From Mongolia we took the train to the Russian border. It often takes a long time to go across the border.
We had to wait for the Mongolian customs and immigration officials to board the train and check people. Then the train travelled a short way to the Russian border and Russian immigration officials checked everyone’s visas. Then they had to change the trains over.
The whole process lasted more than 9 hours.
In Russia we took the train to Irkutsk. We stayed at a little town near Lake Baikal, about an hour from Irkutsk. We did a homestay for a night with families who live near the lake. Baikal is the deepest lake in the world. At its deepest point it’s 1637 metres deep and it contains about 20% of the world’s fresh water.
From Irkutsk we got aboard the Trans-Siberian Express. We joined the line at about the halfway point (it runs all the way to Vladivostok in the east). The journey from Irkutsk to Ekaterinburg took 51 hours.
The Trans-Siberian trains run on Moscow time, (Irkutsk is five hours ahead of Moscow). Even the clocks at the train stations are usually set to Moscow time, which can make things confusing.
The trains were comfortable and clean and we shared four person sleeping compartments.
Most of the trains had restaurant cars but the quality and price of the food varied greatly. On one occasion four of us ordered meals, but only two of us got food.
The trains have a supply of hot water and a lot of people survive on instant noodles they brought with them (us included). Unfortunately Russian supermarkets generally don’t have the wide selection of flavors that you can expect in China or Japan.
The carriages are usually ruled over by female attendants. They are notorious for waking people early in the morning and grabbing their bed sheets, so that they will have all the bed sheets packed away by the time the train arrives.
The train makes short stops along the way and a few times a day there’s the chance to get off the train for between 10 and 30 minutes. There usually isn’t much to see, except for old ladies selling food.
You want to make sure you get back onto the train on time. On the tour before us, two people hadn’t got onto the train on time and the train attendant chased after them. All three of them got left behind at a small station and had to wait a few hours for the next train.
The people on the tour with me were good company and we had a really fun time on the trains. We spent the time talking and playing cards.
We stayed in Ekaterinburg for 2 nights. Ekaterinburg is where the last Czar and his family were taken after the revolution. There’s a church built on the site where they were executed.
Once inside Russia, I began my program of Communist indoctrination.
Ekaterinburg had an interesting keyboard sculpture.
I saw wedding groups all over Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. Newlyweds were visiting scenic places to have their photos taken.
I wouldn’t go too far out of my way to visit either Irkutsk or Ekaterinburg, but they are nice places to break up the long train journey across Russia.
I like travelling by train and the Trans-Siberian is one of the world’s great train journeys. It was a wonderful experience.
Some number trivia: We were on the train at 12:34 and 56 seconds on 07/08/09.