This is where I feel like I’ve actually been on the Trans Siberian Express, properly – around 24hours, I think dependent on the time zones.
I arrived at Vladimir Railway Station in plenty of time to catch the train in the evening of Day 12, to arrive in Yekaterinburg on the evening of Day 13.
I had a minor anxiety spasm as I looked at the departures board and couldn’t see my train listed. Then I realised it had an arrival time and it’s time of departure was 25minutes later. The next issue, where the hell was Platform 3? Only Platforms 1 and 2 had any signage.
I asked the security officer. He led me through the station to the stairs and a man who was catching the same train as me said: “Follow me.”
He was catching the train to Perm and corrected my pronunciation/ mangling of the word.
English readers of a certain age may remember a vintage 1980s advert set in a Liverpool nightclub toilet. A woman with a bucket on her head walks in. The two women already there, touching up their make up ask her: “Did your pyierm (perm) go wrong?”
That’s how you pronounce Perm. Embrace your inner Scouser.
(The issue for the woman with the bucket on her head, fact finders, was spots/zits).
Again, a conductor, this time a provodnitsa checked my ticket.
The provodnitsa is the woman (usually) on duty in the carriage, ensuring the samovar remains full of hot water, sells snacks and also provides the linen for the sleeping compartments.
Within five minutes of boarding the train, she came down to the carriage I was in and handed me, and the other new arrival, our linen.
She also took away my rail ticket. I think they do this so that they know when you are getting off the train.
Each bunk is a soft bench with an additional mattress you place on top of it.
Your linen pack includes a double thickness sheet to wrap around the mattress. I thought this was a duvet cover at first, but couldn’t find an opening.
It also contains a pillowcase for the pillow and a second sheet which you like beneath. If it’s cold, pull the duvet over it. It was only briefly cold enough in the early hours of the morning to warrant this.
I was initially sharing with a woman travelling alone and a mother with her daughter. They had the top bunks. I’m glad I didn’t – the bottom bunk has storage underneath it.
At around eleven, the mother stripped her and her daughter’s bunks. The train pulled in to the next stop and they left. The provodnitsa took the linen away.
Two more women entered the carriage. The provodnitsa returned with fresh linen. They made up their beds.
I fell asleep. When I awoke, one of the women had gone. I had heard nothing. The sleeping carriage was so comfortable.
So far, I had not experienced there being wifi on the trains and there was certainly no signal from any Russian telecom providers until we went through towns. Generally, the train stopped for five to ten minutes at the towns and I used these to check on Google Maps where I was.
Also to give myself reassurance that I would arrive at Yekaterinburg at 9pm, Yekaterinburg time, not 9pm Moscow time. Yekaterinburg is two hours ahead of Moscow – that could make a big difference to what time the hostel was expecting me.
For the most part, where I was awake, the rail route cuts through forest, predominantly silver birch trees whose leaves were changing to their Autumn colours, lots of yellows, oranges and reds. Interspersed were occasional fields… mostly filled with crops but a few had cattle.
With the exception of Kotelnich, during the first part of the journey, I couldn’t see much when the train pulled through towns, mostly just other railway cars – we passed too close to walls to see much. Occasionally the forest opened up making it possible to see villages filled with wooden houses.
It wasn’t so much Kotelnich that was interesting, as the river Vyatka. It was around 11pm as the train left the town and almost as soon as it left the station, it crossed the Vyatka which had three huge arching spans across its bridge. The river is vast – in the dark it seemed as wide as the Volga which I saw in Kostroma in 1993.
As for life in the compartment… nobody spoke. For the most part, the other women slept.
The provodnitsa arrived at around 11.30am to wipe the surfaces and vacuum the carpet.
On arrival into Perm, another woman joined our compartment and she and the woman on the other top bunk chatted. They tried to include me but the language barrier meant we were only able to smile and nod.
As the train left Perm, there were more fields and factories and the forest became more coniferous though still interspersed with a lot of autumnal silver birch woodland. There was more variety in the landscape… rolling fields, traditional wooden villages – the plain houses clustered around painted, golden domed churches.
The train seemed to chug along far more quickly than it had done in the 16 or 17 hours before we arrived into the city.
When hearing about the journey times to different places… five days to Irkutsk… I was astounded at the sense of scale that that conveyed. However, it only takes that long because the trains move so slowly, especially on passing towns and villages.
This journey did not have the same level of luxury as the Polrail trip from Warsaw to Moscow. The beds were self assembly but as there were changing passengers in the compartments – three new women since the mother and daughter disembarked – that sees to be reasonable.
The compartment was cosy and warm. I slept really well. The toilet was basic but very clean (and counter to the rumour, there was plenty of toilet paper) though there was no running water. Thank goodness for wet wipes.
However, being accustomed to Pacer trains around Manchester, it certainly has was not a hardship.
And, one hour before the train was due to arrive at Yekaterinburg, the provodnitsa same into the carriage to advise me to get packed up. How brilliant is that?