Day three onboard starts with the usual changearound – the two Warhammer fans get off at Novosibirsk, two other people move in. Its quite fun seeing who gets on, and we go through the same process of saying hello and that I cant speak English all over again!
I got off at Novosibirsk and had a wander around to wake up a bit. My watch tells me its 9.30am, but all the station clocks say its 7.30am. Ive adjusted my watch to the local time, as we’ve passed through two time zones, but it seems the railways here run by Moscow time to save confusion. I cant quite work out the logic for passengers – I don’t know how I’d cope knowing that I had to keep taking two hours off my given time just so I don’t miss the train.
Novosibirsk had a big green station, and I took the opportunity to take a few photos and buy a stale chocolate croissant off the platform. Except it wasn’t chocolate, it was some form of date, and to be honest, utterly revolting. More Super Noodles for me today then!
By now, the carriage attendant is becoming used to me asking how long we’ll be stopped for, and smiles as I walk up to her brandishing my watch for her to point at where the big hand will be when I either need to be back on the train or run after it. Amazingly, despite the thousands of miles these things go, they run on time – to the absolute second. Ive now worked out that there’s two carriage attendants, a man and a woman, and they sleep in the cabin two doors down. He usually works at night on station duty, she works during the day on station duty, hoovering the cabins duty, cleaning the toilets duty, stoking the samovar duty, polishing the glass duty, emptying the bins duty, even rolling out a bizarrely long, tea-towel style mat along the entire length of the carriage duty yesterday. Ive still not worked out what its for, im presuming its to protect the long thin carpet underneath, but every time I see it now its all twisted up, and she’s usually at the end of it trying to ‘right’ it like its some sort of skipping rope.
In my cabin, my new travelling companions are working me out. Im presuming Yekaterina has told them about me in Russian, and they seem surprised that an Englishman is travelling across their country on his own. There was a moment of uneasy suspicion around the word ‘journalist’ that I could make out. Im trying to be careful about who knows, as I know the Russian authorities aren’t too keen on people in my profession. I then make out the words ‘James Bond’ in part of their conversation. Brilliant, what’s worse than being identified as a journalist in a former Communist state? Being fingered as a potential British spy, that’s what! I quickly said I’m no James Bond, and that I’m purely a tourist, and they laughed!
Speaking of which, ive read in my Trans Siberian handbook that I’m supposed to have ‘registered’ my visa within three days of arriving in Russia.
Naturally, ive not done that yet, mainly as I didn’t realise I had to. Ive either got to go to a police station, or get my hotel to do it for me. Seeing as ive been on a train for three days, ive not had much chance to do that, so hoping the authorities aren’t waiting for me in Irkutsk to deport me out of the country…or worse!
I noticed a strange thing today. Some fairly main roads ran along the railway today, and I saw a surprising number of British lorry trailers being hauled around. There was even one from Howard, a haulage company I recognised from Grimsby. They tend to stick out a bit, as it’s the only thing for miles around written in English letters. There must be a dealer somewhere who specialises in getting old trailers exported to the depths of Siberia. Weird!
I got a text from Dad earlier, who tells me their giant map from Amazon has arrived. They’re trying to work out how to mount it somewhere in the house, and they’re going to keep track of me around the world and plot where I am. Ive told them how ive passed through Yekaterinberg, and Dad said in the text how im a long way from home now – its starting to feel like it too.
I’m right in the depths of Siberia now as I write this, just past the 4,000km mark from Moscow, and outside there is now snow on the ground. I wasn’t expecting to see any of the white stuff, but the plains we’re apparently passing through (its dark!) are frozen for much of the year. As I look on the map heading towards Krasnoyarsk, it dawns on me how utterly remote this is. Thousands of miles away from home, now days of travel away from proper civilization with things like airports and internet, and chugging along on the bit of the world you never look at on the atlas or at the back of a globe! Incredible. And I reflect on this with a half-litre bottle of Russian beer, my book….and curry-flavoured Super Noodles before heading to bed!
Day four onboard, and I think Im starting to feel how contestants on Big Brother must feel, like it’s a bit of a social experiment. Or a prisoner, one of the two. Didn’t sleep too well last night as I was kept awake by the strange high-pitched snoring of my fellow top-bunk Russian traveller. Had we been mates, or known him better, I’d have definitely whacked him over the head with my pillow. I came close to it as it was, but he’s quite well built. Instead, I pulled the duvet over my head and tried to blot it out.
I woke up at 9am local time, although I think im supposed to have added another couple of hours on overnight. The clocks at the station outside say 7am, but it definitely feels like mid-morning. Its strange not knowing for sure. The views outside are definitely better today – the grey, murky landscape has given way to a sunny, beautiful view. Its definitely colder, the lakes and ponds are frozen, and theres a dusting of snow on the little wooden houses we pass by.
The train is now winding through some valleys, and you can see the front of it as it turns ahead through the window. It would make a great photo, but none of the windows open unfortunately. We’re due to arrive in Irkutsk at 2.40pm according to the timetable onboard, but ive now got no idea when that will be – im presuming Moscow time!
I finished off my book this morning – from start to finish in two days, unheard of for me! It had 356 pages and everything, detailing Piers Morgan’s rise to fame on America’s Got Talent. There are some great tales in it. Outside the cabin, the carriage attendant has decided to roll up the giant tea-towel and is hovering away again. I stand by the window and look for a kilometre post, so I can work out where we are with the handbook – its got a km by km guide inside, so you know the key things to look out for. We’re at 4,998km from Moscow, so I stand and watch for the 5,000km post as it flashes by the window. That leaves just 185km until my destination. It seems a long time ago now since we were pulling out of Moscow, and while its been relaxing and enjoyable, it’ll be nice to get off the train and see somewhere again.
Oh, and to eat something with a bit of substance. Speaking of which, its time for lunch…what will it be? Chicken or chow mein flavour?!
As darkness fell, we pulled into Irkutsk station. Yuri, who was the snorer, was wide awake now and asking me how I was getting to my accommodation. He and his partner were also getting off at Irkutsk, and were trying to ask me how I was going to get to the Downtown Hostel, on the other side of the river which divides the city. I showed him my map, and when I explained I was going to walk (walking motion with my fingers of course!) he said, firmly, ‘no, no, no!’
He rang someone on the phone, who I worked out was picking him and his partner up at the station. He then starts nodding and motioning for me to go with him. Yekaterina said ‘he’s going to help you’ and it became clear he wanted to give me a lift. I couldn’t believe it, what a fantastic gesture – and without further ado, I was meeting his friend and being taken to their car.
We went to the address given. Nothing. Yet again, the Russian way of ‘no signs, no directions, no hope if looking for accommodation’ was ringing true. Then I spotted a map and a sign – it had moved!
By now, i’m feeling awkward – poor Yuri and his girlfriend/wife were probably itching to get home. Instead, they were insisting that they get me somewhere safely. I was humbled, such a kind gesture, and five minutes later, we found the Nerpa Backpackers hostel. I couldn’t thank them enough – an amazing gesture, and one that typifies just how kind-hearted and caring i’m finding this nation can be.
So here I am, Irkutsk, 5180km from Moscow, and now eight hours ahead of the UK time. Tried to get to sleep – suffering from that strange phenomenon known as ‘train lag’!