Friday 7 September 2012

The Trans-Siberian Saga - Part 2, Day 1

We were dropped off at Moscow's Yaroslavsky Station in the late morning, to wait in anticipation of boarding our home for the next five days. Finding our platform, there was not much to do except sit on our bags and spot the tourists among the Russian crowd.

About to board what will likely be the longest single train journey in our life - Moscow to Irkutsk, a total of 5153kms
Train 340 trundled in slowly, due to depart 13:35 Moscow time. Even though Russia is spread over nine time zones, the train always ran on Moscow time. Conveniently reminding those provincials who runs the show I suppose.

The 340 Train Timetable - Departed Moscow at 13:05 and arrived in Irkutsk at 04:19 4 days later - On the Trans-Siberian Railway
The high triple-digit train number also served to indicate the quality of train we were going to be on - unfortunately not in our favour (the rickety-type where one has to watch for blow-back when flushing the toilet); nevertheless we were excited about this upcoming experience.

Our cabin for the next 5 days - On the Trans-Siberian Railway
Boarding carriage number 12, we found our Compartment 4 and settled in. We had scored the two upper berths this time, which we didn't mind for this long journey since it meant that we could tuck ourselves away and not be bothered if we so chose. A middle aged fellow dressed seriously in a suit soon joined us on a 3rd berth. As soon as the carriage started to pull out we knew our train etiquette this time, swapping our boots for pluggers (aka thongs, flip-flops, jandals ... whatever your word is), travel clothes for, well, more comfortable travel clothes, arranging our bed sheets and blankets, and doing the do-si-do for privacy in the compartment. Whipped out the "Language" section of the guidebook again. His name was Yuri. He was going home after visiting his daughter in Moscow. He was a retired army soldier, no wait, make that an army officer, as he indicates proudly by tapping three fingers on his shoulder. Officer Yuri did not like Americans (had he met any?), but was completely amazed that we were from Australia. His expression seemed to say, what on earth possessed you to come here, catch this train, and call it a holiday?!

Old Hut - On the Trans-Siberian Railway
At lunchtime, we swapped our meagre collection of cheese and biscuits with bread and salo. Initially interpreting the latter as salad, I was surprised when a large, thick slab of hard salt-cured fat was produced. Is this what passes for salad in Russia? we mused as Officer Yuri carved off a chunky slice, cubed it and then insisted we try it. I pointed to my heart and signalled "potential cardiac-arrest!", the notion of which was dismissed with a wave of his hand as more cubes of fat was nudged towards me. It was actually delicious sublime, delicately seasoned with black pepper and a fantastic substitute for butter while travelling.

Water Tower - On the Trans-Siberian Railway
There were a couple of longish stops, around 20 to 30 minutes, where we could hop out of the train onto the platform to stretched our legs, and observed local babushkas selling buckets of apples and berries to passengers. We didn't have to worry about finding fresh food, if this was any indication.

Local Women Selling Food at one of the Stops - On the Trans-Siberian Railway
The 4th berth was occupied for a few hours by a demurely goth engineering student named Anya, who spoke little and got off in the early evening. Interaction over a meal heroically stretched our two pages of "Common Russian Phrases" to two hours of mostly amiable, albeit very basic, intermittent conversation with Officer Yuri. Not a bad effort considering. However, we also discovered our companion was going all the way to Irkutsk like us; this should be a test of our mettle versus cabin fever.

View from the back of the train - On the Trans-Siberian Railway

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