Wednesday 14 May 2014

The long train west

Day 44, 11:20 am local time - Train 81, 3,006 km from Moscow - 14,307 km traveled

We left Irkutsk at 1:17 am local time yesterday, though the clocks in the train station all said 20:17 because all trains in Russia run on Moscow time. This is particularly confusing when, as in our case, the time change spans midnight and you need to book the train for a different date than your actual departure.

In 36 hours, we've covered over 2000 km so far, crossed two timezones, and passed the halfway points of all the trans-Siberian routes from Beijing and Vladivostok. We're making good progress but certainly have a lot of kilometres still to go. The train trundles along at a pretty steady 60–70 km/h but makes quite a few stops: sometimes these are for just a minute or two to let people on or off, but we also make some 20–40 min stops in the tiniest places, presumably for some combination of providing a buffer to keep the train on time, allowing other trains to pass, topping up water, and emptying toilets. This train is the first since we left Japan to have toilets with holding tanks, which means they aren't closed in stations; they would have been more appreciated on the trains with 8-hour border crossings, but it's still one less thing to worry about.

I saw a couple with backpacks getting on the train in Irkutsk but pretty much everyone on the train seems Russian; certainly we're the only foreigners in our carriage. So far, we've been lucky enough to have a compartment to ourselves: this does mean we only have each other for company and haven't spent our nights drinking vodka, but it also means we've been pretty comfortable and have slept well. And after the woman who shared our compartment from Ulan Bator unpacked half a sheep from a cloth bag and laid it out on the bed to dry, we've really come to appreciate the benefits of having our own space.

So far we've been spending our time reading (sometimes out loud), playing cards, and looking out the window... not that there's a whole lot to see. The weather's lovely this morning though and the guide book gives us occasional kilometre markers to look out for. Our compartment hasn't turned into Lord of the Flies yet!

We're thinking we might go check out the dining car tonight but we've got a good supply of tea, instant noodles, and porridge which we can make with the free hot water in the samovar at the end of the carriage. And we've got fruit, bread, cheese, biscuits, and snacks to fill in the gaps. Plus a couple of bottles of wine of course. :-)


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