This post is a bit late. I wrote it partly on the train with my cellphone, partly in Irkutsk and now am finishing it in Ulaanbaatar. I will need to catch up a bit.
We were on the Trans-Siberian Railway on our way from Moscow to Irkutsk. Being on a wagon of the second class, we got a somewhat comfy little compartment with four bunk beds and a broken TV. We shared our “room” with Jian, a Chinese student of computer sciences from Paris on his way back to Beijing. At the beginning the fourth bunk was occupied by Alexej, a vodka loving Russian (a pleonasm I know). He left on the afternoon after the first night, which improved the air in our compartment, but also took away some form of entertainment. Since Alexej only speaks Russian (and a hand full of German words) which none of us speaks, conversations were usually a guessing game.
The other people on our wagon were mostly Scandinavian, who were on a big, organized tour. While they have the same stops like we do, we don’t share the same timetable, so we’ll part with everyone, including Jian, after arriving in Irkutsk (but should meet the Scandinavians again in Ulaanbaatar) They officially gave their support to the German football team, which is surely one of the reasons they won. Unfortunately we weren’t able to watch the game and our only connection to the internet was luck in finding an open Wifi at a train station or Steffen’s expensive data option. Neither Steffen or I are what you would call a sports fan, but we would’ve liked to witness the final game.
Biggest challenge on the Transsib is to kill boredom. While we were passing beautiful scenery (wide planes and a lot of evergreen and birch forests) and nice little towns, it got old quite fast. At least it’s a good way to catch up on some books, though. But Steffen was done with his two books half way to Irkutsk. I got an ebook reader, so I’m lucky to have more material, but am of course dependent on power. We had four power outlets on the wagon, unfortunately none of them in our compartment, but a bit away in the hallway. We also carry battery packs, but those are more for emergencies. But actually boredom isn’t really an issue if you got the right company and are prepared for long distance traveling. It’s just that you could be so much more productive with steady power and an internet connection. But then again you would miss all the fun of the ride itself.
Every stop of the Transsib is a welcome break to walk round a bit, experience the outside of the train and hunt for Wifi. The later isn’t as easy as in Moscow, where you found free Wifi at every second corner. Actually, outside of the towns you often don’t even get a phone connection.
The train was actually quite good. When you think of the Transsib, you usually get the image of old well-used trains with a steaming samovar. This had a modern samovar, quite good banks/beds, an air-con and displays at each side of the hallway showing the next stop, the inside temperature and most importantly, if the restroom at that side of the hallway was in use or free. We got fresh sheets that came in plastic bags like you get your stuff on airplanes. The food in the dining car was good (but no caviar for my pancakes), though, we mostly relied on snacks and something we could pour hot water over (our mothers would be so proud that we were cooking and eating well ). The crew spoke English good enough to get around and even a few word German. They cleaned the carpets every day and the restrooms all the time (you got the feeling they rush in to clean it, right after you leave).
So all in all, the first ride on the Transsib was quite comfy. The only time where it got a bit stressful was for me, when I didn’t get back in time for the train to leave, so I had to jump onto a wagon at the end of the train. That one was behind the dining car, which was locked, so I had to convince the local conductor to let me through the wagon so I could get back to mine.