Well! This train was nothing like the train from Ulaanbataaar to Irkutsk. This was an old Russian train. We still had 4 bunks in our berth, but it was old, dusty, dirty. We were spoiled on the last leg as we even had an electrical socket and our own flask that the lady re filled from the Samovar. This one was perfectly function-able, just older. We were in cabin 7 and we started to unpack some things and get organised.
We had all our food in one bag, and got out our metal cups, plastic plates etc that we had brought from Hong Kong and I arranged the much needed ‘bathroom bags’. This consisted of 2 zip lock bags with: 3 x packet of tissues, dry soap, dettol disinfectant wipes, hand wipes and hand sanitiser. Everyone thought I was mad… until we all saw the one ‘toilet’ that was at the end of the carriage – then it all made sense!
It was locked for a lot of the time. Coming into a station, during a station stop, after a station stop and any other time the Provost (train ladies) thought necessary to lock the toilet door! No running water from the tap, no toilet roll, but at least it flushed (of sorts) after the business had been done. It flushed straight onto the track below – all of it!
There was a Samovar at the other end of the carriage that had a constant supply of hot water. So we got into a routine of dad collecting the hot water, mum making the meals and Jack getting the food out.
We were on this train from Irkutsk to Moscow. 4 nights. 88 hours. There was a couple who was on our last train too, Karen and Stuart. We had a drink with them in the restaurant car. The food there was Ok, expensive but the lady in the car was the friendliest we met. No one from the train smiles and you need to be extra nice to them. We tried to ask for a photo, but that was a no-go. She was laughing at us and we managed to communicate by sign language. We got a few beers and Jack had Russian equivalent of Fanta. It was great to talk to the couple – they had got the train from Beijing and were flying back to Oz from St Petersburg. They were kind enough to give Jack a birthday present – a little koala and a Mongolian note! cool!
We could open the windows a little in our cabin if I held the shutters up, so we got fresh air in our cabin.
Jack got an early birthday present of Star Wars Lego that we carted from HK! He managed to build 2/3 of it. We also did maths twice a day and read a lot. We got off at most of the bigger stations when it stopped for 20 minutes or so. We bought water and bread at one stall. The other stalls sold souvenirs and even massive soft toys (?) Most people smoked, some walked their dog that they must have had on the train, some didn’t get off. It was cold, but the train is so hot inside, that it was nice to get cold air again.
We ate in the dinning car on the 3rd night. All they had was salmon and Jack had pancakes. It was passable but Jack enjoyed the pancakes which were smothered in condensed milk!
Each night apart from the 4th night, we set up our beds and played a movie that we had already downloaded ready to play. We slept OK, despite the train noise and rocking on the tracks. Some nights, the train seemed to be stopped at a station for ages which made it eerily quiet, sometimes it was very noisy on the tracks particularly when other trains passed.
Mornings, were a quick trip to the toilet and hope that no one else was there queing. We did our business then back to the cabin to cover to ‘wash’ using all our various wipes we had on hand! Breakfast was packet porridge, fruit, coffee, orange juice. All that took up 2 – 3 hours, so before long, it was already the middle of the day.
We passed through 2 time zones on the route, but each railway station is set to Moscow time. So after a while, we had no idea of the real time! The sun would still be up and bright at 11pm some nights.
We managed to survive the journey! It was absolutely fine, actually quite comfortable, warm inside, we prepared well with food, wipes, water etc, and the fact that we had our own cabin made it easy as we had privacy the entire journey. We stood outside in the corridor for lots of the journey and talked to some locals, although the Russians were mostly, blank faced, didn’t acknowledge you when passing in the corridor and one even just knocked me out the way when he was coming out of the toilet, but nothing that we didn’t expect.
The scenery kept changing but one thing that was constant was the birch tree forests. All the way from Irkutsk to Moscow the trees were only birch. Lots of logging farms too. No animals to be seen. Occasional villages with Siberian wooden houses, or Soviet style blocks build right next to the tracks. Snow came and went but generally saw less snow as we progressed towards Moscow.
At last, at 4.30am Moscow time on 17th April, we arrived in the darkness at Moscow station. The Provost collected all the bedding and made a motion that we should get up, wash face and clean teeth! We had already been up for a while, but no teeth cleaning was going to take place until we had reached our hotel! We were filthy, tired and chucked away all our mugs, left over food etc and were packed and ready for the off!
We arrived at the Arbat House Hotel around 5am. Got immediately into the shower and watched the brown water come off my hands! They hadn’t been washed with soap for 5 days! A washing pile was ready for the laundry and now that we were clean we got ourselves to breakfast and had complete culture shock at the sophisticated cafe with smartly dressed Russians, with a decent breakfast and endless coffee made by a Barista. Two worlds and only a train ride to separate them!
We were now in Moscow and we were excited!