Four and a half days on a train.
10.08.2013 - 14.08.2013 24 °C
A lot of people I told about my trip groaned at the thought of four and a half days on a train through Siberia. "Why would you do that?" they'd ask, "It'll be boring and disgusting." Well, after our first week in Russia, the truth was that we were all looking forward to four days of relaxation, just chilling, getting enough sleep, reading a bit - in short, resting.
Taking the train from Moscow to Irkutsk was a really good experience, once you get used to the notion of no showers or proper food for the next four days. I still can't quite believe we did it. I was actually quite well pepared as far as the food went. We went to Billa opposite Yaroslavsky station - definitely the biggest superamrket I've been to yet in Russia, but maybe not quite a big as we would have needed, because they lacked some essential products.
Here's my grocery list for the Transsib, if you don't want to die of instand noodle (beef/chicken/asia flavour) overdose, as nearly happened to some of my companions:
Instant soup - tomato (add some quick-cooking pasta and you have pasta with tomato sauce!)
Instant soup - pumpkin
Instant soup - Fritatten (= broth)
Small salami-type sausages that don't need the fridge
Ham chips (= dried ham)
Instant mashed potatoes (basic for when you can't stand the artificial beef flavour)
Fake Parmesan cheese, freeze-dried (is sold everywhere in Austria and no perishable - Parmesan makes everything better, be it cheesy mash or pasta)
- all of which I bought in Austria, and was very glad I did, because they didn't have it in the supermarket here.
Nutella (will get me through anything)
Baby food (intant semolina - unfortunately didn't get the right kind, but it was okay with Nutella and cranberries)
Quick-cooking pasta (I found small fusili that are al dente in 2-4 minutes, worked perfectly - for sauce either tomato soup powder, pesto (doesn't need to be refridgerated), or cheese)
Long-life milk (for your tea, or otherwise)
- perishable, but fine for a day or more, and you can get more on the platforms
Really, I had no trouble always finding something to eat without gagging at the thought of it, or resorting to dining car food (apparently tasty enough, but definitely pricey). The samovar (kettle) water is almost boiling, but unless you want to use that and let it cool off, be sure to take enough drinking water as well.
I also recommend baby wipes for staying clean, followed by a quick wash using a face towel and some drinking water. The toilets are pretty dire, but not actually scary, and if you have a stop longer than 20 minutes, you can use the toilets in the station, which were really clean. Even on the train, though, there was always enough toilet paper! Keep an eye on the train time table, as the bathrooms are supposed to be locked 30 minutes before and after every stop, and that can give your bladder a good workout, unless your provodnitsa takes pity on you.
Definitely bring comfy clothes and flip flips - this is your chance to just not give a damn what you're wearing. We spent our days on the train mostly sleeping, reading, playing cards and talking, and to be honest, I never felt bored, or like I needed something else. Even though using the outlets in the hallways - between three and six - was no problem at all, I never really had to charge anything. I was very glad to have my Kindle. I finished two books - quite thick ones - one of which I wouldn't have thought of bringing had it not been on my Kindle. (It was The Vampire Armand, of the trashy Vampire Chronicles that I really loved when I was about 16 years old - a large part of it deals with 15th century Russia, the Orthodox religion, the golden Icons, and even Genghis Khan, which I suddenly remembered looking at all those Orthodox churches, and I suddenly really wanted to read it again.) I actually haven't had this much time to read all summer, so I really enjoyed it.
Sleeping on the train is incredibly relaxing - we didn't have to pay for our sheets, contrary to what I'd read - except for the temperature issue. It was really quite warm when we left Moscow, but that got better quickly. Still, obviously the windows needed to be opened quite a lot if you're sharing a Kupe compartment with three other people. For that reason, I can't recommend the upper left bed, because that's the one that gets all the wind (depending on the driving direction, of course!), and especially in the evening it can get the whole bed quite clammy and cold. Other than that, the movement of the train is soothing rathet than annoying. (And luckily, no-one in our compartment snored!)
If you go through Novosibirsk and have a longer stop (ours was almost an hour), there's tons of free wifi in the station if you want to catch up on twitter or something.
Some stations have underground (or overground, i.e. a bridge) access from the platforms to the station, in some you just have to cross the rails. This can be dangerous, though, in case a long train comes between you and your train, and the trains here are seriously long. It might well take you ten minutes to get around that to your train, so make sure you keep that in mind if you don't want to miss your train. Also, despite the fact that nothing ever happened to us, it's probably a good idea never to leave the train without your passport and ticket, and other important documents.
All the train timetables are on Moscow time, even though by the time you reach Irkutsk you're five hours ahead. It's easiest to just stay on Moscow time for the first couple of days, before starting to pay closer attention to the local time in order to avoid Transsib jetlag - our train arrived in in Irkutsk at 4.30am Moscow time, which was actually 9.30am Irkutsk time.
Looking out of the window is only occasionally interesting, most of the landscape stays the same, as is to be expected in Siberia: birch trees, grass, some hills maybe, some civilisation. We completely missed the Europe-Asian border, but then, we weren't really looking. It did feel weird stopping in Perm, which is the place one of the Pussy Riot girls was imprisoned in a hard labour camp, though apparently she was moved just before we passed by.
tl;dr: After a week in the cities - especially a whirlwind two days in Moscow - four and a half days on a train was exactly what we needed.