The train departed Vladivostok on time, and we settled in for our first night of sleeping on the train. The bed mattress was firm, and I guess we aren’t quite used to the clickety-clack-clickety-clack sound, the rocking of the carriage and the continuous slowing, stopping and speeding up that trains do. We didn’t sleep very well, but there will be plenty of time over the coming days to catch up on the lost hours.
We are slowly getting used to the rhythms of life on the train. I managed to bathe this morning in about two cups of water, but I felt refreshed after it. In about an hour or so, lunch will be served (in our compartment, I think). We just gave our lunch order to the waitress person, so we live in hope that it will be OK. One meal each day is included in the price of our train ticket.
We are stopped at present for half an hour at the station in Khabarovsk (population 690,000), and we have travelled 778km in the past 13 hours (not exactly fast!). It is snowing outside, and there is a full cover of snow on the ground. It is warm inside the train – the display at the end of the carriage says it’s 22 degrees Celsius inside, which is actually pleasantly suited to my current attire of shorts and a polo shirt.
There has been mobile phone reception along the whole length of the railway line so far, but wifi isn’t available on the train. We have a power outlet in the compartment, and all our devices are now fully charged.
The terrain is flat to slightly undulating, with some ploughed fields and sparse stands of silver birch and other deciduous trees. There is not much evidence yet of a spring thaw. Just after leaving Khabarovsk, we crossed the Amur River on a 2.6km long combined road/rail bridge, completed in 1998, the longest bridge on the entire Trans Siberian route. The river itself was frozen, with snow mounds on top of the ice.
More to come, as the excitement keeps unfolding…
Now it’s Wednesday 10 April. Same as yesterday.
Actually, no, not quite. We each had a shower today, courtesy of the 200 Roubles (about $6) we each paid (I mean ‘bribed’) the attendant in the next carriage. The shower is there for the train staff to use, but I doubt they earn much, so selling access to the shower is a small extra earner for them. And it was great!
Our lunch order yesterday was brought to the compartment at the appointed time. We had ordered one Salmon Steak and one Chicken Curry, which became two Salmon Steaks by the time they arrived. But it was nice red salmon and very tasty. I might try again for the Chicken Curry today, if it’s still available.
There are some interesting little things to see along the way. Lots of very small villages, consisting of timber houses and outbuildings in various states of disrepair. There appear also to be small military barracks in many of the small towns. Each major bridge or tunnel has a guard-post at each end, manned 24/7, to guard the facility against attack by terrorists or foreign invaders. I’ll include a photo if it’s not a security offence.
We had a visit to our compartment yesterday by Dimitri (D) and Yevgeny (Y), both Russian and probably in their 30s. Neither spoke much English. D had his bottle of vodka with him, and swigged from it regularly. He offered for us to try his vodka too, but we declined. Y is a forester, and is still on the train; he smokes endlessly in the toilet at the end of the carriage. I think we were just a foreign curiosity for D to speak to. D left the train soon after we managed to get rid of him indicate he should leave us alone. Y has not spoken to us since (he is too busy smoking!).
Now it’s Thursday 11 April. Same as yesterday, pretty much. We are sleeping a bit better each night as the increasing weariness takes effect on us. And we are getting more used to the lurches and creaks and groans of the train as it rockets along at an average travel speed of about 70km/hr.
The outside scenery has not changed much. It appears to be colder here now that we are in Siberia, away from the coast. The sky is blue, with not a cloud in sight. Our next stop (for 25 minutes) is Ulan Ude, from where the Trans Mongolian Railway line takes people south through Mongolia and on to Beijing in China. I expect there may be some movement of passengers from the Trans Mongolian line, joining our train to travel on towards Moscow. (We look forward to such exciting events to add colour and interest to the day!)
Late this afternoon, we will arrive in Irkutsk, pop 600,000, once known as the ‘Paris of Siberia’. (Not many competitors for that title.) For our two day stopover, we are looking forward to hot showers, some good food, doing some laundry and a couple of good sleeps. And an internet connection so we can link up with the outside world again.
We arrived in Irkutsk, on time, just after 6.00pm. More from Irkutsk in the next post.