It’s long been a dream of mine to travel with the trans-Siberian railway. My mum had told me stories how she and my father, when they were still young and in love, had taken the trans-Siberian railway one winter and ever since I’ve thought I’d like to do this epic journey as well.
Now, in the year 2012, about thirty odd years after my parents travelled this route I myself am starting the same adventure (though I’m traveling the opposite direction). Well, the term ‘same adventure’ is not quite accurate. The railway now is probably much tamer. And it’s not even winter. It’s this season that is just between the last golden summer months and the first weeks of autumn. The trees are starting to change colour. Some are already bright yellow and red; others are still clad in fresh green leaves. On the other hand, whereas my parents travelled with a group of friends, I am on my own.
A lot of people seemed impressed, sceptical or raised their eyebrows when they heard I wanted to take the trans-Siberian railway from Ulan-Ude, Siberia to Moscow on my own. ‘Isn’t that dangerous?’ I shrugged and replied: ‘I don’t think so, but I guess I’ll find out.’ Of course I did a bit of research and apart from a few quite horrifying tales it seemed fairly safe.
Now I’m here, on the train, with a Mongolian horse fiddle and tons of presents in my luggage. So far I have to say there is not the slightest feeling of danger. I’m the only foreigner in wagon 15. This was to be expected since I bought a ‘Platzkarta’ ticket, the cheapest sleeper ticket available.
Wagon 15 is practically one large compartment. There is always one lower and one upper bed, four beds in one open section on the one side of the train and two more across on the other side. In total there are just over fifty beds, which in a nutshell means paying less money in exchange for less privacy. I don’t mind. I’m used to this kind of train rides from china. The difference being that now I can’t talk to anybody since except for a few very basic words I don’t speak any Russian.
I’m wondering whether I’ll be silent for the whole 101.4 hours. I ‘ve wanted to go to a meditation retreat, which would’ve included three days of silence. I reckon now I got a rolling meditation retreat with not three but almost five days of silence. Actually, it seems perfect since I’m currently writing my M.A. dissertation.
My immediate neighbours are an old man with very short white hair who’s doing crossword puzzles, a slender young woman with dark hair and a young man who’s already fallen asleep. As far as I can tell all of them travel separately and none of them seem to speak anything else than Russian. Our neighbours that occupy the two beds to the right are a Russian granny and her teenaged grandson.
You can easily tell who’s staying on the train for a few days and who’s getting off a few stations down the road by the amount of food and quantity and quality of equipment. The travellers who are on the train for a longer time carry extra bags of food. Some have brought little cooking pots along and I’ve even seen a whole very nice looking tea set.
I myself have a giant plastic bag stuffed to the brim with food, a pocket knife, a purple plastic cup decorated with a pig wearing glasses which says ‘I love you lollipops’ (bought this gem on the Chinese-Mongolian border).
I’m sitting on the bed of the Russian Gramps since I have the upper bed on which is too close to the ceiling to sit. The grandpa just opened a can of condensed mild with a massive pocketknife. I’m guessing he’ll be here for at least a few days. He’s been very nice, offering to help me put my heavy backpack in the storage space over my bed. The Granny on the other side seems highly fascinated by me after I answered a phone call in German. The funny thing is that most Russians seem to think I’m local until they realise I can’t speak Russian.
But enough now, the landscape is beautiful, golden leafed Birch forests and intensely blue sky pass by the window. After a hearty meal of instant noodle soup (the first of many to come) with fresh bread and super delicious fresh mini cucumber (the ones you only get in pickled form in Europe) I’m watching the largest fresh water lake slowly disappear into darkness. Goodnight grandfather Baikal.