First 2 days on the Trans-Siberian line

Oct 27, 2014

First some clarification and explanation

"I'm going to take the Trans-mongolian train" is what I was telling people before I started my journey. Well, while it is not a lie, it's not completely true either. The trans-Mongolian train called "" and the Trans-Siberian train called "Rossija" are the only two that, for the first one go from Moscow to Beijing (train #004) and back (train #003) and the second one from Moscow to Vladivostok (train #002) and back (train #001).

But if you wish to stop on the way, like I did and like many other people, there is a lot of different trains that you can take that will bring you to destination.
Also, the Trans-Siberian and the Trans-Mongolian lines are the same up to Ulan-Ude, that's only then that the Trans-Mongolian goes south towards Mongolia and China.

Hence the title "First 2 days on the Trans-Siberian LINE"... Get it?

With this clarified, I can now tell you that I was onboard train #0056 between Moscow and Novosibirsk, on the Trans-Siberian line though...
Having spent more time than planned in Moscow, I couldn't make as many stops on my way to Ulan-bator as I first wanted to. Skip Perm, skip Yekaterinburg and head straight to Novosibirsk. The main reason? The bridge that the train crosses over the Ob river just before entering Novosibirsk. I wanted to film this with my quadcopter.
I had booked a Kupé (2nd class), a 4 bed compartment. But when I boarded, I found out that I had a single cabin, rather small but enough for 1 person. I was glad thinking that I was going to be by myself, quiet and be sure not to be disturb by other people while sleeping. But in the other hand a bit disappointed not to interact with locals, which is part of the experience travelling by train. I told myself "Oh well, I'll meet people on the second leg of my trip". It turned out I have been both able to meet locals and have time to read, write and finish my video on Moscow.

"Mike" and "John" were Russian soldiers on their way to Novosibirsk. Mike was speaking English enough for me to understand him. But sometimes he would just start in English and finish his sentence in Russian which quiet amusing. They invited me in their compartment to have some Russian vodka shots. Mike later told me that the vodka was actually Ukrainian... no big deal for me.

Me and Mike
When you tell people you're going to take the trans siberian train, you're always told things like "Oh, you're going to drink a lot of vodka they only drink that over there". And well, for my first experience, my impression was that it was true - never have I been so wrong. They had already started before inviting me in, and oh boy they can drink... Vodka shot, beer or juice sip, eat something, a bit of talking, vodka shot, beer or juice sip, eat something, a bit of talking was pretty much the routine, and a fairly quick pace. After 3 of those rounds, I was already feeling that I should better put an end to this if I did not want to crawl back to my cabin.
Me and John
I asked them why a sip of beer or juice after the shot of vodka. It's simply to make it less rough on the stomach or something, not sure I understood this one correctly. So I excused myself at the first occasion and went back to my cabin to watch a movie and have a good night sleep.
As I woke up the next morning and opened the blinds... snow everywhere!!! That's it, I am really entering Siberia and I'm going to freeze my ass off!
During the day it was just a succession of snowy forest and part frozen rivers, I could have, and actually stayed staring at the passing landscape for hours. The major stations the train stopped at were first, Perm, just after crossing the Kama river, then Yekaterinburg later at night. 
The train stopped in Perm

At some stations, you can find some small booths on the platform - which is made out of snow at this time of the year - where you can buy different kind of food and drinks. Knowing that they would be hot water in each wagon, I mainly brought those asian dry noodles dishes with me, but I needed something more consistent. So I went and bought salami and chicken wings for diner, while the train stopped in Yekaterinburg.

Yekaterinburg train station

Earlier that day, John came knocking on my door to invite me again, so there I went for another round of Vodka and Russian-English-German chit-chat. Oh yeah, they also speak a bit of German, I actually feel like more Russians speak German than English. Most of the time they were asking me the same questions as the day before, "Are you a student here?", "Where are you going?"... Same characters, same scenario, after a few shots - 2 or 3 again this time - I had to excuse myself, telling them that I might come back later - I did not - not willing to get smashed in the middle of the day! - it was already 3 or 4 pm but still.

On the second day, the snow was gone, we had crossed the Ural mountains over night. The landscape was not as pretty. The train passed by a lot of very small towns, that looked like dead towns from the train. It's quiet amazing thinking that people live here, literally in the middle of nowhere, with probably only cars and trains as mode of transportation. And it would take them 2 days to go to Moscow! Or they would probably just ride to Yekaterinburg and take a plane from there...

Siberian landscape from the train
But it must also be so much quieter and peaceful to live there, far from the useless stress of the city. That's something I have experienced before when I went to visit my family in Cameroon. My dad's mother lives in a very remote village in the middle of nowhere with no electricity and no current water. I have only spent 1 week there but it was the most relaxing one ever! Growing up in a city with the comfort we know it brings, I'm not sure I could live there forever - which is sad when you think about it; addiction to a certain way of comfort - but I will definitely do it again! But maybe not in Siberia with the winter and its far below zero celsius temperatures.

The train arrived in Novosibirsk on time, and my friendly couchsurfer host was there waiting for me as I exited the train. I was on to have my first couchsurfing experience as guest... more on that in the next post.

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