Day 18: 48 Hours on a train (Part 2)


Is there anything worse than your alarm clock going off unexpectedly in a compartment with other people?

I scrambled to switch it off. Galia was already awake – she didn’t mind. Olia had been ignoring the early morning daylight so she wasn’t worried either. The woman in the bunk above me slept through.

A few times in the night I had been startled awake by the train being shunted quite violently. I can only assume another carriage was being added or the engine changed.

Overall, it had been a much smoother night than that previously – less gym vibrating table.

Galia had been amused by mybregular photo taking as we pulled into stations so she began pointing out arrivals for me. If you have enjoyed these photos you also have Galia to thank.

We were now 10 or 11 hours from Irkutsk – another time zone to cross through – and I wondered if this meant the Irishman in the next carriage would stop singing 24 Hours from Tulsa. This had started the evening before as the train passed the 24 hour mark.

Maybe he would treat it as 10 Green Bottles and do a countdown.

We were now at Tayshet (thanks, Galia) which was a transit point for prisoners being taken to the gulags. Apparently it’s mentioned in Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago – not a book I’ve brought with me for this trip.

The train chugged on and I talked with Talia who is a Junior Doctor on her way to New Zealand (via three months travelling in Russia, Mongolia and China) to take up a post there. Like me, she and her partner (the Gene Pitney singing Irishmen) had found people in Russia to be incredibly helpful.

It really is typical, you travel half way around the world and bump into somebody from your home town. I went for a curry in Barcelona once and the owner told us proudly that his chef was from the Curry Mile.

Mancunians (including honorary, like myself) get everywhere.

Talia is vegetarian and, while St Petersburg and Moscow had been ok in terms of the food offering, the further East she travelled, the harder she found it to find vegetarian food.

I had noticed that myself. I choose to eat a predominantly vegetarian diet but have no problems eating meat which is fortunate as there is often ham in the vegetable soup here.

A couple of hours East of Tayshet the scenery became more dramatic – much hillier with the forest below the track rather than encroaching on both sides. We were in the foothills of the Sayany Mountains, a range to the South added to the variety of sights. Galia indicated that this area was her favourite part of the journey.

I wondered how often she and the others travelled in this way. Olia had a four day journey to Vladivostok and Galia had joined the train later so she had a mere three and a half days on the train.

The internet signal was poor for most of the journey so it would not be easy for people to work and stay in touch with the office on these trips. Is the Trans Siberian Railway only for leisure? I cannot imagine most workplaces allowing days of travel time – certainly not for one meeting, probably not even for a conference.

Work travel must involve flights – an hour for every day by train – but there is clearly a need to improve teleconference facilities.

We need to change our expectations about how work and business are carried out if we are going to make an impact on climate change.

The train pulled into Nizhneudinsk. Cossacks first built a small fortress here in 1649 and for more than two centuries the town served as an important centre for gold and fur traders.

I took a wander down the platform. Have you even been on the Trans Siberian Express if you haven’t been on the station on your pyjamas? (Probably not a wise move in Winter but with temperatures between 19C and 22C I felt I could risk it).

All of the Russians on the train, especially when they’re on board for a day or more, dress for comfort – leisurewear, pyjamas and eighties. Nobody is standing on ceremony.

Little Legs was back on energiser-battery form… I knew you were wondering what was he up to… bounding up and down the carriage until he cannon balled into the wall. Fortunately, children do seem to bounce so his enthusiasm was undiminished.

Speaking of batteries, while there are socket points on the trains… bring a charger, or two. The power points are in the main carriage and you have to hold the plug in. Power banks just make life easier.

The train reached Zima, the last stop of more than 10 minutes before we would reach Irkutsk 5hours later. I was obviously going for a walk along the platform.

There was very little to see here… a vast array of tracks with various freight trains standing on them and a few passing trains with people dashing across the tracks to reach the station before the direct route was blocked.

There was a footbridge – up very steep steps and at the far end of the platform. I’ve not seen any lifts at the stations I’ve been to.

The carriages of the train themselves are reached by climbing ladder steps up from the ground. You don’t step off the platform into the carriage.

While I was having a platform wander the day before, I saw a man in a wheelchair sitting at the door of one of the train’s carriages. I have no idea how he boarded.

During the time I’ve been in Russia I’ve noticed lots of ramps down steps – for bikes, for scooters for luggage. Some, particularly one that sloped sharply downhill to the river in Tyumen, seemed a little too steep for wheelchair use.

How do people with physical disabilities manage daily life here?

When I climbed back on the train Galia and Olia asked me if I was travelling and for how long. With the use of the photo of my map saved on my phone and my calendar, I was able to explain where I am going.

I think they’re going to have a look at my blog too so if you are reading this, Galia and Olia, thank you for making my journey so enjoyable. It was really nice to meet you and you’ve made my trip on the Trans Siberian Express a lot of fun. And apologies if I have spelled your names incorrectly.

The scenery outside Zima changed as the train travelled through flat meadows threaded with rivers. It wasn’t long before we returned to birch and conifer forest much of which covers Siberia as far as the Arctic Circle – I am reliably informed. And then the landscape become mostly prairie and fields.

About an hour before sunset, the land started to look like moorland in the UK and as the train headed for Irkutsk the rails tracked by the river Angara.

Finally, the train reached Irkutsk – 3,000 miles East of Moscow. The train had, by now, been travelling five days since it left Moscow. There were another two days before Olia and Galia would reach Vladivostok.

Featured Photo: Final stop of the day at Zima. More photos on Instagram as I’m having problems uploading tonight.

Categories: Public Transport, Russia, Trans Siberian Express, TravelTags: , , , , , ,

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