A 2-Day Trans-Siberian Diary

Recapping A Trip On The Trans-Siberian Railway


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

It’s approaching noon on November 12 & 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 & 3,158 kilometres away (3,619 all the way to Moscow). 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’ll just sit here looking out the window until then. There’s not much else to do.

Locomotives sitting on the tracks in Tayga train station, Siberian Russia. November 12th 2012.

Locomotives sitting on the tracks in Tayga train station, Siberian Russia. November 12, 2012.

Ready for What’s Ahead
I have my stocked food bag stashed under my berth, its contents 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 carriage. If not then there’s always the platform vendors &, hopefully, a dining car – I’ve yet to tour the train to verify that detail. The snowy Siberian taiga landscape passing by the window of the carriage – endless 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 oh-so Siberian 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 5 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 11:00 a.m. tomorrow, November 13, & I’ll be leaving Asia & entering the more densely populated European Russia (1,335 kilometres from Nizhny Novgorod), at approximately 5:00 p.m. tomorrow, assuming I’ve got my times right.

I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read on the train.

– Oscar Wilde

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, for 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 trains I’ve been confined to of late – to my & my camera’s disappointment all carriages I’ve ridden thus far have been nicely sealed tight. I’m not holding out much hope for this trip either but who knows. Two (more) days on a Russian train. Let’s see what happens.

A 2-Day Trans-Siberian Diary || Interactive Route map

Update 1 || Tayga

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: 96 km | 3,062 km

I‘m not long out of Tayga train station (30 minutes or so) where the train sat for exactly 43 minutes, just as the timetable said it would. We’re on schedule so far. I’ve a feeling it’s going to stay that way; it’s early days but this thing seems to run with the efficiency, if not the speed, of a Japanese shinkansen/Bullet Train.

The Trans-Siberian bible - the end of carriage timetable for Train 38's 3,619 kilometre trip from Tomsk in Siberian Russia to Moscow.

The Trans-Siberian bible, the timetable for train number 37’s 3,619 kilometre westbound trip from Tomsk in Siberian Russia to Moscow (but only 3,158 to my destination of Nizhny Novgorod). All Russian train carriages display these timetables – eastbound schedule to the left of the timetable, westbound schedule to the right – posted outside the provodnitsa’s (carriage attendant’s) compartment at the end of the carriage. Understanding it means you’ll be fully abreast of scheduled stops, their location & duration, a big help on long journeys. Although in Cyrillic – the alphabet used for writing the Slavic languages, of which Russian is one – deciphering it isn’t too much of a challenge; I’m no polyglot but even resorting to crudely matching the Cyrillic characters on the timetable against those listed in my awesome Trans-Siberian Handbook did the trick. However, note that scheduled arrival & departure times displayed are, as on all Russian train timetables, in Moscow time, not local time (we departed Tayga 13:30 local time, 10:30 Moscow/timetable time). Having a standardised time reference for a rail system that spans a country of 8 time zones does make sense but it adds a further complication to travellers trying to decipher the timetable, especially when crossing time zones. But it’s all part of the fun.

I’m now back on the main east-west/west-east Trans-Siberian line & will head west from here – Tomsk, which isn’t a true Trans-Siberian stop, is an 87 kilometre detour off the main line. I went out taking pictures while the train sat idly in Tayga, all the while conscious that I had only 43 minutes at my disposal in which to do so.

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 riding 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 then 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 12, 2012.

I’ve just paid my first visit to the end-of-carriage toilet. It’s 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+, 3,215 kilometre trip, was 3,900 roubles (€100). This carriage is new 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. Third 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+, 3,215 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 12, 2012.

Update 2 || Novosibirisk

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: 344 km | 2,814 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 be back on the train well in advance of our timetabled departure 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 (0 degrees Celsius for mid-November in Siberia is mild). 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 12, 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 627 kilometre stretch of rail between Novosibirsk & Omsk, Siberia’s 2nd largest city & another industrial mammoth. We’re due to arrive there just before 02:00 (22:59 to be precise, Moscow/timetable time) 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.

Update 3 || Dinner Time

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 | 2,773 km

I 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 that rapidly-depleting food bag of mine will last the course.

Update 4 ||Bed Time

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 | 2,601 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. G’night all.

Update 5 || Good Morning

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 | 1,715 km

I’m not the tallest but even for me these berths are tight; berth size is definitely more generous on the older carriages. However, I still slept 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. Oh 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 1,700+ kilometres of the journey. Right, time for breakfast. Let’s see what’s in the bag.

Update 6 || Tyumen

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: 1,515 km | 1,643 km

I‘m sitting in Tyumen station. Founded in 1586, this is Siberia’s oldest town. On my first Trans-Siberian odyssey back 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 captured at 8:30 a.m. when it was still surprisingly dark. Tyumen, Russia. November 13, 2012.

Although it’s still dark (as it approaches 09:00) 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.

Update 7 || Leaving Siberia

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 | 1,603 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 (1,995 kilometres 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 13, 2012.

Update 8 || Leaving Asia & Entering Europe

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 | 1,281 km

I’m sitting here looking out the window counting down the kilometre markers until the Asia-Europe boundary. I’ve been doing it for a while now and we’re getting close.

… 1,779 (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.

… 1,778

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 13, 2012.

Update 9 || Perm 2

Date | Time: November 13th 2012 | 21:15
Time Zone: Moscow +2 hrs./GMT+6
Time on Train: 34 hours 55 minutes
Distance From Tomsk | To Nizhny Novgorod: 2,239 km | 919 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 somewhere). While the train sat for 20 minutes, I hopped out to take a picture of the 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 come 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 13, 2012.

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

Update 10 || Shakhunya

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: 2,918 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 09:45 but it’s actually 06:45 (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 train later than I originally calculated. But what’s a few extra hours when cabin fever is still way off.

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. 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 14, 2012.

Update 11 || Nizhny Novgorod

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: 3,156 km | 2 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 9:20 a.m. 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 14, 2012.

The End
The end. Three time zones, 3,158 kilometres & a little over 49 hours on a Russian train, albeit a nice one. And in the end on one did want to share it with me.

Trans-Siberian Railway Gallery

The complete gallery of pictures captured on this, my second Trans-Mongolian journey from crossing the Chinese/Mongolian border in Erlian, China, on October 30, 2012, to arrival in Nizhny Novgorod 15 days later on November 14, 2012. From here, I completed the trip to Moscow via a stop in the historic Golden Ring town of Vladimir before revisiting St Petersburg, Russia’s faitytale city.

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