Diary: Trans-Siberian (2012)

It is almost axiomatic that the worst trains take you through magical places

– Paul Theroux

The Trans-Mongolian Route

The Trans-Mongolian Route — Moscow-Beijing || Beijing-Moscow

The Trans-Siberian is one of the world’s great travel adventures. The 9,200 km-long Trans-Siberian line, the continuous track connecting Moscow to Vladivostok in the Russian Far East, spans seven time zones & requires 8 days of continuous train travel, meaning some say it’s a test of endurance rather than an adventure. Various branches off the main route allow travellers some flexibility and provide the opportunity of sampling different countries, cultures & scenery. The most popular of the branch lines is the so-called Trans-Mongolian, which follows the same route as the Trans-Siberian for most of its journey in Russia before – when travelling in the more popular west to east direction – branching off the main route at Ulan Ude in Siberian Russia & travelling south through Mongolia towards its final destination of Beijing, China. I’ve been fortunate enough to experience the Trans-Mongolian adventure twice now, both times doing so in the winter months (when else would you want to see Siberia if not blanketed in snow?), both times travelling in the less popular east to west direction (starting my journey in Hohhot, Inner Mongolia, China, and ending it in Moscow), & both times travelling totally independently, buying my tickets as I go – doing the trip independently has meant I’ve had full day-to-day flexibility over my itinerary which is how I like to travel. On my most recent Trans-Mongolian jaunt in November 2012 I tried to keep something of a digital diary of my time on the train. The following is a somewhat piecemeal recap of the trip from when I left Hohhot on day 1 of my trip to disembarking the train in Nizhny Novgorod in European Russia 16 days later. Nizhny Novgorod, some 4-5 hours short of Moscow & in the same time zone, was the spiritual end of the trip this time – 2 relatively short, by Trans-Siberian standards, daily commuter trains took me the rest of the way to Moscow via a stop in the historic Golden Ring town of Vladimir.

Note: See the end of this entry for some resource recommendations for planning and living this adventure.

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Trans-Siberian Diary – Interactive Route map

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Day 1 | October 31st 2012

Location: Ulan Bator, Mongolia

I (eventually) made it out of China & arrived earlier today to the Mongolian capital of Ulan Bator (some spell it Ulaanbaatar).

The trip was long & pretty uneventful – how eventful can a 38-hour, 2 night train trip through mostly desolate steeps be? Not very is the answer. But it was fun. I lay around a lot, waited, stuffed my face, wondered numerous times why we’d stopped for no apparent reason in the middle of nowhere (although everywhere around here is the middle of nowhere), drank tea, waited a bit more, watched bogies being changed (see below), filled in arrival/departure cards & dealt with 2 different sets of border guards & customs officials (first the Chinese & then the Mongolians), read, watched a few shows on my laptop, slept, drank more tea, lay around a bit more, drank beers & kept waiting, all the while hoping I’d keep my 4-berth compartment to myself (I did).

Changing the bogies (the train undercarriage) of the Ulan Bator, Mongolia, bound train in a shed near the China/Mongolia border. October 30th 2012.

Bogies, the train undercarriage, being changed in a shed on on the Chinese side of the China-Mongolian boarder. This is a necessary procedure on the Trans-Siberian Railway journey due to the fact that the Mongolians & Russians use a different railway gauge to the Chinese. The procedure to change the bogies requires a two hour pit stop but it does offer a rather unusual photo opportunity, albeit from the confines of the train carriage – passengers are not allowed to disembark the train during the procedure due to the area being a national border area. On the Chinese side of the China/Mongolian border. October 30th 2012

After changing the bogies the train rolled into Erlian station, my last stop in China, where I was allowed off the train. It was a beautiful but bitterly cold day. The following picture was taken a few hours before the train slowly rolled a few kilometres north over the border into Mongolia.

Erlian, China, last stop in China on the Trans Siberian. On the China/Mongolia border. October 30th 2012.

Erlian, China, last stop in China on the Trans Siberian. On the China/Mongolia border. October 30th 2012.

All Mine
Yes, for 38 hours compartment 4 of carriage 2 on train 4252 from Hohhot, Inner Mongolia, China, to Ulan Bator in Mongolia was all mine. My compartment had seen better days (and had seen those better days quite a while ago). It had a draft I couldn’t locate, lumpy pillows, a power socket that didn’t work & lights that worked only when they wanted to & dimmed on a whim. But it, with its woollen blankets & carpets, was cosy (except for that draft… oh, & those lumpy pillows).

Compartment 4 of carriage 2 on Mongolian train 4252 from Hohhot to Ulan Bator in Mongolia. And it was all ours. A Chinese pairing did try to join us half way through the trip (when the train sat for the best part of 6 hours in Erlian Station, on the Chinese side of the border) but thought better of it once they saw we were foreigners. Approaching Ulan Bator, Mongolia. October 31st 2012 (day 240)

Of course I tried to get a few pictures of the trip. It was hard. The stops were as photogenic as one would expect any dusty, soulless border town in this part of the world to be. Pictures from the train itself were next to impossible as all windows were sealed. Or just about.

Travelling through the Mongolian grasslands en route to the Mongolian capital of Ulan Bator. October 31st 2012.

Travelling through the Mongolian grasslands en route to the Mongolian capital of Ulan Bator. A picture taken from my carriage window, 36 hours in and only some 2 hours shy of my destination of Ulan Bator. I could just about get my hand out the small opening in the window (but only after taking my watch off) so this was taken with my small point-and-shoot; getting an SLR out the opening wasn’t an option. I captured an almost identical picture to this some 7 years ago when I first did this trip, although back then it was February and there was snow on the ground. While this isn’t the Gobi desert (it dominates the southern third of the country whereas this is near Ulan Bator further north) it is some of the grassland that makes up 52% of the country. Used mainly for grazing, this land of emptiness with no fences (except when skirting the rail line) or privately owned land is a boy scout’s dream. The Mongolian grasslands from the Hohhot to Ulan Bator train. October 31st 2012.

I’m straddling seasons here by arriving in Ulan Bator at the end of October – it’s almost the end of the high/tourist season & the start of the low/you’d-be-mad-to-come-here-in-winter season. It’s not as cold as I thought it would be (or at least today wasn’t) which is a nice surprise. I’m not too sure what I’ll be doing here for the next few days. A night in a traditional Mongolian ger, a circular white felt tent, is definitely on the cards. Apart from that a few museums maybe. A temple. A National Park. At some stage I’ll also be looking to buy an onward ticket to my next stop, Irkutsk in Russia. But I’m not going to concern myself with that detail just yet.

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Day 6 | November 5th 2012

Location: On the train from Ulan Bator, Mongolia to Irkutsk, Russia

I’ve only now just figured out the timetable for this train, the one posted in my carriage. As a result I now know I’ll be arriving in Irkutsk, my first stop in Russia, early tomorrow morning having spent not one but two nights on this train getting there from Ulan Bator in Mongolia. That means in total the trip will take the guts of 38 hours, an inordinate amount of time to cover the 1,100 kilometres of 5ft gauge, non-standard, Soviet-era railway track connecting the two destinations. There’s a general air of unhurriedness with cross-border train travel in this part of the world & this train, the daily 263 from Ulan Bator to Irkutsk, certainly can’t be accused of being in a hurry. Drawn-out border formalities (passport & customs checks) – first by the Mongolians & then by the Russians – & random stops in the middle of nowhere & at every town/outpost unlucky enough to find itself located in this barren, desolate part of the world means the trip could be done a lot quicker.

I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.
– Oscar Wilde
Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/train.html#6czriixTuByDHedL.99

Outside Naushki train station, the first stop in Russia on the east to west bound Trans Siberian route.  Naushki, Russia. November 5th 2012.

Outside Naushki train station, the first stop in Russia on the east to west bound Trans Siberian route. Naushki, Russia. November 5th 2012.

Having left Ulan Bator at 9pm on day 244 – & having passed out of Mongolia early on day 245 – we rolled into Naushki, the Russian border town just over the Mongolian border. The train sat here for the over 4 hours giving us plenty of time to take a look around, walk on snow for the first time & withdraw our first Russian rubles – we needed to break a 1000 ruble note (€25/$30) to get change for the 9 ruble train station toilet so we bought our first Russian beer here, too. Naushki, Russia. November 5th 2012 (day 245)

For all its apparent unhurriedness train 263 is at least keeping to that aforementioned timetable. It wasn’t easy deciphering it. Firstly, and not surprisingly, it’s in Cyrillic, the alphabet used for writing the Slavic languages, of which Russian is one. I’m no polyglot but resorting to crudely matching Cyrillic characters (half a ‘T’ followed by a circle with a line through it followed by a back to front capital N’) on the timetable against those listed in my awesome Trans-Siberian Handbook (acquired from 2 Aussie guys we met at the Mongolian ger park a few days ago) had the listed locations down easily enough. Secondly, scheduled arrival & departure times displayed are, as on all Russian train timetables, in Moscow time even though Moscow is 4 time zones away (or is it 5?). I guess for a rail system that spans a country of 8 time zones a standardised reference time makes sense but it sure does make nailing down here & now times a bit of a challenge, especially adding to the mix the time change when crossing over the border from Mongolia to Russia.

A provodnitsa (carriage attendant) stoking the hot water boiler of a train carriage as it sits Naushki train station, Russia, just inside the border with Mongolia.  November 5th 2012.

A provodnitsa (carriage attendant) stoking the hot water boiler of a train carriage as it sits Naushki train station, Russia, just inside the border with Mongolia. November 5th 2012.

A provodnitsa (carriage attendant) stoking the hot water boiler fire on our train carriage sitting in Naushki train station prior to leaving for our destination of Irkutsk. The majority of the time our carriage sat in Naushki station it wasn’t tethered to any other carriage or locomotive. Eventually it got some company & we moved on. Naushki, Russia. November 5th 2012 (day 245)

So all in all I’m pretty certain, and barring any delays, that we’ll be arriving into Irkutsk at 6:55am in the morning, day 246 of the trip. Until then we’ll continue to look out the window at the icy, snowy landscape, make (very) small talk with the two Mongolian ladies sharing our 4-berth kupe compartment, eat, read (on this trip alone I’ve brushed up on my Russian history), drink (tea, 3 in 1 Chinese coffee mix, beer) & make regular trips to the carriage timetable to see when the next stop is & for how long, something Mel likes to be abreast of given the fact that the carriage toilets are off-limits when the train is at a station.

5832 kilometres to Moscow having just left Naushki train station, the first stop in Russia on the east to west bound Trans Siberian route. Siberian Russia. November 5th 2012.

5832 kilometres to Moscow having just left Naushki train station, the first stop in Russia on the east to west bound Trans Siberian route. Siberian Russia. November 5th 2012.

On the Trans-Siberian route track-side markers indicate how far the train is from Moscow. Some 60kms out of Naushki & there’s only 5,832 kilometres to go, a distance one could cover non-stop in 5 days from here but which we aim to cover in about 2 weeks, with a few stops along the way. We weren’t sure if early November would be too early for snow so we were pleasantly surprised to see it on the ground at first light today (while it seemed colder in Mongolia there was an absence of snow there). The usual annoyances (closed or dirty windows) meant no (good) photography was possible from the train as it passed through our first sampling of the Siberian landscape. I’ll be on a constant crusade to photograph the trip over the coming weeks so here’s hoping I get opportunities to do just that. On the train from Naushki to Irkutsk, Siberian Russian. November 5th 2012 (day 245)

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Day 11 | November 10th 2012

Location: On the train from Irkutsk to Tomsk, Russia

A few pictures taken on the train today en route to Tomsk, our next stop in Russia (still in Siberia), one timezone & approximately 1,700kms west of Irkutsk.

On the platform of Krasnoyarsk train station, Siberian Russia. November 10th 2012.

On the platform of Krasnoyarsk train station, Siberian Russia. November 10th 2012.

A picture taken on the platform of Krasnoyarsk train station where we stopped for 30 minutes some 18 hours in to the 28-hour trip west to Tomsk. Breaks in the trip & the opportunity they give to get off the train are good for breaking the tedium of the long trips. You just got to make sure you’re on the train when it pulls off (the Russians won’t wait for anyone). Krasnoyarsk, Russia. November 10th 2012 (day 250)

Inside a Russian third class, or platzkart, carriage en route from Irkutsk to Tomsk, Siberian Russia. November 10th 2012.

Inside a Russian third class, or platzkart, carriage en route from Irkutsk to Tomsk, Siberian Russia. November 10th 2012.

Russian third class, or platzkart. All of the overnight train trips we’d taken since leaving Hohhot, Inner Mongolia, China, on day 238 have been the equivalent of 2nd class, kupe class in Russian, a carriage of closed compartments with only 4 private berths per compartment. Platzkart is a little less comfortable, a little less private. It’s an open-plan dormitory car with 54 bunks per coach, arranged in bays of 4 on one side (left of the picture) and bays of 2 along the coach wall on the other side of the aisle (right). Perfect for the budget-conscious traveller – the third class fare for the 28-hour trip west to Tomsk was 1,400 rubles (€25/$30). On the train from Irkutsk to Tomsk, Russia. November 10th 2012 (day 250)

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Day 13 | November 12th 2012

Location: On the train from Irkutsk to Tomsk, Russia

It’s approaching noon on November 12th & I’m 40 minutes out of Tomsk. I’m in 3rd class/platzkart carriage number 2, berth 1, of train 037 en route to Nizhny Novgorod, my destination which, according to the timetable in my carriage, is three time zones & 3,215 kilometres away. I’m alone for now in my open plan berth. There’s room for 3 more bodies in here, but until such time as those bodies arrive then I’m making myself at home. First dibbs and all that. I reckon I’ll have company before too long, as the train stops off every so often to pick up more passengers. The first stop of many over the next two days & nights is, according to that aforementioned timetable, in 35 minutes. I guess I’ll just sit here and look out the window until then.

Ready for What’s Ahead
I have my stocked food bag stashed under my berth. Its contents are mostly bananas, bread, biscuits, tea bags, 3-in-1 coffee, instant noodles etc… the usual just-add-boiling-water (readily available on tap in each carriage) train fare. I judged as best I could in the supermarket earlier today in Tomsk & I’m hoping the contents of the bag will stretch for the two days I’ll be confined to this train. If not then there’s always the platform vendors &, hopefully, a dining car (I’ve yet to tour the train to know that for sure). The snowy Siberian taiga landscape passing by the window of the carriage (pine trees covered with a heavy sprinkling of powdery, virginal snow) is interspersed every now and again by the sight of yet another small, picturesque Siberian village. The villages look like they & their dainty wooden houses are suffocating under the blanket of snow, a covering that makes them look so idyllic, but so inhospitable at the same time – life is hard out here this time of year. It’s the same landscape I’ve been viewing now since I stared my Russian train odyssey back on November 5th last, shortly after crossing over the Mongolian border. Scenery wise nothing much has changed over the course of those 2,250 kilometres. However, I suspect it will on this train ride – I’ll be officially leaving Siberia (1,660 kilometres from Nizhny Novgorod) at approximately 11am tomorrow, November 13th, & I’ll be leaving Asia & entering the more densely populated European Russia (1,335 kilometres from Nizhny Novgorod), at approximately 5pm tomorrow, assuming I’ve got my times right.

The Diary
I’m sitting here wondering how to go about documenting this 2-day train ride, my last extended train ride, in any country, of 2012. It – documenting the trip – is something I’m going to do to help pass the time (not that I’d be bored even were I to sit here for 2 days doing nothing, as I have an intense tolerance for this kind of ho-hum travel). I haven’t been successful in photographing much of anything from the previous trains I’ve been on (to my & my cameras disappointment all carriages I’ve ridden thus far have been nicely sealed tight) & I’m not holding out much hope for this one either. But who knows. Two (more) days on a Russian train. Let’s see what happens.

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map-pointer-iconUpdate 1 – Tayga (Map Icon B)

Date | Time: November 12th 2012 | 14:00
Time Zone: Moscow +3 hrs./GMT+7
Time on Train: 2 hours 40 minutes
Distance From Tomsk | To Nizhny Novgorod: 122 km | 3,093 km

I’ve just left Tayga train station where the train sat for 40 minutes. I’m now back on the main east-west/west-east Trans-Siberian line & will head west from here – Tomsk was a 90 kilometre detour off the main line. I went out taking pictures while the train sat at the platform.

Train 037, minus its locomotive, sitting in Tayga train station as seen from a bridge spanning the station tracks. Tayga, Siberian Russia. November 12th 2012.

Train 037, my home for 2 days of life on the rails, minus its locomotive, sitting in Tayga train station as seen from a bridge spanning the station tracks. Up here I was reminded by a station official (he spoke Russian, was grumpy and had a hi-vis vest on, official enough for me) that pictures were not allowed (a little old Soviet sensitivity maybe). ‘Het photo!’ (no photos) is all it takes from a Russian to get the point across. It’s not the first time I’ve heard that and unless I’m a bit more inconspicuous it won’t be the last. Train 037 is 9 carriages long, 10 if you include the very big, very green & red electric locomotive pulling us all along – I don’t because I can’t walk through it in the search of unlocked windows. I’ll get a proper/internal look later but from the outside there doesn’t seem to be a dining car, just six 3rd class/platzkart carriages & three 2nd class/kupe carriages. Tayga Train Station, Siberian Russia. November 12th 2012.

I’ve just paid my first visit to the end-of-carriage toilet. It’s pretty clean & swanky (for a train toilet). These digs are a hell of an upgrade over the older, stuffier, more crowded platzkart carriage I rode a few days ago from Irkutsk to Tomsk. That carriage had obviously been riding the rails for many a year, but this carriage is one of the newer generation of rolling stock.

Inside the sparsely populated 3rd class/platzkart carriage number 2 of train 037. 3rd class/platzkart is an open-plan dormitory car with 54 bunks per carriage arranged in open compartments of 4 berths - 2 up/2 down - on one side (left of the picture) and 2 berths - 1 up/1 down - along the carriage wall on the other side of the aisle (right of the picture). Perfect for the budget-conscious traveller; the fare for this 48 hour+, 3,100km trip,  was 3,900 roubles (€100). This carriage is new (compare it to an earlier picture of the older 3rd class/platzkart carriage I took from Irkutsk to Tomsk) and half empty, which probably explains why I'm still all alone in my 4 berth compartment. On the train from Tomsk to Nizhny Novgorod, Russia. November 12th 2012.

Inside the sparsely populated 3rd class/platzkart carriage number 2 of train 037. 3rd class/platzkart is an open-plan dormitory car with 54 bunks per carriage arranged in open compartments of 4 berths – 2 up/2 down – on one side (left of the picture) and 2 berths – 1 up/1 down – along the carriage wall on the other side of the aisle (right of the picture). Perfect for the budget-conscious traveller; the fare for this 48 hour+, 3,100 kilometre trip, was 3,900 roubles (€90). This carriage is new (compare it to an earlier picture of the older 3rd class/platzkart carriage I took from Irkutsk to Tomsk) and half empty, which probably explains why I’m still all alone in my 4 berth compartment. No cabin fever yet then. But there’s a long way to go. Over 3,000 kilometres by my estimation. On the train from Tomsk to Nizhny Novgorod, Russia. November 12th 2012.

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map-pointer-iconUpdate 2 – Novosibirisk (Map Icon C)

Date | Time: November 12th 2012 | 18:30
Time Zone: Moscow +3 hrs./GMT+7
Time on Train: 7 hours 10 minutes
Distance From Tomsk | To Nizhny Novgorod: 335 km | 2,880 km

At an earlier stop the train departed 10 minutes earlier than advertised on the timetable (be careful, the Russians won’t wait for anyone) so I made sure to back on the train well in advance of our advertised departure a few minutes ago from Novosibirsk, Siberia’s capital and its largest city. We sat there for 40 minutes, ample time for me to get off for a quick look at Siberia’s largest train station, one that for some reason took 12 years to build (1929-1941). After all that time to dwell on it you’d think they’d have made a better fist of the colour scheme.

The façade of Novosibirisk train station, the largest train station in Siberia, on a relatively mild November afternoon. Big (to underline the might of the Soviet state), uncompromising geometric forms (meaning straight lines) with lots of glass & even more of concrete. Typically Soviet. Novosibirsk, Russia. November 12th 2012.

The façade of Novosibirisk train station, the largest train station in Siberia, on a relatively mild November afternoon. Big (to underline the might of the Soviet state), uncompromising geometric forms (meaning straight lines) with lots of glass & even more of concrete. Typically Soviet. Novosibirsk, Russia. November 12th 2012.

Busiest Stretch of Freight Rail Line in The World
I’m now riding the rails on the busiest stretch of freight rail line in the world, the 625 kilometre stretch of rail between Novosibirsk & Omsk, Siberia’s 2nd largest city & another industrial mammoth. We’re due to stop there at 2am in the morning but needless to say at that hour I won’t be up & about. Oh, and I’m still on my own. A few people boarded the train in Novosibirsk (& Tayga before it) but none who had a ticket condemning them to sit in awkward silence opposite me.

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map-pointer-iconUpdate 3 – Dinner Time (Map Icon D)

Date | Time: November 12th 2012 | 19:30
Time Zone: Moscow +3 hrs./GMT+7
Time on Train: 8 hours 10 minutes
Distance From Tomsk | To Nizhny Novgorod: 385 km | 2,830 km

I’ve just had dinner. Noodles & a mystery-meat sandwich. The meat was a mystery when I pointed at it in the supermarket earlier today & gestured to the stone-faced babushka (a somewhat derogatory term for a Russian Grandmother but commonly used to hail any women of middle age) behind the counter. It – the meat – turned out to be a rather delicious chicken breast wrapped around some ham-based filling. The noodles weren’t nearly as good. I didn’t really need either as I wasn’t very hungry. It’s hard to go hungry on long train rides like this – one seems to be constantly snacking. I am. And mostly on crap. The very same crap I brought with me. It’s doubtful that rapidly-depleting food bag of mine will last the course.

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map-pointer-iconUpdate 4 – Bed Time (Map Icon E)

Date | Time: November 12th 2012 | 21:00
Time Zone: Moscow +3 hrs./GMT+7
Time on Train: 9 hours 40 minutes
Distance From Tomsk | To Nizhny Novgorod: 557 km | 2,658 km

It’s still relatively early & I haven’t done much today (obviously) but I’m still tired. Also, there’s (obviously) not much to do. So I’m turning in for the night. Night all.

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map-pointer-iconUpdate 5 – Good Morning (Map Icon F)

Date | Time: November 13th 2012 | 07:30
Time Zone: Moscow +2 hrs./GMT+6
Time on Train: 21 hours 10 minutes
Distance From Tomsk | To Nizhny Novgorod: 1,443 km | 1,772 km

I’m not the tallest but even for me these berths are tight; berth size is definitely more generous on the older carriages. I still slept though as one does on trains – on & off. I’ve crossed a time zone overnight so now I’m Moscow time +2 hours (GMT+6) – and I’ll also cross those two zones before getting off this train in Nizhny Novgorod. And still I’m alone. I was half expecting someone to sneak on during the night and take possession of still-vacant berths 2, 3 & 4 in my open-plan compartment. But nope. I’m starting to think now that maybe, just maybe, I’ll be left to my own devices for the remaining 2,600 km+ of the journey. Right, time for breakfast. Let’s see what’s in the bag.

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map-pointer-iconUpdate 6 – Tyumen (Map Icon G)

Date | Time: November 13th 2012 | 08:40
Time Zone: Moscow +2 hrs./GMT+6
Time on Train: 22 hours 20 minutes
Distance From Tomsk | To Nizhny Novgorod: 1,513 km | 1,702 km

I’m sitting in Tyumen station. Founded in 1586, this is Siberia’s oldest town. The last time I was here in February 2006 I disembarked here and headed 250 kilometres north to the old Siberian capital of Tobolsk (& what a photographic treat that was). No such plans this time but I did get out a few minutes ago to take a look around. In hindsight maybe that wasn’t the best idea; I took a tumble on the icy steps of a platform walkway, with my camera taking quite the hit. No damage done, seemingly.

A pre-boarding birthday celebration on the platform of Tyumen train station as viewed from an overhead bridge. Captured at 8:30am, when it was still surprisingly dark. Tyumen, Russia. November 13th 2012.

A pre-boarding celebration on the platform of Tyumen train station as viewed from an overhead bridge. This was taken minutes after me & my camera took a wallop on the steps of the bridge. It was also taken at 8:30am when it was still surprisingly dark. Tyumen, Russia. November 13th 2012.

Although it’s still dark (as it approaches 9am) today looks like it’s going to be like all the others – bleak & overcast (but at least it’s not snowing). That means I’ve only been treated to one blue-sky day since arriving in Russia 8 days ago (my 2nd day in Irkutsk).

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map-pointer-iconUpdate 7 – Leaving Siberia (Map Icon H)

Date | Time: November 13th 2012 | 09:25
Time Zone: Moscow +2 hrs./GMT+6
Time on Train: 23 hours 10 minutes
Distance From Tomsk | To Nizhny Novgorod: 1,555 km | 1,660 km

According to my awesome Trans-Siberian Handbook, I’ve just crossed out of western Siberia & into the eastern Urals region as noted by the 2,102 kilometre-to-Moscow track-side marker that has just flashed passed the train window (meaning I’ve crossed 3,798 kilometres of Siberian landscape since rolling over the Russian-Mongolian border 8 days ago). I see that as a prelude to the main event later today – the Asia-Europe boundary coming up in 325 kilometres time. I may have (just) crossed out of Siberia but the landscape hasn’t changed all that much – still endless taiga forest and blanket whiteness.

Not much to see here… but what there is to see is pretty. A picture of the taiga landscape as seen from my carriage at kilometre marker 1,995 (1,995kms from Moscow). I haven’t taken many pictures from the train and probably won’t at this stage. There are two good reasons for that: 1) I can’t get any unobstructed (not through glass) pictures; & 2) the view is always the same. On the train from Tomsk to Nizhny Novgorod, Russia. November 13th 2012.

Not much to see here… but what there is to see is pretty. A picture of the taiga landscape as seen from my carriage at kilometre marker 1,995 (1,995kms from Moscow). I haven’t taken many pictures from the train and probably won’t at this stage. There are two good reasons for that: 1) I can’t get any unobstructed (not through glass) pictures; & 2) the view is always the same. On the train from Tomsk to Nizhny Novgorod, Russia. November 13th 2012.

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map-pointer-iconUpdate 8 – Leaving Asia | Entering Europe (Map Icon I)

Date | Time: November 13th 2012 | 15:50
Time Zone: Moscow +2 hrs./GMT+6
Time on Train: 29 hours 30 minutes
Distance From Tomsk | To Nizhny Novgorod: 1,877 km | 1,338 km

I’m sitting here looking out the window counting down the kilometre markers until the Asia-Europe boundary.

…1779 (kilometres to Moscow)

Two kilometres to go. It has stopped snowing (it was snowing heavily as we went through Yekaterinburg, about 40 kilometres ago) & the train seems to be slowing down a tad. That’s good. Hopefully I’ll get a good look at the track-side obelisk that marks the boundary.

…1778

Less than a kilometre to go. It should be along any seconnnndddddd… NOW!

Well hello again Europe! It has been a while. Asia to the left, Europe to the right. The white obelisk on the Trans-Siberian main line marking the Asia/Europe boundary, near kilometre marker 1777 (1,777 kilometres to Moscow). On the train from Tomsk to Nizhny Novgorod, Russia. November 13th 2012.

Well hello again Europe! It has been a while. Asia to the right, Europe to the left (direction of travel). The white obelisk on the Trans-Siberian main line marking the Asia/Europe boundary, near kilometre marker 1777 (1,777 kilometres to Moscow). On the train from Tomsk to Nizhny Novgorod, Russia. November 13th 2012.

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map-pointer-iconUpdate 9 – Perm 2 (Map Icon J)

Date | Time: November 13th 2012 | 21:00
Time Zone: Moscow +2 hrs./GMT+6
Time on Train: 34 hours 40 minutes
Distance From Tomsk | To Nizhny Novgorod: 2,221 km | 994 km

It has been a quiet afternoon, especially after the euphoria of crossing over into Europe. I could really do with a shower (the biggest issue for me on extended trips) but will have to wait another 12 hours or so for that. Between charging cycles of my laptop battery I managed to do a bit of overdue work (gotta to help pay for this trip somehow) and I finally got around to having a good look at some of my pictures from China. I’m just leaving a town called Perm 2 (I’m assuming there’s a Perm 1 as a result). While the train sat for 20 minutes I hopped out to take a picture of the train locomotive. I had to wait for it to roll into place (seemingly a change of locomotive was needed) but when it did I captured this picture before anyone could tell me not to (& someone did come later to tell me not to).

Locomotive tag. With ‘only’ 994 kilometres to go maybe this one will be pulling me the rest of the way to Nizhny Novgorod. Perm 2 Train Station, Russia. November 13th 2012.

Locomotive tag. With only 1 more sleep & some 1,000 kilometres to go maybe this one will be pulling me the rest of the way to Nizhny Novgorod. Perm 2 Train Station, Russia. November 13th 2012.

Right, I’m off to bed. One more sleep.

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map-pointer-iconUpdate 10 – Shakhunya (Map Icon K)

Date | Time: November 14th 2012 | 06:45
Time Zone: Moscow +0 hrs./GMT+4
Time on Train: 46 hours 30 minutes
Distance From Tomsk | To Nizhny Novgorod: 2,975 km | 240 km

I’ve just left somewhere called Shakhunya, meaning I’m about 3 hours & 240 kilometres from Nizhny Novgorod, my destination. My watch is still on Tomsk time so it reads 9:45am but it’s actually 6:45am (which is why it’s pitch black outside). I crossed not one but two two time zones overnight so now I’m in the Moscow zone now. I won’t cross another one until leave Russia for Finland (GMT+2). I actually miscalculated the time & time zone changes, meaning I’ll be getting off this later than I originally calculated. Umm. Cabin fever maybe.

Yes, it's a toilet, the one at the end of my train carriage. Everything is clean & works. And there’s even air freshener. The toilet is one of those noisy suction jobs found on aeroplanes meaning, & unlike older rolling stock which simply discards whatever is deposited right onto the tracks, toilets are not locked in the vicinity of stations. Nirvana for some. On the train from Tomsk to Nizhny Novgorod, Russia. November 14th 2012.

Yes, it’s a toilet, the one at the end of my train carriage. Everything is clean & works. And there’s even air freshener. The toilet is one of those noisy suction jobs found on aeroplanes meaning, & unlike older rolling stock which simply discards whatever is deposited right onto the tracks, toilets are not locked in the vicinity of stations. On the train from Tomsk to Nizhny Novgorod, Russia. November 14th 2012.

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map-pointer-iconUpdate 11 – Nizhny Novgorod (Map Icon L)

Date | Time: November 14th 2012 | 09:41
Time Zone: Moscow +0 hrs./GMT+4
Time on Train: 49 hours 10 minutes
Distance From Tomsk | To Nizhny Novgorod: 3,215 km | 0 km

Almost there.

The last shot from the train as I rolled into Nizhny Novgorod. Although it’s 9:20am the sun isn’t long up. Me, on the other hand, have been up for hours. I'm still on Tomsk time. Early night tonight then. On the train from Tomsk to Nizhny Novgorod, Russia. November 14th 2012.

The last shot from the train as I rolled into Nizhny Novgorod. Although it’s 9:20am the sun isn’t long up. Me, on the other hand, have been up for hours. I’m still on Tomsk time. Early night tonight then. On the train from Tomsk to Nizhny Novgorod, Russia. November 14th 2012.

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The End
The end. Three time zones, 3,215 kilometres & 49 hours, 10 minutes on a Russian train, albeit a nice one. And in the end on one did want to share it with me.

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Resources
This was my second time doing this trip so I didn’t need to do a lot of pre-trip investigating or planning, something I generally don’t do anyway. That said the following few resources proved useful when living this latest Trans-Mongolian adventure.
Book
The Trans-Siberian Handbook by Bryn Thomas
This book covers everything from the history of the railway right through to everything you need to know about riding it today. It gives solid advise on the logistics of organising a trip (buying tickets, getting visas etc.), something I found of limited use give the fact that I had done this before. What I did find beneficial was the information on locations en route (history, what to see, where to stay & eat etc.) but for me the book really shone thanks to the marker references – it references the ‘distance to Moscow’ kilometre markers visible from the train to add a little more interest to the trip (although it does so while travelling in a west to east direction so if, like me, you’re travelling east to west then you have to reverse everything). There’s a lot of sitting around on the train. Some people are happy to let the world slip by and just take it all in. But if you’re the kind that likes to be a little informed, or even a lot informed, then this book, gifted to me by two Aussies I met in Mongolia who had just completed the west to east trip, is a must.

Online – Train Timetables & Inforamtion
Russian train schedules at RealRussia.co.uk
You could throw dates & a lot of money at a tour company & they’ll organise everything for you – visas, train tickets, accommodation etc. – but where’s the fun in that? You probably won’t have much time to plan the trip en route but if you’re doing it independently, something I strongly recommend, then you’ll need to secure train tickets as you go. For that you’re going to need to know train information – train numbers, times etc. The above link proved useful for giving me the information I need prior to approaching the ticket windows in Russian train stations (I only used it for information gathering & the prices listed here are typically 30%-40% higher than what you’d pay at a ticket window in a Russian train station). Rarely do the staff speak English, even at so-called English-speaking ticket windows in large train stations in Moscow or St Petersburg, so you need to be informed before approaching them. At the very least you’ll need to supply a train number, a destination (copy it down in Cyrillic.. it’s easy) & a date of departure. If you make the effort you’ll more than likely get what you want (the language barrier aside efforts will be made to assist you) but you’ll likely get a stern ‘Het‘ (no) accompanied with a dismissive shake of the head/hand if you saunter up to them empty handed.
Train Information at ChinaTravelDesigner.com
Information – timetables & prices – of the main Trans-Siberian (K3), Trans-Mongolian (K23) & Trans-Manchurian (K19) trains.
The Trans-Siberian page of The Man In Seat 61…
Needs no introduction. The one-stop location for all Trans-Siberian information.

Finally, if you’re thinking of embarking on this adventure (& you should) and you have some questions please e-mail me. I’d be glad to offer advice & assistance if I can.

Say hi. Let me know you stopped by.

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