Stage Seven – Trans Siberian/Mongolian – overland UK 2 NZ

Wednesday 16th October – DAY ONE – Vladimir, Nizhni, Novgorod (during the night), Kirov and then … Glazov

Grasslands Shakunya and Kotel'nichskiy region
Grasslands on the way out of Moscow region

On waking, very quickly hypnotised by passing sights. Stared out the window as scenery zipped by, a task I would soon perfect. It was mainly forests or trees surrounding fields this day.

Forest a few hours outside Moscow
Forest in Kotel’nichskiy rayon

Took each thing step-by-step in the morning. Dressed. Washed. Folded bedding. Filled up cup with boiling water from coal fire.

Keeping the coal fires burning
Keeping the coal fires burning – each carriage had their water boiler and heating system to maintain

Breakfasted with cereal and coffee bought from Berlin and fruit from Moscow. Found three charging points down the corridor. Met three Kiwi blokes in the restaurant car when I went to buy a bottle of drinking water (70 roubles). One, Mark, was bringing his pals along for his fiftieth birthday treat, meeting another fiftieth pal in Japan for some rugby thing. (Sorry, lads, not my area of expertise.) They were concerned to hear any potential room-mate could be male. The Russian trains offer female-only compartments. It was nice to have someone agree this was a matter of concern. On the other hand, I didn’t want it to be a matter of concern. (At this stage I hadn’t read Compartment 6.)

Compartment 6 cover – Beautiful book by Finnish writer.
(Best read after your trip if you’re a solo female planning to share a mixed compartment)

On the stops, up to 20 minutes so far, people exited the train and wandered. ‘Not too far,’ said each captain to their errant charges. A flatbed truck full of coal arrived on the platform and went from carriage to carriage delivering buckets of coal to the captains. Two blokes, darkened with coal dust, shovelled the buckets full with big black rocks. We were definitely old school. I was travelling a living history lesson and feeling not a very good Extinction Rebellion example. Wasn’t sure if the engine could be steam? Surely we would have noticed plumes of puffing smoke? Would try to avoid smuts.

Lunched on rice cakes, peanut butter, soggy cucumber and a carrot cup-o-soup. All went well until I tried the nori on the peanut butter. Not a winning combination, I’m afraid.

We travelled through forestry, towns of little wooden houses surrounded by veggie patches or sometimes something larger, a small market garden, small cities and factories. Nothing that provided those shameless stenches I’d met the previous night, but certainly tall chimneys poured out extensive plumes of smoke. Of course, Mother Russia must keep manufacturing.

Anton clambered into the compartment at Glazov (2 minute stop) with all his MASSIVE bags. He would be with me for three and a bit days. When he booked he’d seen there would be another body joining us in the compartment. Darn. My days of spacious luxury were over. Our next stop was Permi II where Joana Lumley stopped off to look at the ballet school. We hoped it would be a svelte little ballerina who joined us to sleep on the bunk above.

Leaves still clinging on the way to Siberia
Leaves still clinging in Kotel’nichskiy rayon

I got a bit tense in the shoulders when Anton invaded my space. By now I’d realised all the other cabins were empty. The captains each had a compartment at either end of the carriage. In perfect and delicate mime I asked grumpy Captain if it were not possible to move to another carriage? He snarled at me, something that I translated as, ‘Get out of my face, you ignorant bitch,’ but that might have been overthinking it. I trotted back to the corridor to charge my phone and stare out the window. What was the worst that could happen?

Sign of the times up in the middle of our carriage
Sign of the times up in the middle of our carriage.
This was a bit out of date; mostly we relied on ‘Mark’s Paper’ for accurate times until China.
(I scrawled out those stations on my phone to keep track)

I needn’t have worried. Anton was relaxed and an extremely polite gentleman. He worked in foundaries as a mold maker. He was going to Mongolia to work for a year so that he and Ludmilla could buy a little house in Sochi with a small garden for veggies and fruit trees. His mother had given him enough food for four days. He was 47 years old. Considering he didn’t have anyone to practice speaking with, his English was excellent, remembered from his school days.

Bridge changes train sounds on the way to Siberia
Kotelnich Bridge changed train sounds – more thumping and resonance

I changed in the bathroom and lay down into the hardness and constant movement. I listened to Les Miserables. I fell asleep after the first four chapters. Perhaps I was tired. I loved Victor’s description of the Bishop’s sister. Her translucent skin was only to hold her soul here on earth.

Sun behind the train on the way to Siberia
Sun behind the train in Glazovskiy rayon. We were on the way to Siberia

Overnight we would stop in Yekaterinburg, Tumen and arrive at Pshim at 10:11am. I hadn’t been on the train for 24 hours.

Reading from Tao te Ching for my thirteenth day of travel: ‘The world can be your lodging.‘ Good enough for my soul.

21 thoughts on “Stage Seven – Trans Siberian/Mongolian – overland UK 2 NZ

  1. Thank you, Nollaig! Sounds like you did much the same trip? Yes, the Chinese waiting room and holding pen are at Erlian for FIVE HOURS! Were you in Chinese carriages or Russian? I think the days of bogie changes may be numbered as the Mongolians are building a wide gauge to match the Russian. ( I agree, though, for the next trip I think it would be worth getting on and off the train for some tourist work, perhaps at Irkutsk, Ulan Bator and Ekaterinberg.

    • I was in the dreaded Chinese carraiges. The handle kept falling off the door from the inside, which meant I was locked in. One night I was bursting to go for a pee when the handle came off – had to keep banging for the guard to let me out !

  2. Great read Vickoz. Wish I had done something similar on my trip. Travelled from the centre of England to Beijing on four trains (Leamington – London, Eurostar to Paris, Paris-Moscow, Moscow-Beijing). Strangest part was when we were all taken off the train for hours at the Mongolian-Chinese border (think it was Erlian). The beautiful classical music and all the false rose beds – some juxtaposition. I thought I was the only Irish person on the train until a guy from Belfast got on at Ulan Bator. Next time I would like to get off at Ekaterinberg and see the house where the Tsar and his family were executed in 1918.

  3. the advertising you don’t know is encouraging people to donate blood for the people in need. The girl is the NO.1Female Pingpong Champion Ding Ning.

    • Spasibo, Tatiana! How wonderful you came along for the ride! Great to think of you in Moscow with your lucky students. I bet you are feeling cooler right now than I am here in humid Taiwan!

  4. Wonderful write-up Victoria, I feel like I’ve experienced it with you! I think it’s a great way to use your time, experiencing the reality of the non-flight long distance travel options and ‘seeing the details’ – whether the loo goes straight to the tracks, how cabins are heated and managed etc – you’re doing great. Also really interesting to get a glimpse of how some of those landscapes that people don’t usually see are managed and the variety of lifestyles of your fellow travellers. Good luck with every connection, accomodation and language challenge – we’re there with you!

  5. I do like you blog, Victoria. And your trip. It’s really fantastic! My English is not rich enough to express what I think about it. I feel like travelling myself!

    • Dear Begoña, I am very grateful you enjoy reading about my travels when you are such an experienced adventurer yourself! I’m very happy you feel inspired. I know you will have a great time where-ever you go – with your language skills and interest in other people – the world is yours!

  6. I have finally got through it.. wow, that was epic
    Page 6 best for me, i needed a sign of the step by step baby steps stepping stones
    You rock our intrepid reporter
    See you real soon in brissie

    • Thank you, Louiselle! Glad you managed to get through it. (Hope you were able to have a shower along the way.) Looking forward to landing in Port Brissie!

  7. OMG! Feels like I wrote that first comment days ago…. (it was after page 1 not realising there were 6 days of blog…YOU MADE IT!!!!
    Bloody hell, I was right there with you. Good job girl…show it how it’s done.

    • Thank you, MA! I am so grateful you managed to get through it all. I am trying to walk the talk but hadn’t realised how much fun it was going to be. Now I’m in hot, humid Taiwan it’s quite peculiar thinking I was looking at snow just a couple of weeks ago!

    • I send best wishes and good luck to all Antons, from Mongolia to Melbourne, may they be happy, healthy and looking forward to eating apples from their own trees.

Please leave a comment - would you travel this way??