Slower train to Moscow

Trip Start Dec 14, 2007
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Trip End Mar 16, 2009


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Flag of Russian Federation  , Central Russia,
Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Day 1

11:10 (Moscow time, 16:10 Irkutsk time) As we board the train once again for our 3rd and longest section of the Trans-Siberian we feel we are a little more prepared and are looking forward to the next few days. The train journey from Irkutsk to Moscow takes 4 days and 3 nights and covers a distance of  5000km and 5 time zones and crosses from Asian into Europe. All train times in Russia are run on Moscow time, though, to avoid the obvious possibility of confusion.
 
The driver collected us from our home stay apartment and drove us to the train station which is normally a ten minute drive, but as traffic is often unpredictable; we left well before the train departs. We arrived at the train station an hour early. Even though our driver could not speak much English (none to be exact) he was kind enough to find out which platform our train was departing from and even helped us to lug our heavy baggage and (food & drink) supplies to the train. Because we were going to be on the train for such a long time we were suitably stocked with food and drinks to last us the entire journey and then some. It took quite a lot of heaving to get it all on the train.
 
Once on board we were eagerly waiting to see who we might be sharing our train car and cabin with... and hoped that we would at least have a few English speakers on our train. This round we were not that lucky.
 
Our train was filled predominantly with Russian families with their children, so from the outset we got suspicious stares. Our tickets indicated that we were booked into the two bottom bunks of the four sleeper cabin which was unusual as usually couples would get a top and bottom on the same side, which allows you to use your bottom seat to sit on during the day and then also sleep when you want, as apposed to having no seating room if you have only top bunks. We found out later through some gesturing and Russian (we could not understand) that two children would be sleeping on the bunks and their parents were in the next cabin. At the end of the day it turned out that the father, the son and the little daughter we all going to sleep in the two top bunks.
 
We also sadly realised that there ware major differences between the standard of the train cars on this journey. Gone were the modern cars we travelled on from China to Mongolia that had LCD screens for each bed and air-conditioning and power sockets in the cabins, gone were the windows that could open to let in a little cool air when it got to too hot and gone was the non-smoking cars as just about every Russian adult seemed to smoke in our car. The cabins were non-smoking so smokers simply gathered at the ends of the cabins which is designated as a smoking area but without closing the door to the rest of the car. I have a few harsh descriptive words for these people which I will leave out as children might one day read this.
 
Similar to our previous experience we found the fellow Russian travellers very unfriendly and impolite. I'm sure if we could speak more of the language and got to know them a little better (probably over a little vodka) it might be a different story. To date besides the tour guides and home stay hosts, we have not had a single kind gesture or look towards us. We have yet to hear a single thank you for a door being opened or a simple excuse me when you have been bumped out of the way. Not even a simple smile in acknowledgement or to say hello - even a grunt of some sorts would have been fine. It does leave you feeling you are not welcome, but fortunately we are not that sensitive and know there might be reasons for this behaviour, whether it is the failed communist past that had hardened many people or the cold distrust of others that often forms in people who have lived under communist rule.
 
IMH: I really feel bad that we could not speak more Russian, apart from Thank you - Spasiba, Yes - Da and No - Neyt. We also have no clue as to the Russian alphabet - which is apparently quite simple to learn. Even a phrasebook would have been an improved attempt to our efforts. Many other fellow travellers we met on our earlier train journeys had phrase books, which we chose to spare the expense on, but as they left for Moscow two days earlier than us, we had no phrase book to even borrow and resorted to bank stares and pathetic replies of " Neet Russian". How sad.
 
The contrast between the young children and their parents however, was like day and night. I find it amazing how children are so trusting and open to try and communicate and don't care who you are or where you are from or even how you look. It's a pity we can't keep this innocence forever........

The difference was just so big between the comfort zone we found when surrounded by similar Western travellers that we though this was worth a mention.
 
Besides the communication problems, the smoke, the suspicious stares we were still determined to make the most of it, and we had enough vodka to make sure we'd be very jolly for the rest of the trip.
 
Day 2
 
We were woken this morning by the in-cabin sound system installed in the cars tuned into some Russian radio station that played English music. Regarding our "cabin-mates" -  I'm convinced dad is a Russian snoring champion, big brother does not talk but I did hear noises from the bunk above and the little sister seems to love Inge-Marie. Dad is apparently a tank driver in the army so we'll be cautious not to get on the wrong side of him. Mom who sleeps in the next cabin does not seem to like us and keeps calling the little girls away from us, might be because she does not want them bothering us but I think she might be afraid we do something to them.
 
Even thought the thermometer on the train says 25 degrees it seems more like 30 in the cabin. With only one small window in the entire car that can open there is not much cool air coming in and our fellow travellers keep closing the window - they are clearly used to colder weather and preserving the heat. Its cloudy outside and I hope it will rain soon to cool things down.
 
15:00 It seems things are gradually cooling down as we mange to open a few more of the cars tiny windows. All this free time has given us a good change to make a sizable dent in our books, Inge-Marie has almost finished The Memory Keepers Daughter and I have hit the halfway mark in my 900 plus page novel, Shantaram.
 
20:00 Kids are going crazy outside our cabin. I'm not surprised since I saw them eating their 2nd ice-cream each before boarding the train after our last 30 minute stop. It seems there are about 6 kids on the car but it sounds more like 20 in this confined space (note for future reference).
 
Day 3
 
04:30 We both woke with the sun streaming into our cabin window after a slightly better nights sleep, sleeping on a moving bed just take a little getting used to. Even the earplugs seemed to have done their trick again and worked well to block out the chainsaw above. We were still adjusting to the 5 hour time difference between Moscow and Irkutsk, so we were gradually stretching the days.
 
The landscape we were passing through when we woke was quite similar to that of the previous afternoon however in the early morning it all just seems so much more beautiful. Endless forests of birch tree with their white barks and dark green leaves broken only by little mirror lakes and streams with steam slowly rising up and melting into the morning sun.
 
It seems some of the Russians are warming to us and I even got a few good morning nods and grunts from some neighbours, maybe I should bring out the vodka (which we haven't touched yet) and seal the friendship?
 
Unfortunately I have just been told, by the friendly car attendant, in Russian that I can no longer charge my computer at the power sockets in the car as they are only for cell phones and shavers. So for the rest of the day I'm going to walk around and pretend my laptop is a very big old fashion cell phone and hopefully this will convince her to give me some power. (Battery power 81%)
 
07:00 Inge-Marie starts her new book - Eat, Pray, Love (Natalies recommendation)
 
14:40 Our upstairs neighbours have left. It was quite a cold farewell and the only ones who might miss us were the 2 little girls after Inge-Marie treated them with some sweats. The youngest of the three, Masha (which translates to Maria in English), was a real little manipulator and kept coming back to Inge-Marie with big doe eyes asking for more. Inge-Marie gave in once and then she didn't stop, it was interesting for me to watch Inge-Marie learn a valuable lesson about future parenthood, good thing they weren't our kids.
 
IMH: I have to add here that Ryan was the one who gave in first and prompted me to give her another sweet (small chewy jellies), but he clearly remembers it happening differently. Either way, that girl has some skill!
 
15:00 Holding thumbs we wont have to share the upstairs cabins before we get to Moscow.
 
15:05 Inge-Marie's eyes are watering she needs to go so badly! The toilets have been locked for almost 2 hours and I feel for the girl!!
 
IMH: the two train attendants (I'm not sure what the official title is) on this train are very nice and friendly, clean all the time and even vacuums the carpets twice daily, for sure the best we've had so far - especially the older red haired one (Ryan says the younger blond one could really be pretty if she lost the mullet). They notify us in advance when the toilets will be locked and for how long (even if we don't understand a word they say, we got a sign language figured out which both us and them understand). It wasn't their fault that the train was somehow running more than 1 hour behind schedule. I did find out though that first class's toilets are not locked during stops - important note for future reference. Needless to say, if I ever have to travel on a train for this long we'll have to travel first class (which isn't much different to 2nd class we're travelling now, but has better ventilation, only 2 people to a cabin, probably power sockets in the cabin and obviously there's the "open toilet" benefit).
 
15:30 Most of the day has been spent reading and I have made a massive 250 page dent in Shantaram. The book has kept me glued to the pages most of the day and it has been difficult to put down. The book has completely changed my mind about visiting India and I am now convinced we must visit the country on a future holiday. Inge-Marie on the other hand has been getting a little cabin fever had has taken every opportunity that the train stopped to get some exercise. Most stops are only about 20 minutes which allows her to power walk up and down the platform and climb the staircases crossing the tracks. We are always a little nervous of straying to far from the train in fear that it leaves us behind in the middle of nowhere.
 
15:50 Relief! Inge-Marie is back to her chirpy self and has cracked a bottle of Argentinean Cabernet Sauvignon to celebrate.
 
16:30 Iger adopted me as his new best friend. He is a cute little 5 year old Russian boy with short cut hair (except for the obligatory Russian fringe), bad milk teeth and a good heart. He has three little cars, a BWM Z4, Mercedes Benz and a Ford Focus and that the only English we speak to each other. We have set up a ramp between the two bottom beds in our cabin and the cars soon started flying. Three hours later we were still playing and even after a few inventive alternatives my imagination is running out and I need a little peace and quiet. The fact that neither of us speak each other language hasn't stopped us from having long conversations, obviously neither of us knows what the other is saying, we speak different languages, I don't know how to tell him its bed time. His dad did come past our cabin a few times and rumble something at him which sent him running back to his cabin every now and then and hopefully before too long he will be called for bed.
 
IMH: Iger's dad clearly scares the living daylights out of him and we were debating if he has a respect for his father and his instructions - he's really a very well behaved and well mannered boy, not scared to say Spasiba (thank you) or if he is ruled by fear. His dad doesn't look very friendly, he actually is probably the rudest out of the bunch in our car and we concluded that the boy is ruled with fear. Then again, what else works with an active 5 year old boy...
 
20:30 After a long day of sitting around neither of us can stay awake anymore, snore........
 
Day 4

06:20 Iger is waiting at the door and wants to play. We invited him in and soon the cars are flying again.
 
07:45 Stole some power (in the bathroom!) without the power Nazi's catching us.
 
08:50 The power Nazi's have surrendered, they must have felt sorry for us and showed us where we could plug the laptop in for a recharge.
 
09:15 IMH: Iger and Ryan are still playing and now they are both taking photos - Iger with Ryan's old camera and Ryan with his new camera. Ryan really is a good and trusting teacher. To Iger's credit, he's a fast learner and I almost can't believe his 5 years old. I wish I could somehow tell the parents that they have a lovely little boy, but sadly, I have no Russian phrasebook and the dad does not look open to attempt hand signals and smiles.
 
11:00 Miles and miles of flowers. Besides the pine and birch forests that line the track there are millions of little purple, white and red flowers blossoming. With the train moving so fast it is impossible to take good pictures
 
11:47 Getting irritated with each other, being in this little cell for 4 days is just a little too much and there are still 7 hours to go! Have hidden all sharp instruments just incase ;-).
 
13:00 Crisis averted but we both need off this ride!!! Soon!!!
 
13:55 Last stop before Moscow but out train is almost hour late, lets hope we can make up the time.

16:00 Slowly going mad..... I want off!!!!!!!!
 
17:30 We miraculously arrive only 30minutes late and will meet the Australian girls, Annie & Daniel for dinner and a night out in Moscow.
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