Written By: Leanne Cordingley
I think this was the part of the trip so far that we were both the most excited about. We were to board the Trans-Siberian train in Moscow, and would not be getting off for over 5000km, a journey which would take 86 hours, spread over 5 days.
We had a 2nd class ‘Coupe’ compartment, meaning we had a small room with 4 beds in it, basically a set of bunk beds at either side of a small room. During the day the bottom bed is used as a seat, there is a small table and storage space below the bed. Apart from that there is nothing else in the room. The compartment measures around 6 1/2″ x 5 1/2″. We had no idea who we would be sharing this with.
There is a restaurant car to escape to if you fancy a break every now and then. Also the train stops every few hours for 20 minutes or so. During this time you can hop off and buy various foodstuffs from people on the platform.
It’s not a great idea to flash laptops and other expensive items around on the train, so this post will be a little different from the rest. I kept a diary for the time I was on the train, and this account of our journey is typed straight from there. I am not sure, but by the end I think I may have started to suffer from cabin fever.
12th January 2009
We are sharing our cabin with a quiet Russian girl and a very chatty Russian man who boarded the train with what looked like the Russian equivalent of Red Bull in his hand. He knew a few words of English so we had a bit of a chat with him, showing him through our little book of photographs of family and friends. We gave him a beer. He told us he was a Security Guard working in Moscow. He works there for 20 days and returns home for 10 days each month. Obviously a regular on the train. When the beers ran out he left us, heading in the direction of the bar, I expect he will come back very drunk later.
A very relaxed evening playing scrabble, backgammon and reading, currently Adulous Huxley “Doors of Perception”.
13th January 2009
As expected the man came back after 2 or 3 hours last night very, very drunk. He plonked himself on the seat next to the girl, stripped his top half off, revealing a big wobbly belly and pair of man boobs and began gibbering. I’m not sure what’s worse. A drunk you can understand, or one who literally is speaking in a foreign language. At least this gave us some excuse not to join in with whatever ridiculous conversation he was trying to have with us.
He kept asking to shake hands then trying to kiss my hand. He kept touching the girls leg. She was amazing with him. I have no idea what words were being passed between them but she appeared to be being incredibly patient. She made him a cup of tea – which he promptly scolded himself on and spat out. She made his bed and told him to get in it. He did, but seconds later tumbled back down. A few stern words from train guard seemed to sort him out and he eventually settled and went to sleep.
The man left the train at about 1am. I think we were all quite happy he wasn’t going to be with us all the way!
Andy went out onto the train platform to buy us some breakfast this morning. He came back with a bag of small pieces of dry sweet bread. The girl, who’s name we have discovered is Natalia gave us a very strange look and offered us instead a boiled egg each and some beetroot salad. We had this on some bread we had brought with us.
A very tasty breakfast it was. Not sure if this is normal breakfast material, it seemed to be what she had brought for herself and we both enjoyed it, so I’m guessing it was. Very interesting to see what different people have for breakfast. It’s also amazing how much you can communicate between people when you have no shared language.
From the window we keep seeing huge areas of Dachas. These are like holiday homes for people living in the cities. They look a bit like a very fancy allotment. Lots of plots of land separated by wooden fences, each with a small house, space for growing fruit, vegetables or just relaxing. They are used as a base for forest walks and collecting wild mushrooms. How much would I love something like this at home?
Time on the train is odd. All timetables run to Moscow time, so all clocks show different time to what the ‘real’ time is off the train, or according to the light. We’re also moving across several time zones, about 1 or 2 hours a day. This is quite unsettling. A kind of slow motion jetlag. We will have gone forward in time 5 hours by the end.
“Day Two PM”
We went to the restaurant car last night for dinner. The menu was entirely in Russian. After some time scouring through it comparing each word to ones in our utterly useless phrasebook we eventually matched one up “Meat”. Eventually we managed to piece together a sentence meaning something like ” Do you have anything suitable for vegetarians” and took it over to the waitress. She read it out to the person who seemed to be running the restaurant, who smiled and said “NYET!”.
We finished our beers and went back to our compartment for a tasty bowl of instant noodles. Joy. John in St Petersburg had told us that the Russians call these things “Bomzh-paket”, which translates to “Tramps Packets”. Exactly.
The journey to the restaurant car is something of an adventure. Stepping into the gap between each train is a little like stepping out into Siberia for a few seconds. The door handles are coated in ice. The floor has a couple of centimeters of snow. It is really loud, dark and moving very fast. Scary.
Natalia left the train in the evening and a few minutes later the train guard appeared at our door, “scoobely joov” she said, and passed us a bag. A little confused we used our only Russian, “Spaceba” (“thank you”) and took the bag from her.
I can only assume it was from Natalia. She had made a few phone calls before she left and this pack contained home made things packaged very precisely in exactly the way all the food she had brought herself was – in small plastic bags. How kind. She must have been horrified at our diet of packed soup and tramps packs. The parcel contained bananas, bread, some homemade oat cookies and something that looks like a kind of cheese plait. Before leaving the train she had already given us more boiled eggs and some rectangular pieces of squishy white stuff, which between us we managed to decipher were made of sugar and egg white.
I don’t think we could have had two more opposite room mates than the ones we have had so far. The man, very chatty, but after beers very rude. He rambled on the whole time, had little concern for the feelings of the people in his carriage and was very noisy and falling around before going to bed. And this girl, sat quietly for most of the journey, signed a cross each time we passed a church, was very thoughtful and generous and prayed for at least half an hour before going to bed.
This cheese plait is gorgeous! The taste, a mix of smoke plastic, string and salt works very well!
In the evening our new guest arrived. This is very strange. It’s like having people to come and visit you, but you have no idea who, or when they will arrive. Our new guest is a Russian man in a suit who speaks quite a bit of English. It turned out his name is also Andrew and he introduced us to a Russian superstition. If you find yourself sitting between two people of the same name you can make a wish, and it will come true. I made my wish and hope it comes true. I like this idea. I think we will keep it.
We had a few beers, chatted abut our trip and he mentioned that some people in Russia follow a different calendar, so today was actually New Years Day.
Time for a celebration and a few beers!
14th January 2009
Russian Andrew got off at 1am and no more guests arrive at the next station. We have the compartment to ourselves for most of the day.
Really getting into life on the train. Drinking tea with hot water from the Samovar, reading (Now Gogol, “How Ivan Ivanovich Quarrelled with Nikiforovich”) and staring out of the window. It’s a beautiful day today. Clear blue skies, miles of leafless birch trees.
From the guide book, “From the train it appears as if there is a continuous forest in the distance. However, if you walk towards it you will never get there as what you are seeing are clumps of birch and aspen trees spaced several kilometers or more apart. The lack of landmarks in this area has claimed hundreds of lives.”
The cups on the train are great. Russian Andrew had told us that in the early days of the train they would be filled to the top to test the smoothness of the track. If one drop was spilt the person responsible for that part of the track would be in big trouble.
I’m beginning to think we don’t have enough time on the train.
Our new guests have arrived. 2 men in uniform.
They don’t say a word to us or each other. The younger one listens to terrible Russian pop music on his headphones. It is so loud! Must be deafening for him.
15th January 2009
The boring railway men got off at 1am. We had the carriage to ourselves for the rest of the night. Nice.
Bizarre thoughts are starting to enter my head. I begin to wonder if I have gone insane. Maybe none of this is really real? I could be locked in a hospital room somewhere and this is all in my imagination. Is this why I haven’t left the train?
Apart from occasional odd thought flicking through my mind life on the train great. There is so much to do in our 5″x6″ room I don’t think I could ever be bored. There is no pressure to go anywhere. No pressure to do anything. Just relax and be. How long could I stay here?
Outside it’s turning gloomy. I can see snow drifting across the fields and whipping up in miniature whirlwinds at the side of the train.
Andrew has gone into full blown train spotter mode. He is taking photographs of of every train we pass and counting the carriages. I will buy him an anorak when we get back.
The radio on the train is controlled by the attendant. The music is played through all the corridor and we have a control in our room for the volume. Today lunchtime seems to be ABBA hour. I turn it up a little. We will start drinking VODKA soon.
There are two attendants in each carriage. Their jobs are: checking tickets, putting coal on the fire for the heating and samovar and hoovering the little carpet in each of the compartments once a day. Ours seem very friendly.
I AM NOT MOVING BUT MY BODY IS
I haven’t won a single bloody game for around 24 hours now. Andy has even beaten me at scrabble. I’m going to throw the cards off the train.
German Whist – lost – 20-1
Shithead – lost – 2-1
Our new guests have arrived. Boo. We were going to have a party.
A Russian couple. The posh looking lady changes her clothes for a fetching blue and white shell suit. Her husband has gold teeth.
Being in the room with these other people is strange. Both couples are independently having conversations with no idea what the other is saying. They may as well not even be in the room.
I feel like they are just in my brain. Someone is talking in my ear. Are they really there? They could be completely imagined. No interaction has taken place between them and anyone else. Not even the guard. They haven’t spoken to anyone..
The lady hasn’t been to hoover our carpet today. How disappointing.
Only 12 hours until we get off the train. I don’t think I am ready to leave.
I have invented a new variation of scrabble. 10 extra points for every word on a theme. Eg todays theme is animals. I have:
I will never play this game again. Not only has Andrew worked out how to play properly, but he has also memorised ALL of the 2 and 3 letter words. This is very bad. Dza = a small boat?!! I don’t stand a chance. I don’t have the inclination to do the same so I can compete. So all is over. I suppose these differences are what make us interesting. But for now GRRR.
I have a theory that words chosen are related to what is on your mind. Psychology and awareness studies show you are more likely to answer designed questions with certain words if primed earlier. The main ingredient of KVAS is Rye.
I just lifted my pen to play a move in scrabble. The letters seem to slide around on their platform.
This game of scrabble is over. Andrew claims he has won, but he has clearly forgotten the animal rule. I gain +60 points.
The lady in our compartment is asleep.
We have found a secret compartment. Next to the toilets, no one is in the room. We have left the lady to sleep.
We have taken 57 photos.