48 hours on the train across Russia from Irkutsk in Siberia, to Yekaterinburg right on the border of Asia and Europe.
We’d been looking forward to this leg of the journey – our longest train ride. (So far we’d done 33 hours from Hong Kong to Xining, and 22 hours from Xining to Lhasa Tibet, but this would be the longest!)
Prior to leaving Hong Kong, we’d seen Murder on the Orient Express at the movie theater, and I think we were both secretly hoping that our Trans-Siberian train would also have white-gloved waiters shaking up cold martinis before dinner…
First Class on the Trans Siberian Train
We’d booked a first class cabin for this journey, which meant we had a private room for just the two of us. Let’s look around…
By this point in our travels, we are getting REALLY tired of eating instant noodles. That’s all there was on the trains across China, and as much as we like noodles, we’ve had enough! So we happily stocked up with more European food at the supermarket in Irkutsk.
We’d brought TWO extra tote bags of food on this journey, including…
And the train attendant told us that with our first class ticket we were also entitled to one free meal in the dining car, either breakfast or dinner.
Amanda gets food poisoning.
Prior to leaving Irkutsk we had a big lunch at a really well-rated restaurant serving traditional Russian food.
It’s funny because we ate at so many small, dodgy-looking restaurants for an entire month around China, and then we ate all sorts of crazy things in nomadic herders yurts in Mongolia, and neither of us have had any stomach problems… Then we eat a nice meal at an upscale, highly rated restaurant, and I get really sick.
Anyway – I won’t go into details, but it was a good 12 hours of misery (thank goodness we were in a sparsley populated first class carriage … being in crowded third class with only 2 shared bathrooms would’ve been even more awful!)
Needless to say, being very sick in public shared restrooms is never fun. Obviously, I didn’t eat any of the food we brought, and the first 20 hours or so of the journey passed with me sleeping through most of it!
I eventually recovered, and was able to enjoy the rest of the trip.
Some views of Siberia out the train window…
I’d expected to have endless hours to write, read, crochet and get bored … but actually the time passed by pretty quickly. I did manage to finish another book (yay! Loving all this extensive reading time!) and did a bit of crochet, but really the time flew.
For dinner the second night we ventured to the dining car…
I’ll try to get pictures of what this entails on our next train journey. But when you walk between cars, you’re on a moving metal platform and you can actually see the snowy ground whizzing by underneath you! It was cold and kind of exciting. Was wishing I’d worn my boots instead of slippers for the walk through the train, because I was a little worried about losing a toe in those moving metal platforms between carriages!
Four carriages later, we made it to the dining car…
We were approached by a Russian couple during dinner, who must have had a lot to drink, because they were VERY friendly, even though they only spoke a couple words of English. They quickly sat themselves down at our table, and tried to tell us all about themselves, mainly through loudly spoken Russian (which we don’t understand), a couple words of English, and lots of sign language.
It was all going well, until it became clear that they were inviting us to come back to their village with them, to see “The Real Russia”.
A nice offer but obviously we’ve booked our tickets all the way back to Europe and can’t just get off the train at a random station. (Not to mention the fact we can’t hardly communicate with these people! Why would they want to bring us to their house?!) Anyway, then it started getting a bit weird. We said Thank You, and tried to explain how we already have tickets booked to St. Petersburg … and then the woman started getting offended. (I think there’s a cultural thing in Russia that you always accept hospitality – for example, you must accept when someone offers you vodka or food … but surely you can decline an invitation to someone’s house if you already have prebooked travel plans?! What is the etiquette there? Clearly we did it wrong.)
Of course we couldn’t really understand what they were saying, but she definitely seemed offended. He kept drinking vodka and trying to call his mother, who apparently speaks English, to get her to speak with us on the phone…
We eventually extricated ourselves from the increasingly awkward conversation and escaped back to our cabin!
One of the downsides of traveling in first class is that you meet fewer locals when you travel. (I’ve heard stories of friends doing this journey in their 20s, staying in the 3rd class open bunk rooms, and there was a LOT of vodka-drinking, card playing and sharing of food among all the passengers). But on the whole, at this point in my life I was really happy to have a quiet cabin to escape to, and actually get some sleep!
We woke up the next morning to a colorful sunrise, and discovered we’d crossed 2 timezones overnight. We’d been surprised traveling so far around China that we never crossed a timezone! On the entire 5 weeks of travel so far, we’d only moved one hour of time. So crossing 2 timezones overnight felt like major progress on our way back to Europe!
Around 1:30pm we arrived into Yekaterinburg for a 24 hour stopover, before getting on another lengthy train ride (36 hours!) up to St. Petersburg…
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as we travel from Hong Kong to London by train.