Extreme tourism: From Moscow to Vladivostok in a third-class sleeper
Extreme tourism: From Moscow to Vladivostok in a third-class sleeper
In trains running from the far end of Russia you can find out about the largest country in the world and its citizens. And you will not be disappointed.
Day 1: Moving to a new house
It’s night. My train departs at 00:39 from Yaroslavky railway station in Moscow, and my new house is at platform no. 2. The first wagon is green. It has the Chinese characters “Moscow-Beijing” written on it. The other wagons are gray and in Cyrillic letters is written “Moscow-Vladivostok”. And I have 9300 kilometers, six days and nine times zones.
Each third-class sleeper has 54 seats. My wagon is overflowing. The new neighbours are sitting in silence. The train moves slowly and the lights of Moscow are gradually disappearing.
The conductor checked the maps and now begins routine activities. Some people hide their luggage. One man helps me to place a large suitcase behind the bed. Others are preparing the beds and trying to climb the bearings without hitting the other passengers. At the other end of the wagon people are standing in a queue. There must be a toilet there. And now is the time for a cup of tea – beside the conductor’r room there is always a big samovar with free hot water.
Day 2: The Sun wakes us somewhere
My first morning in the Russian train. I do not know where we are. The older woman says to me “Good morning!” Outside the sun is shining and we go through the huts with colourful wooden houses.
I talk to a young woman sitting in front of us. Her name is Mariya and she lives in Moscow. She goes to visit parents who live in a small town in the Ural. She works for the furniture making company, reads French textbooks and loves St. Petersburg and Moscow. But she loves France more. Her boyfriend is from southern France and she dreams of moving to him.
I tell her I plan to go to Siberia in winter. She asks me if I have proper clothes – “You will need a” shuba “, she says. Then she tells me about all kinds of fur coats that exist. She says that the best is sheep fur coat. It can probably be found at a decent price.
Masha leaves in Yekaterinburg. The parents are waiting at the station. When I was in Krasnoyarsk one winter, I bought a warm jacket and survived at -45 degrees! I was in touch with Masha and sometimes we talk by Skype. She had already married and moved to France.
Day 3: Something really beautiful brightens the everyday life of the Trans-Siberian Railway
In each wagon there are two conductors (most often women). One works while the other is sleeping. Our daily conductor is about 40 years old. She has a short blonde hair and is called Olga. It could be said that she is very strict and well organized. It is forbidden to smoke and use alcoholic beverages, so she has to mention some men at the bottom of the wagon. It’s nothing special, she obviously knows what she is doing. When I went to take hot water for tea, she asked me typical questions: where from am I, what I do in Russia and why I prefer trains. “We rarely see the tourists on regular trains, they usually travel by luxurious trains with hotel accommodation and tourists who travel with us rarely speak Russian,” says Olga.
At the next station in Novosibirsk, we have a ten-minute pause. The train moves right in time, but we still have time to walk. Women at the station are selling bread, pancakes, water, fish, berries – that’s all you need to live in Russia.
Our “daily conductor” Olga did not have any free time, but she came out of the train and invited me to go to the railway station to buy ice cream. I wondered if we would come back before the train started. “Do not worry, it can not depart without me,” she says. She informed her colleagues and she took me by the hand. We crossed the rails, although it was forbidden and went to the station. We bought two “plombir”. It is a traditional vanilla ice cream, famous since the Soviet time. As soon as we got back to the wagon, the train started running. It was a fun walk.
Day 4: New Faces, New Stories
Somewhere in the middle of Siberia, between Novosib, as the locals call the “Siberian capital” (Novosibirsk) and Irkutsk, near Baykal Lake, almost all my neighbours came down from the train. In the town of Jurga, a large group of young men, future soldiers, entered our wagon. They do not make noise – they are probably wondering how they will be in the army. They talk to mothers by phone.
In the second town there is a large group of older men. Their skin is brown, but pale. After some time one of them turned to me and started to court me. I told him I was from Germany, and he was still a little bit angry. He could not believe it. Then he started talking to friends about my nationality.
These people go north. About five months they worked on some oilfield in the polar area. They are now returning to the south with their families, but only for two months. They say to me, “Do you know that we have not seen women or any other people for five months? We just looked at each other.” And they will soon be resting as well as those future soldiers. They take out smoked fish, garlic and bread. And of course beer and vodka. Conductor will not forbid them if they behave very well.
Day 5: Time to move
In the morning we had just passed a few minutes the great Baykal Lake. The sun rose above the water, and I wanted to press “stop” button just to enjoy the view.
Workers from the north go out one by one, and all soldiers go out together in Chita city. There is more and more free space and that is what I most need now. Every day we can get out of the train and take a little walk, but that’s not enough for me. My legs, arms, muscles and bones also crave for space.
A new passenger is sitting beside me. And she is called Olga. Some time ago she used to play volleyball, but she works now so she could not play any longer. She is going on vacation with a family somewhere near Khabarovsk. It’s east, but not very far. She travels alone in a third-class sleeper with four people.
Day 6: Goodbye my home with the birches, the sun and the wheels
Each day we cross over at least one time zone. Every day we see hundreds and thousands of birches and we are already accustomed to the rattling of the wheel. And what now? Now we have to move on.
It is truly a unique thing to travel across the whole Russia where you have to live with “absolute” strangers and unknown people in something that is the same as a large and long house. At a certain time they are like family members for you and they can tell you whatever they want because it’s hard to ever meet again. And indeed, they say often EVERYTHING – about their family, about politics and the world, love, death and religion. Be prepared for it and be open and enjoy the trip!
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