So I’m writing this as we reach the end of our first [half] day on the train to Irkutsk. Sasha waved us off from Moscow on the 2pm train, after a hearty breakfast and a trip to the supermarket we were all so excited to embark on our journey! We boarded the train and it is at least 30 years older than the previous one from St Petersburg, at least. But this is not a bad thing! It’s quirky and old, all fake wood panels and pleather covers on the seats. The rolled up mattresses at duvets left a little to be desired but as soon as the crisp white sheets were put on them, they were great, who’s to know who slept in them before, right?
About an hour in, naturally, we all break into our stash of munchies. I immediately get food envy at Florine’s selection of crackers, cream cheese, tinned olives, cherry jam and rye bread. Looking at my chicken noodle cuppa soup, I knew if made some poor decisions at the supermarket. Luckily for me, Florine is a bit of a feeder so she happily shared her delicious snacks with me. We then continued to graze for about the next four hours – that is no exaggeration. Drinking prosecco in our thermos mugs and snacking, Aussie Tom snoozing on the top bunk and my Tom gazing out the window in the corridor whilst simultaneously guarding his phone on charge, this was the life. This is train life. For the next four days.
The one thing that was a bit of a shock to the system (initially) was the toilet. Florine summed it up pretty well by saying “it looks like a prison toilet” – it really does. It’s a metal can with a plastic toilet seat which ‘flushes’ by putting your foot on a leaver, opening a trap door onto the track. The sink looks fresh from the 60s and we had to ask the carriage lady to tell us how to operate the taps; English Tom is getting very good at improvised sign language. I’ve grown used to it now though, let’s face it, it’s all part of the experience!
The train stops every so often – quite often, I can see why it takes four days to get there – and at one of the longer stops, Florine, English Tom and I jumped off to take a look around and the platform was full of babushkas! They were pushing prams laiden with goods, carrying buckets selling a variety of fruit and vegetables mainly, not quite sure what we’d do with raw potatoes and onions but I guess they have to sell something. Then there were a couple of people waking up and down the platform selling an array of cuddly toys – why?! – me and Florine joked about buying a giant cuddly crocodile for LOLs. We didn’t, the cabin is way too small for that, he’d have needed his own bed.
The scenery is just beautiful, quaint little Russian towns with wooden houses of all shapes, sizes and colours, all blanketed in snow. So far we’ve read books, played cards, played chess, decorated the cabin with little paper pom-poms, listened to music and generally enjoyed one another’s company. Let’s hope we haven’t peaked too soon…
I didn’t think I would have anything to say about day two on the train, very little happened. Then we befriended a group of Russian Ice Hockey dads from Omsk.
Florine had gone to use the bathroom and returned to find two Russian men sitting on her bed in our cabin with me, Tom and Aussie Tom. The men were chatting with us but didn’t speak any English. Then it transpired the one guy could speak German and Florine could speak a little German too, so began the three way translation from Russian to German to English, then back to German and to Russian. Poor Florine! Her brain must have been frazzled having to negotiate the conversation. We were a little wary at first, after all, we don’t know these people and they appeared in our cabin, bottle of vodka in hand, making themselves at home. It turns out we had nothing to be worried about! They were a group of ice hockey dads, their fifteen year old sons were in the next carriage and they were returning home to Omsk after a match in another town. We were able to see that this was true as at one of the longer stops, hoards of teenage lads in bright blue branded track suits descended on their fathers, probably asking for money for snacks and things.
Anyway, they did the Russian tradition of offering us vodka (we all drank it together, with them, they weren’t just plying us with booze) and we happily chatted away in our cabin, popped open another bottle of prosecco and were gradually introduced to various people in their group. We were then introduced to the president of the hockey club and his wife, Marina. I very quickly discovered that Russian women do not smile, even if you smile at them, they do not smile back. Marina did not fall into this stereotype, she was friendly and very smiley and seemed pleased that everyone was making friends. The president then invited us down to the restaurant car for food and drinks and was offering to pay, it was extremely generous of him and naturally, we accepted. Unfortunately my Tom was having a bit of tummy trouble so decided to stay in the cabin – later when he felt better, the carriage lady wouldn’t let him down to the restaurant car and kept saying it was closed?! Weird – the rest of us descended onto the restaurant car and enjoyed snacks and a lot more booze. They even bought me and Florine a couple of bottles of Russian ‘champagne’, which tasted like appletiser and resolutely refused to accept any money from us. We managed to talk them round and let us thank them by buying a round of beers for their group, they were happy to accept this and we felt a lot better for being able to say thank you for their generous hospitality.
Florine and I waved a fond farewell and came back to the cabin at about 10pm (Moscow time). Aussie Tom followed shortly after with all the ice hockey dads, stumbling along the narrow corridor. He climbed into bed, then promptly climbed back out again, ran for the toilet – which was locked- and threw up in the corridor bin.
This morning we’re all a little hung-over but nothing too horrendous. I love mornings on the train. I get up, go for a baby wipe shower, wash my face and sit with a cappuccino looking at the beautiful scenery go by. The scenery is very different today, the snow-capped pine trees have been replaced by rows of spindly silver birches and vast expanses of plain land. The sky is bright blue and the sun is blaring across the Siberian landscape. I think today will be a quiet day.
I was right. Yesterday was a very quiet day. We slept, read, listened to music, ate and slept again. We had dinner in the dining car but we hadn’t thought it rough very well because the was absolutely now view out the windows at 7pm. The food was okay, nothing to write home about really. My Tom made me laugh because he looked through the door to the kitchen and he whispered “it’s falling apart”, I looked grouch myself and it was literally falling apart! The drawers and cupboards were all hanging off at odd angles, I’m not really sure how they cooked in there. It probably explains why there was quite a limited menu; some of the dishes we’d asked for we’re met with a “Nyet” from Oksana (the restaurant car lady). Florine and Oksana have become sound friends by all accounts! Oksana asked her if they could exchange numbers and if she would whatsapp her, this is pretty amusing as Oksana doesn’t speak a word of English (or Dutch) and Florine not a word of Russian.
When it got to night time none of us could sleep. I found this particularly frustrating. By the time we reach Irkutsk from Moscow we will have been through two different time zones; there is an five hour time difference from Moscow when we reach our destination. To confuse hints further, the train line runs on Moscow time, so it reached a point in the evening when we were all thouroughly confused about what time it was. Should we be eating? Or sleeping? We took advantage of the ne t long stop and got of the train to stock up on munchies, it was -22. Needless to stay we didn’t stop to check out the scenery too much.
It is now day four and we have one more night before arriving in Irkutsk tomorrow morning around 9am (Irkutsk time). We all have bad backs from the beds. I wonder if we could find a masseuse in Irkutsk…? I’m desperately trying not to sleep today as I know I won’t sleep tonight. Florine and Aussie Tom are napping, well Aussie Tom hasn’t really got up at all yet, honestly the guy can sleep for Australia!
The scenery has changed again today. We’re back to snow capped pine trees but this time they’re scattered across hillsides that are dotted with quaint little houses. It’s like something off the front of a postcard. It is also snowing here a lot, well, it’s difficult to tell whether it is snowing, or if the wind is blowing snow from the tree tops.
The cabin is starting to smell a bit. We’re all dreaming about having a shower, me and Florine are so excited to wash our hair. My dry shampoo helps. We haven’t made any more friends on the train but Florine’s friend Oksana from the restaurant carriage keeps popping by to say hello, we just at some sausage roll type things, they’re delicious and only 40 rubles.
This morning we left the train at Irkuskt and got a mini bus to Lake Baikal. Showers all round I think!