Tuesday 29th October
The race was on. Had I been on my own I’d have been at the station at the time we left the Kremlin. Most of the group agreed they’d have done the same. The mission ahead looked impossible.
Elena our Honcho was stepping up the gears, and we were expected to run up the metro escalators. This was a sign that she was also starting to panic. We got to the hostel grabbed our bags and left.
45 minutes until the train to Irtusk left. We had to near enough run with all our bags and all the supplies i’d brought started to feel like unnecessary weight. We got back to the local metro station and had to make a change again running. The metro train was in the platform. Me and Callum were at the back of the group and the metro train was already packed but we couldn’t afford not to get on.
As the doors closed we surged forward and just made it.
I looked at the watch 25 minutes until the train to Irtusk left. We had no idea how many stops it was but soon we were off the metro and walking at a brisk pace to the mainline station. We found the platform with 10 minutes to spare and started to put our bags through the scanner. It was at this point our guide realised we were in fact at the wrong platform.
Now we really were in a rush. it sounds harsh and perhaps it was organised chaos but it felt like she hadn’t got a clue where we needed to be. Finally we found it and ran to our carriage. The attendant had to check all our passports and allocate us to our seats.
I was allocated to be sitting with Claire Callum and Fi. We let out a sigh of relief once we were all sat down and it was this moment the train started pulling out. We were the last passengers on. A unique experience we would all have been happy to avoid.
Gradually it dawned on us this was home for three whole days and two half days. There didn’t seem much urgency to do anything but eventually we put bags away and made the top bunk beds.
After that time just seemed to slip by. We were lucky that our local companions were a group of 15-17 year old students that were interested in learning about us and who were so much better behaved than children of a similar age in the UK. One of the girls was particularly good at English and was very excited to know about London.
I had a nap and waking up about 6pm went to the restaurant car in the search for beer and once we returned shared some Vodka. It was ‘only’ 10pm but it seemed that activities were slowly winding down throughout the carriage and by 10.30pm we were asleep.
Wednesday 30th October
I was able to sleep but it felt very bumpy at times and for some reason I got a nose bleed as I woke up. I think it’s because we were entering the Ural Mountains which resulted in a change in pressure. I tried to explain to the attendant that I needed new sheets and she beckoned the girl who could speak English over to act as translator. Luckily the situation was resolved easily though with a bit of embarrassment on my part.
Wednesday was our first full day on the train. Again it was all a very easy pace. If something needed doing it felt it could wait. We got to one station and Claire and Paul got off and made an attempt to clean the window but it was the second station when Chris put Callum on his shoulders true progress was made and we even had a fascinated crowd. The attendant looked annoyed but didn’t say anything.
After this we entertained the kids with connect 4. I realised I’m quite competitive because I found it really hard to let them win. Paul and Chris said they felt the same but ‘little lad’ as he was dubbed was good and beat me fair and square to much excitement. After a few more games I was cool John.
After this we went to the bar and I had more types of the local beer Bajithka. The number 9 was 8% and reminded me of leffe. Having tried number 7 the export larger i eventually I settled for number 3 which went down more easily. It was good to chat to the other members of the group. I bailed earlier than the group from Leeds who returned in good spirits.
i was in my bunk in bed but awake and as a general group probably causing a bit more noise than we should have been. Eventually the attendant came down and angrily said something in Russian which seemed to include the word police so we went to bed. Classic Brits abroad.
Thursday 31st October
I woke after 11am next morning and felt surprisingly refreshed though we came in to a station just as I entered the toilet to clean my teeth. The attendant didn’t realise and therefore locked me in because they are meant to be out of use when the train stops. I waited until we were moving and eventually I heard the door unlock and was able to escape from my prison.
We stopped off at a station where I got some pictures and brought a few more supplies for Friday as I realised my rations were getting low. I’ve already started on the advent calendar and it’ll probably be finished before China. Returning to the train the scenery looked a bit unspectacular so with another whole day on the train tomorrow I decided to have a nap.
I woke up to hear Gary telling the kids a story about life in Norway; one of these was when he lost a bet and had to swim for 3 days in a lake. It sounded amazing and I hope we do have the chance to have a dip in lake Baikal.
Soon we were at another station and I was finally able to buy some of the famous platform food. I was pleased with my choice, it looked like a doughnut but had a potato filling. I still felt a bit hungry so when the trolley lady came down I brought another pot of instant mash.
That evening we had a quiet one and just chatted. The kids on the other hand were having a noisy night and wanted a game of snap before going to bed. The clocks had changed so it was gone midnight.
Friday 1st November
Next morning I woke up at 11.25am again so by the time I was washed and changed it was lunchtime. I haven’t said what my lunch has consisted of, but i can confirm it was a proper gourmet experience consisting of powered soup, powered mash, crisps and the advent calendar chocolate. Soon we arrived at Krasnoyarsk and It was at this point I realised we’d gone forward another hour and I’d actually missed the entire morning.
Later on I found out some of the group had been told off by police for carrying Vodka on the train. I had none on me myself but this seemed a bit unfair as the guide books all say sharing vodka is one of the best ways to make friends and break the language barrier. Still there were no fines and the female officer was apparently trying to pull the male officer away as she understood we were tourists. Whilst I’m all for respecting other countries laws it sometimes feels as though the law here is up to individuals as nothing was in writing, or if it was you needed to be able to read Russian as there were no pictures. Plus no one had said anything the previous night.
I spent an hour or so reading about the route and looking out of the window before I needed a nap. Being on this train has made us very lazy.
I was probably asleep for an hour or so before Paul said him Claire and Chris were going to the lounge. I couldn’t have jumped down from my bunk quick enough and joined them. We only had one beer each as funds were getting low and i got some soup recommend by the attendant who actually smiled when she saw us (and so she should after the amount we’ve spent!)
We got off the train at llansky for a stretch of the legs and I noticed the temperature outside has certainly dropped. I fancied some platform food but couldn’t find my translator friend so opted against it.
We re-boarded the train and the kids were playing guitar. It was all in Russian but very relaxing and we clapped after each song.
Tomorrow we should get to Irkutsk and on to lake Baikal. The longest part of the train journey is therefore over which is both a relief because we can shower but sad because it has been good fun and the conditions so much worse…