toilets are basic and although cleanish have the worst smell ever (can’t begin to describe). Orignially thought we only had one toilet per cabin but actually transpires there are two betweeen about 16- 18 of us.  

Trans-Siberian commode1  

Cabins are decorated in fake wood and has carpet and curtains and generally not to displeasing to the eye. We have two bunks (Al gets the top), a table and a chair and not enough room to swing a cat.  

First class corridor oor gaff at speed

Spent all day hoping on and off train (Kirov, Balezino & Permi) when it stopped frantically looking for an ATM machine to no avail - however had found a couple of roubles in a spare pocket so had managed to buy some more noodles to get though the day. At each stop there seems to be a gathering of locals selling a variety of packaged goods, fresh supplies, beer and fags.  All not speaking a word of English, however turns out Olivia next door speaks fantastic Russain as does her husband Marcus so  they have been helping us deceifer what is what. You only get around 10 minute at each station so scared train will leave if we venture to far. 

At around 23:00 (Mosocw time) stopped at Sverdlovsk where managed to find an ATM, beer and suddenly our compartment was full of people and drink.

Day 3 Thursday 28/09/2006 - Feeling a little Sheepish

Awoke this morning with the worst hangover ever (particularly Al). Met laods more nice folk in our carriage Leon & Silke,Caroline & Paul and Al & Yo yo who had joined in card playing and drinking last night. Who ever created Vodka was trully evil.

 Night time rabble in Siberia First proper nights bevvy3

Woke up to find that our shower had been locked by hte guard and Alasdair had barfed in the sink ion the middle of the night and blocked the drain. Had to use next doors cabin for a shower and began to feel slightly more human.

I got off the train  for vital supplies (water and ice cream) at Ishim alolng with Olivia, Leon  & Silke. Just as we wre buying our final products the  bloody train started pulling off without us. In a not so heroic way had to an Indiana Jones style leap onto the moving train and sat  shitting myself at what could have been had I not managed to get on. Stranded in Siberia wearing my Eeyore pyjamas and with only a few roubles in my hand and I wonder when Alasdair would have noticed i wasn’t there!!!

Scenery is now really starting to change as we head into our 2000th Km, approaching Omsk, Siberias second largest city. The villages en route look like they have just stepped out of the stone ageand you wonder how people can survive in thee shacks during the cold months.  Omsk very industrial and bizarre change in scenery from landscape to city. Have now gone through three time zones so not sure what time it is.  

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If we have to see anymore packet noodles we will go crazy.

Day 4 Friday 29/09/2006 Cabin fever

Awoke after a very strange, sober and limited nights sleep. Train kept doing these funny jerking movements during the night which felt like you were going to fall out of bed. Decided would have to wash hair today and as shower was freezing deviced a plan to fill basin with hot and cold water (from thermos) and use thermos lid to scoop water over self and wash this way. Although nothing compared to a real shower felt great to have hair washed and felt slightly less manky. Really notice a difference in smells as you walk down the train into second class - one compartment absolutely reaks of BO glad I’m not in there!! No one now knows what the time is and I think we have now gone though 4 time zones.      

Had a much needed variety of food at last stop Kransnoyarsk (4098 Km into trip). There were ladies at the platform selling beef pates, potato dumplings, boiled eggs and croissant type things with cabbage and potato in (not my first choice of food but better than noodles). Finally felt a little fuller.

Day 5 Saturday 30/09/2006 Wow !!!!!

Had all been relatively sensible with the drink last night as Paul (our walking guidebook on facts) had informed us that at around 6 am we would pass by Lake Baikal  -the deepest lake in the world. So sure enough we all got up and opened the curtains to sunrise over the enormous lake.

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 It was absoulutely stuinning and we continued to run along side it for some three hours. Lake is about 400 miles long and 1 mile deep and apparently if everyone in the world used the lake for all there freshwater needs it would supply them for 40 years (fascinating hey??) Stopped just after lake at Slyudanka, where Alasdair had a smoked fish from the lake which apparently was superb!!

Fishy all finished Lake Baikal fishy

After demanding that I needed proper food we decided to brave the stinky Russian restaurnat car and eat something. The place was a smog of fags and the waiter, a bald Russain with a bow tie and the chef, like the guy from the muppets (herdy wurdy) complete with fag in mouth while cooking, were the scariest men alive. Least offensive thing on the menu was omelette so ordered that.

 Russian hospitality Russian Lunch

Just after placing order train came to an abrupt stop. Admiring the view Olivia looked outside to notice that the train had just hit a load of cows which were in various states of death and dying beside the tracks. Fortunatley I did not look out the window but by all accounts not a pleasant sight.

Tonight was our first border crossing leaving the depths of  Russian Siberia heading into Mongolia (5900 Km from Moscow), have read in the guidebook that it can take anything from 2 - 8 hours so lets pray its not that bad. Arrived at the border at 20:30 where the Russain guards all came on and took our pasports and throughly searched each cabin, removing all panels, looking under cushoins etc. We were allowed off the train while they processed our passports where there was a small farmers market selling a variety of supplies and with a barbecue. Needless to say Al was straight over to the food an dordered two sticks of bird - called itself chicken but I don’t think so. Anyway apparently very nice and filled a hole. Not allowed to use loos on train while stopped so had to find some in the station - primative and scary to say the least.

Finally allowed on train and went through electric, barbed wire fenses to Monoglia. Arrived at border and all of the orevious procedures were repeated. All the Mongolian Guards were ladies in knee high boots, leather jackets and short skirts - needless to say the boys didn’t mind  the wait there!! At around 2:00 finally got on our way again after an agonising 6 hour border crossing.

Day 6 Sunday 1/10/2006 Desserts & Food

First stop this morning Ulan Bator - Mongolias capital.

DSC01000 Downtown UB

Were running slightly behind schedule owing to border crossing last night so should have arrived at 07:00 but actually arrived at  08:00. Today we were loosing Leon & Silke and Al  & Yo yo who were departing for a Mongolian experience. Ulan Bator, although the capital seemed fairly small and not sure I would want to have been spending a week here. Scenery fantastic with fields dotted with “Yurts” and horses. Got off at station and purchased some postcards and a Mongolian painting, which I’m sur e were overpriced but nice.

Morning in Mongolia5 China gang

At the border last night we had lost the Russian restaurant car and gained a new one - so decided to sample it’s delicasies, along with Caroline & Paul. Was a breath of fresh air as room was clean, decorated in wood carvings and no evil looking waiters.  Instead had been replaced with a small Mongolain lady in suprisingly a mini skirt and boots. Menu was limited to “breakfast” but was delicious a non greasy omlette, salad, tea and toast. Alasdair was so impressed we stayed in there until lunch and he had “lunch” -  meat, eggs, potaotes and veg.  Sitting in the restaurant car was lovely as you could see out of both  sides of the train unlike in the cabin. 

The Mongolian food Carriage1 

The scenery was now breath taking as we went through the Gobi dessert and saw camels, vultures and lots of sand. Temperature was also rising. Olivia &  Marcus joined us and lunch turned into several beers.

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Stopped at Saynshand where we got off bought more ice cream and basked in the sun momentarily. Place surrounded by dogs and kids trying to sell you stuff. Managed to resist buying a beautiful puppy.

Second border crossing was even worse. Arrived at Mongolian border at around 18:00 and had to sit on the train for around 2 and a half hours going through the whole passport and customs check again. Foolishly had just finished dinner and beer as approached the border and did not have time to use the toilet prior to stopping. Whole carriage was full of people desperate for loo. Finally through into China where we were promised we could get off while the train’s “Bogeys” were being changed. This did not happen. However at least we got to see the whole procedure and remain on the train as it was elevated and the wheels changed.

 Bogey changing2   Chinese thiefs

Four hours later we were allowed off and all nearly exploding. China seems much more civilised and clean. Chinese border was like Disney Land all lights and colour and music which greeted us on our approach. Chinese passport control was around 30 minutes long (slighlty better than the others!!)Very unusual that the train passes through the border three times a week for the past God knows how many years and they have to change the Bogeys each time - how infuriating and backwards - trust the Russians to have a different rail system to everyone else. Finally got underway again at 02:00.  

Day 7 Monday 2/10/2006 Let us Off - The last day of the Trans Siberian Express

Mixed emotions about coming to the end of our trip but glad to be getting back onto solid ground. Had a free lunch on train of rice, meatballs and potato - not the best but edible and then packed up to leave.

Landscape in China very different to what we had seen over the past 7000 Km. Could now see lots of construction, hills and greenery.

 Foo Man Chu Chu Leaving Juyongguan

 As we neared our destination we were all on look out for glimpes of the Great Wall and finally got to see it at Kanzhuang where we gained an extra engine to help us with the climb. Stunning surroundings and now very hot. Had a good view of the Wall for around an hour and then headed on our way to Beijing.

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Massive change to our views as we neared the capital, the thousands of miles of idealic landscape were now replaced with construction +++, shanty towns, sky scrpapers and people. The smog was also thickening.

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Arrived in Beijing around 16:00 and said our goodbyes to our compadres.

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Youth Hostel was located just opposite the train station which was fab as it was about 30 degrees and turtle packs were heavy. Took a little while to accustom to the solid ground but after a cheeky KFC and shower felt significantly better.

On to our next adventure- Beijing…..

6 Responses to “The Trans Siberian Experience”

Ardon said:

uhmm… where are the pictures of the Mongolian Guards..? Its all feckin smoked fish and cheesy grins, if we dont get some naked girlies soon i’m going to get back to work.

Posted on October 4th, 2006.

Dooch said:

Now that’s a post!

Not to labour the point but a McDs in Moscow and a KFC in Beijing, whit? Now that you are in China make the most of it. Get yourself a fried dalmation with a side of roasted chihuahua . Although, I can pretty much guarantee that the Kung Po chicken will be nothing like you expect.

Posted on October 6th, 2006.

Peter & Jackie said:

Wonderful to hear you survived this leg of the trip, thanks mainly to forward planning, and careful choice of supplies and currency.
Pleased to hear that you have your priorities sorted.

Posted on October 7th, 2006.

Al said:

Dave - dont try and kid me you working hard - or even working for that matter.

Kev - You think KFC has better meat than the street vendors serving dogs testicles?

Deepak - Great to hear from you, is Mark still bursting yer balls!

The Blakeys - As you know we wnt to a great deal of effort to ensure it went smoothly…

Posted on October 8th, 2006.

SANDRA & SHIRLEY said:

On a quiet and wet Thursday afternoon in Drumchapel H C, we managed to have a wee sneaky look at what you guys had been up to. Nearly pee’d our pants laughing at your train journey, keep up the good work of keeping us entertained!!!!

Posted on October 19th, 2006.

Ben & Babs said:

I know i’ve been crap, but hey, i’m here now! Brings back sooooooo many memories of our trip! The toilets, the noodles, the vodka and the many friends that you meet. Looking forard to reading on and great to catch up with you on messenger! xxx

Posted on December 18th, 2006.

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