Transsiberian Part 7 - The Rossiya
The Rossiya, also known as train number 2 when going east, is our home away from home for the next two days and nights. We are heading out from Yekaterinburg, just east of the Ural Mountains to Irkutsk, near Lake Baikal. This is the single longest leg of the trip and therefore we are going first class! We cross a large part of Siberia in one go, with only the occasional stops at stations to quickly stretch one's legs and get some fresh air.
Our cabin is about the same size as these in other classes but with only two beds, it feels more spacious. Having a lockable door is also a plus. With fewer people in this carriage, access to the toilets and samovar (large water boiler) seems much more civilized. With access to both bunks we can spread around our gear a bit more and have the space to read and have meals. A tip is to bring a UK gas meter key to access all the locks. Turns out you can get an RFID card to lock your cabin these days instead.
Both Katie and I have brought projects with us to do. Sounds crazy to some but when you are away for a long time, you can't really suspend who you are completely. Sometimes, even if you are miles away in a place you'll never be again, you just fancy like writing, coding or taking it easy. The train offers the best of these worlds as we can sit and work on our own projects whilst watching the lovely scenery go by. It's a welcome pit-stop from visiting cities at a breakneck pace.
Speaking of the scenery, it is indeed quite beautiful in parts. This time of year, Siberia is covered in snow but isn't anywhere near as cold as it could be. The melt is happening in places and you can see the rivers and lakes beginning to thaw. Nevertheless, there are vast areas of pristine snow, punctuated all around by birch trees. It's no wonder all the houses are made of wood here. We pass through small villages, with the occasional large town. At Novosibirsk I decide to get off the train and walk around the station a little bit, though not for too long as I have quite a fear of being stranded (if anyone has seen the film Transsiberian I am I constant fear of meeting Ben Kingsley)!
You see people on platforms selling furs and smoked fish here and there. There are many, many freight cars, including ones full of actual cars. At one point we saw a train carrying, among other things, tanks and armored personnel carriers. I wouldn't like to speculate where these are heading. One thing for sure though, the railway is definitely part of the engine that keeps the modern Russia - and probably other large parts of the world - moving.
I've brought my laptop and a cheap point-and-shoot. I'm recording the trip for a slitscan experiment I have in mind. In addition, we have a cheap smartphone whose sole job it is to record the GPS co-ordinates of the train. This means about every hour I'm swapping out various chargers from the one electrical socket we have under our table. Thankfully, I choose both devices wisely and they charge quickly and drain slowly so it's not too much of a hassle. I spend most of the day fixing my WebGL library (cursing the hipster developers who made vinyl-transform! Side-note fellas - you are doing it wrong!), whilst Katie works on parts of her article.
Meals on the train consist mostly of what you bring with you though we are treated to dinner when we first board. I'm brought a breaded pork thing with chips and vegetables whilst Katie has roast potatoes and mushrooms. Again, I'm surprised that the vegetarian option is taken care of. We have access to a samovar boiler I mentioned earlier and large tea cups so things like cuppa-soups, instant borchst and noodles are no problem. We've brought the Bison Grass Vodka with us (of course! No cliches there at all) and a bottle of Russian Champagne to celebrate our exile...I mean, excursion to Siberia!
The dining car is a little more plush than the last one, with some wood and metal features and some bad eighties pop playing a little too loudly. We order a sort of hotpot stew. Katie gets Borscht and has to fish out some meat chunks but overall, the meal is not bad. The prices for some items are way more than you'd pay in the supermarket but these dining cars are essentially franchises so they can charge whatever they like. Katie's mobile phone still has reception, even out here past Bogotol. The wonders of modern technology!
At one point we go for a wander towards the back of the train and the smell alone is enough to set you running back to your cabin! It's day three on the train and the lack of sleep and decent washing facilities has begun to take its toil. Nevertheless, coffee and wet-wipes help a lot! Part of the problem in Russia is that everything is overheated. You go into any public place from the cold and it's suddenly 24+ degrees and you haven't had time to take off your down jacket. Train sleep isn't really proper sleep, especially when the train pulls into a busy station.
We change time zones gradually as we cross Siberia. It's now Moscow time plus 5 hours. Seems a bit weird to be changing zones slowly. The kilometer markers on the tracks now line up with our guidebook, so as we pass one, we can check out where we are and what the local town is called, if it warrants an entry. This guidebook is somewhat special as it's lived in our bathroom for the past two years and has now come into it's own. Another classic thing to do is to read war and peace. Rather than do that however, Katie has brought the BBC Radio pod-cast adaptation instead.
I'm really looking forward to a shower and a shave when we get to Irkutsk! Ready to loose my standard issue Siberian beard!