After a rocky start, things have been going swimmingly for the past week or so – we finally seem to have hit our traveling stride and are successfully making our way across Russia. It’s hard to believe that as of Sunday we have been on the road for two weeks, and now we are moving on to country number two: Mongolia.
And it was amazing.
I can’t even tell you the number of people who told me not to take the Trans-Mongolian. I heard it was too dangerous, too long, too boring, etc.
First of all, the train could not have felt safer. We were in our own lockable compartment on a car with about 8 other compartments. We got lucky and there were only three of us in our compartment for the majority of the trip (one empty bed) so we had plenty of storage room for all our bags and food.
The other compartments were mostly made up of other foreigners and few Russian families. During most of the trip there were small children playing in the train hallway. Our train attendant was a somewhat somber Russian lady who came by daily to clean the bathrooms, serve tea and vacuum. There was also a rather loud and cheerful large female snack vendor who could have made use of a bra.
I thought I would spend my days (three of them) reading, writing in my journal, and organizing my photos. As it turns out, I never turned out my computer (except when it became a karaoke machine for a all night German song fest) and I hardly read at all. My journal hasn’t had an entry since our first day.
The train stops every couple of hours for about twenty minutes. Just enough time to get our, snap some photos, buy some snacks and mill about. On our first stop, on our first morning we had a chance to meet our neighbors. A pair of German guys heading to Hanoi via rail, a Dutch guy on the first leg of a trip very similar to ours, a German guy our age and his Dad on their way to Australia, and a consistently drunk Russian military man.
Obviously, everyone had nothing but free time – and each compartment had stocked up on drinks and snacks for the journey. The days were spent chatting, listening to music, staying up late, and napping off the late nights.
One thing about the train is that I never had any idea what time it was. The whole system is run off “Moscow Time” which can be anywhere between one and fiver hours different than local time. Its never clear when you have passed into a new time zone or if a clock you are looking at is showing local time or Moscow time. Eventually you just give up and just sleep and eat whenever. Also, the “clock” in the train one time told me it was 83 degrees Celsius outside. I’m pretty sure we weren’t on a train to the apocalypse, so I started to doubt the clock’s accuracy.
At each stop we would run off the train to stock up on beer, stretch our legs and buy treats from the old women at the station. Most of the food was a version of a fried pastry with stuffing and it was never clear what stuffing you would get – it was like a less deadly version of Russian Roulette.
You can check out Photos and more on my facebook page. For now we are off for a five day adventure in the Mongolian countryside so I won’t be updating. But then I will be back with all the stories of our next train ride and our time at Lake Baikal.