How to survive the Trans Siberian railway for 4 days
12 Aug 2011
|We left Krasnoyarsk at 10am on the 9th of August for a 12 hour journey in a Class 3 cabin to head to Novosibirsk. It was a long and tedious day trapped in a crowded cabin filled with the great unwashed and Russian techno music. By the time we rolled out of the train in Novosibirsk at 10pm the last thing we wanted was to haggle over a taxi. Outrageously the drivers all wanted over 600 rubles to take us to our hostel (which by comparison was only costing 600 rubles each). Considering we had foolishly booked our next train for 10am the following morning, leaving no time to see anything, it seemed like a waste of money to stay in a town that boasted only of housing Siberia's biggest train station and locomotive collection.
Within moments we had agreed on a new plan; leave this town, skip the next few and power on to Moscow...a mere 92 hour ride away. So we sat in the station for the next 6 hours waiting for the next train, climbed on board and stayed put for the next 4 days. Amazingly not one person came to travel in our 4 berth cabin the whole time so we had it all to ourselves!
Unfortunately we we in a non air conditioned cabin so while the nights were icy the days were sweltering at over 40C in the cabin.
I learned a lot about the Trans Siberian train travel in that time ( wether I wanted to or not) so for anyone wanting the low down here goes:
Good books ( I went through 5...loving my Kindle!)
Instant foods and tea
The train has 3 classes, 1st class has only 2 berths per cabin and costs twice as much as 2nd class.
2nd class has 4 berths per cabin and I discovered all too late that you have to ASK for an air-conditioned carriage. Rookie error. 2nd class is twice as expensive as 3rd class but still very reasonable. Always go 2nd class if possible, much MUCH more comfortable.
3rd class is where the action happens as it's the way most Russians travel. The carriage is entirely open plan, has no windows AND no air conditioning. So in other words it's stinking hot and smells like an armpit. The beds are rock hard and there is no back rest to lean on when you sit. There are screaming children everywhere and always someone playing loud Russian techno music. With more people per carriage the strain on the toilet is evident and only the bravest of the brave would venture in there without gloves and breathing apparatus.
Dining car is outrageously expensive, and will charge an extra dollar for 'greens' parsley sprinkled on top of potatoes. 250r for handful of soggy chips. Other mysterious items will also be added to the bill for things you never ordered. Best to only use the dining car for a drink when your non air conditioned cabin reaches over 40C and you need to escape. It's air conditioned and always empty as no one can afford their astronomical prices.
Toilets close for 20 min before, during and after each stop. Time your bladder accordingly. Note: this will never work. The toilets at train stations cost 13 rubles to use and are always squat toilets.
Check the train schedule posted in each carriage and set an alarm for the longer stops once you decipher it. Leap off the train as it grinds to a halt to ensure you'll get your pick of the strange foods being sold on the platform. Dried fish is apparently a best seller.
Bring plenty of instant foods with instructions 'just add hot water' as there is a plentiful supply. A thermos is a very useful idea to save walking back and forth to the hot water contraption, as is cutlery bowl and cups for the endless cups of tea and multiple packets of instant noodles/potato/pasta you will consume.
Moscow time or local time, be sure of your train! All trains and train station run on Moscow time as Russia has 4 different time zones. Getting the times mixed up can have unfortunate results.
Avoid mafioso and smuggling rings to the best of your ability or you may make an enemy for life.
Be the first in your cabin/compartment when you embark, otherwise you might not fit with their luggage. Bags go under the bottom bunk, not on your lap is a concept the Russians have yet to embrace.
There is NO shower on the train! But you can improvise...take your Thermos full of hot water and your bowl to the first class carriage toilet. The reason for this is two fold, the toilet is cleaner AND when the carriage attendant chases you in a rage you can escape to your own carriage unscathed. Firstly strip off, mix cold water from the tap with hot water from the Thermos, splash liberally all over, lather and rinse. Once youre dressed and ready to leave, check the coast is clear. If you get caught the carriage attendant WILL be furious for making a mess...despite the fact the bathrooms are filthy AND there is a hole in the toilet floor emptying on to the track. It's dangerous but worth the risk! I guess you can just use wipes but it's not as much fun.
I must admit I really enjoyed the train ride, it was great fun and I think a lot more fun than stopping in Russia's rust belt would have been.
Next stop Vladimir...