Can you imagine a 56 hour train journey? That’s right, 56 hours. I have heard many people (myself included) complaining of the 6 hour train journey down to Cornwall or up to Scotland but now I can safely say that my perception of what constitutes a long journey has been changed. I have sat for 56 hours on the legendary Trans-Siberian railway (http://www.seat61.com/Trans-Siberian.htm#.UNGdlI0aNhI) travelling across half of Russia through 3 different time zones.
The end of our stay in Tomsk had arrived and I think it’s fair to say that no-one really knew what emotions they were feeling. I was of course upset about leaving the place where I’d built myself a nice little life: I went to university there, I joined dance classes, I tutored for a period, I grew close to the family I had been staying with and I even managed to be involved in a little car crash (scrape would be a more appropriate word but the police were nevertheless involved) Russian style. I was also quite nervous about the journey that lay ahead. Everyone we had spoken to had all used the same descriptive and hope-inspiring word, “awful”, to describe the train journey in our 3rd class плацкарт section. And I have to admit that I wasn’t feeling all that excited about going home as there was Moscow standing between myself and home at the time. After saying goodbye to our hosts and teachers on the platform we settled in to our 4 bench compartment and departed from the station.
In preparation for our train journey we had bought enough food to last us for 56 hours. Bearing in mind that we had no fridge and only a samovar to heat up meals, the food that we lay out on our table was less than appetizing. The girls in our group tried to maintain some variety in their lives by buying fruit, cereal, porridge, bread etc, whilst Alex just went full out and bought 7 instant noodle packets to satisfy his 7 mealtimes on board. We also had some chicken and pork prepared for us by the dean of our faculty in Tomsk which got eaten up within the first 8 hours. Of course, a special mention has to go out to the сушки necklace. These little donuts of dried bread always provided us with something to do.
Along the way we stopped off at cities such as Novosibirsk, Yekaterinburg Nizhny Novgorod and Vladimir. I should tell you now that if you are planning on going on the Trans-Siberian and are excited for all the cities you’re going to see then you are going to be disappointed. The train stops for approximately half an hour, not allowing enough time to see the city. The view from the stations is hardly spectacular either. I would advise booking yourself into a hotel in the cities that most interest you and spending a day or two having a look around. If I ever travel on the Trans-Siberian railway again then I plan on stopping off at Yekaterinburg, Vladimir and perhaps Nizhny Novgorod. I say perhaps because from the train it looked like a concrete jungle and completely unappealing but when consulting our guide books (http://www.lonelyplanet.com/russia) they mentioned how few towns in Russia can boast such an amazing backdrop. I am baffled by this. My curiosity may be strong enough for me to book into a hotel to see what all the fuss is about. The view on the way to these cities was gorgeous however, if a little repetitive. We saw the sunrise every morning shining across the snowy landscapes. There is something peaceful and calming about looking out the window and seeing white, glistening snow as far as the eye can see. It is also extremely interesting to see the immediate difference once you have crossed the Ural mountains into European Russia. We had previously been travelling for hours through countryside in between each station stop but as soon as we crossed into Europe the houses became far more frequent and after 3 months in Tomsk I found myself starting to get a bit nervous about how many people there were going to be in Moscow.
Overall, I can say that everyone was just trying to scare us. The train wasn’t awful in any way. In fact, I was quite impressed with how modern and clean it was. The people were fine and kept themselves to themselves (apart from one man on the bunk next to us who decided to have a little “me time” under his covers whilst occasionally looking in my direction. I promptly vommed in my mouth and moved. Next time I am going to prepare a string of insults for such incidents as this) and the 56 hours passed relatively pain free!
I still can’t quite believe that I’ve done it. Now I just have the second half of the railway to complete!