Crossing Russia on the Trans-Siberian Railway
- Crossing Russia on the Trans-Siberian Railway: Chapter 3 of 6
- Crossing Russia on the Trans-Siberian Railway
- Crossing Russia on the Trans-Siberian Railway: Chapter 5
- Crossing Russia on the Trans-Siberian Railway: Chapter 4
- Crossing Russia on the Trans-Siberian Railway: Chapter 6
- Crossing Russia on the Trans-Siberian Railway: The Final Chapter
“The concept of travel has been exploited to such an extent, the idea is now so banal, that I had resolved to never publish on the subject and to say nothing of the countries I have visited. First of all to avoid being vulgar, but also to keep from speaking of myself, I being the most boring pronoun I know of for a reader”
- Honoré de Balzac -
Unfortunately I am not Balzac, so here are some notes on my trip to Siberia.
Moscow to Perm, Perm to Lystvianska, Lystvianska to Irkutsk, Irkustk, to Ulan Ude, Ulan Ude to Birobidjhan, Birobidjhan to Vladivostok (my line is the red line that runs south of of lake Baikal then straight east)
It was a shlep…
9288 km (5721 miles) it says on the monument at the Vladivostok train station. That’s a 7 night trip if you do it all in one go. I made 5 stops, which meant 7 nights on the train and 9 nights off the train in youth hostels (no, they don’t check your age…) or hotels (gastinitza).
February 27th, 2010
It was confusing from the very start. Arriving at customs in Moscow at 2:30 in the morning as my flight had been delayed (may I mention that of all my trip, the only delay I suffered was on Air France…) there were only 2 queues to choose from, “Russian nationals” or “Diplomats”. It didn’t seem to me that I was either but I figured I was closer to being a Russian than a diplomat. I did well as a few minutes later a
group of 20 or so Russian athletes in shiny red sports uniforms probably returning from the Canada Olympics arrived and were promptly invited to pass in front of all the so-said diplomats who looked like small fry next to this group of giants. This was apparently very normal procedure. My queue of Russian nationals went smoothly.
Stepping out of the cab in the middle of the night in a small dark street before a greyish metal door with no sign on it I wondered if I really was doing the right thing. I had imagined a friendly youth hostel with a big sign, this was more like a prison door. But up 4 flights of dingy stairs I discovered a small apartment, clean and lively, and a bunch of youths smoking on the landing, no one seeming to consider it was now 3:30 in the morning and time for sleep. I guess I forgot was it was like to be young…
The place was mainly occupied by African girls on their way from Congo to Canada or the US, waiting for their political refugee visas to be delivered. They sat around braiding each other’s hair and found my enterprise of crossing Russia totally absurd. There was also the spitting image of Nouriev who was apparently in Moscow to visit his ex-wife and who spent 2 days in the main room screaming at her over the phone with no qualms whatever as to the nuisance he was to us all. I was rather fascinated.
I spent my two days getting organised, trying to test my rudimentary Russian and checking out the train station to see where I was to board the train the next day. Though I can read Russian, it’s all rather confusing, the stations are huge and bustling, and they are firm believers of poor public signage.
I had booked my tickets up to Irkutsk with a British agency before leaving, as I needed an “address” for my “visa support”, and had left the rest open, both because it’s cheaper buying tickets in Russia and because it would leave me some freedom to make up my mind a bit later. Some sources I read said it was almost impossible for a tourist to manage getting train tickets in a Russian train station, others said it was feasible if you spoke minimum Russian and had maximum patience, and as I did both, I figured I’d give it a try. All sources said that Russia is not a place for last minute planning. Changing a ticket was said to be virtually impossible, but as I became such a super woman by the end of my trip, Impossible was not part of my Russian vocabulary.
Following the advice of my Lonely Planet guidebook, I went to purchase the 3 train tickets for the remaining part of my journey at the Moscow Yaroslav station, in what they call the “service centre” where you pay slightly extra and someone supposedly speaks English. This was hardly the case but I managed, with a queue of impatient ticket buyers growing behind me, to purchase my tickets and was so proud of them I immediately took pictures, which caught the attention of the Militza standing nearby who motioned to me that photos within the station are prohibited.
Moscow was fun, lively, dirty and cold, and mainly slippery… the ice was slowly melting from the rooftops, dripping off the side of the buildings and forming puddles on the ground which then refroze. The entire inside part of most sidewalks were dirty pools of ice and I went flying on my first day, as a few toothless babushkas stared as if to say “stupid thing”. After that I did as the Russians who walk near the curb and tried to look at the ground rather than at the city around me.
Coming Up Next: Day 1
Meanwhile you can browse my Photo Gallery
Tags: air france, Crossing Russia.canada olympics, diplomats, honoré de balzac, irkutsk, karson, lake baikal, night trip, perm, pronoun, red line, red sports, russian athletes, russian nationals, small fry, sports uniforms, train station, ulan ude, vladivostok, winter trip