We wanted to get to Irkutsk from Moscow and that’s why we decided to take transsiberian train. The journey lasted altogether 88 hours :) It was our longeeest travel by train and it was a very special experience! Are you interested in getting to know more about it? Hope the answer is yes – click read more button and find out how it was :)
Transsiberian Train – Before We Go
The story about transsiberian train starts at our home. It’s because we bought tickets months before the journey – the price was about 8200 RUB ($110). It’s pretty expensive and still we bought the cheapest tickets in platzkart. However in the off-season tickets can be even twice cheaper. Platzkart (3rd class) is a shared compartment that can hold about 56 people.
Each time before going somewhere it’s natural to create a certain idea on how it will be and so we were wondering. A typical stereotype would let us expect many Russians drinking vodka and singing on the train :) But the reality was different. Admittedly there was not much tourists from abroad in our train – we were certainly the only ones in our compartment.
We got to the train at 1:50 p.m. and got off on 10.07 at 10:43 a.m. When we arrived at the train station in Moscow (before taking the transsiberian train) we saw many young men (about 18-20 years old) that were in uniforms. They were waiting for a train with us because they had to join the military service for one year (it’s compulsory for men in Russia) and as we later found out they were going to Omsk.
Oh, and we also bought some food and water before the journey – packets of instant soups, some sweets, chips, kissel (that is popular to eat in Poland and Russia) and tea bags (we knew there will be hot water available).
Transsiberian Train – Our Journey Starts!
And then we got in and set off. Our journey started – we were talking, making photos and even made ourselves memo game from a piece of paper. Our compartment was full with men that were starting their military service and only opposite us were some civil people. But they got off after couple of hours. We were thinking that maybe these military men will be partying, but their commander came to us couple of hours after getting on the train and told us that if they will be interrupting somehow, we should come and tell him. We were so astonished! He told it in Russian, but we understand a bit from our previous journey and just acknowledged him. So there was no drinking alcohol and it was rather calm and peaceful to travel.
Russians don’t generally go the whole route (our train was going to Chita from Moscow, so it was about 5-day train, the longest rides a week). Russians rather go for shorter distances, so the beds opposite us were taken by many different people during the whole journey.
Transsiberian Train – Second Day
On the second day there came a girl at our age and she could even speak a little bit of English. We were talking with her and exchanged our Ig accounts to keep in touch, but she only accompanied us for about 4-5 hours. She took off in Yekaterinburg and recommended us to see this city as well as Novosibirsk next time. That’s very encouraging!
After this girl left, there came a man and a woman in their fifties and took places opposite us. At first we didn’t spoke to them but after some time we got acquainted with the woman.
She was very nice and liked my name (Agata) – she said they don’t have this name in Russia but they have a stone called agat (just like in Polish). She also took off in Irkutsk just like us and before that she gave me a necklace with agates! :)
It was so nice of her – it’s a priceless gift and a souvenir that will always remind us of her, this amazing trip and a great hospitality of Russian people that we experience. And it’s important that we had such conclusions about Russians because in Poland people often complain about this nation. We really don’t know why because during our whole trip Russians were very helpful – they rather don’t speak English and we always spoke Russian to them and they always were willing to help.
Back to our new friend met in train – the lady also didn’t speak English, so we had to speak Russian :) Our Russian is more less on A2 level so it’s not that well. However, it was so funny to have to speak Russian all the time – it was very challenging and it was another great Russian language lesson for us. Sometimes we or she had to draw something on a piece of paper when we didn’t know the word, but then after guessing what she was meaning or when she named the word we were meaning, we learned it. She also treated us with honey and Russian chocolate – Olenka. We are fan of sweet things and we always love to try local sweets.
About The Stops
Important thing: laying or sitting for 4 or more days is actually dangerous for your heath. It’s also not easy to sit or lay for such long period of time. There was a timetable in the train with names of stops – it said when the train had a stop and for how long (sometimes it was for 15, sometimes 20 or 30 mins). Then everyone got off to stretch legs and walk for a while. On every platform, there were kiosks with food, toys and everything and sometimes there were also ladies with baskets selling fruits (strawberries, blueberries or wild strawberries) or fish and vegetables.
On different stops we often observed noticeable situations: as we previous wrote, our compartment was full with young men starting military service, but at the same time there were also young men in other compartments ending their military service. They took off at different stations and there were always families waiting for them – sometimes parents and siblings, sometimes their loved ones but very often whole families. The view was moving and heart-tugging. It was very hard for us to imagine splitting for such a long time.
How Was It During The Night?
When it comes to nights – we took the train at the beginning of July. In Russia there is a phenomenon of white nights. At the time we were riding in the train, it was already getting darker a little bit but the nights weren’t still completely dark (it was more like in the evening outside). They also turned off the light every day about 9:00 p.m. local time.
On the first day of our travel we passed one time zone and had to add 1 hour, on the second day we passed next time zone and had to add another 1 hour and on the third day we passed 2 time zones and had to add 2 hours. So altogether we had to change 4 hours within these days. It is a little bit weird feeling and it is a little bit confusing but it understandable – Russia is huge and we rode the whole length of Kazakhstan and half of Mongolia. You can check on the map our route, most famous stop were: Moscow – Yekaterinburg – Omsk – Novosibirsk – Krasnoyarsk – Irkutsk.
The disadvantage of it: might be hard to fall asleep. You feel its 8 p.m. and they switch the light off because its already 9 p.m. Next day you feel it’s 7 p.m. and they switch the light off and on the third day you feel it’s 5 p.m. and they switch the light off because it’s 9 p.m. + it’s never fully dark at this time of the year.
Another disadvantage was that we had our places close to the toilet and sometimes people were smoking inside. They forbade it to smoke in trains in about 2015/2016 (before that there was not such prohibit) but people still sometimes hide in toilets and smoke (the fine is not high). Also there is air conditioning but it’s old and not in good condition and the air is a little bit weird if someone has sensitive lungs.
Another one: there are often queues to the toilet. Only 2 toilets per 1 compartment holding about 56 people so there’s no wonder. Military guys were shaving every morning and it took them longer but they were nice and once even asked me if I was going to be quick, so they can let me it first :) So kind of them :) :)
And we think that’s all when it comes to hard conditions. If you would like to take such train and hesitate, these are the disadvantages. We generally think there are much more advantages and it’s really an incredible and exceptional experience.
Transsiberian Train – Views
Sometimes we passed some less-known rivers but we’ve also seen Ob and Yenisei. Apart from that: the view is pretty much the same during whole route: Russian taiga – trees, trees, trees, trees, trees and then some more trees. After riding for 88 hours in one train we really got and felt how huge Russia and Russian green lands are. It’s just striking when you think about it. We were thinking about Polish people sent to Siberia during the war and got that if someone was far in the middle of these green areas, there was really no escape and place to go.
Transsiberian Train – Facilities
There was a boiler with hot water that everyone could use and everyone was making themselves instant soups, kissel and tea. Russians knew to take cups with themselves but we didn’t – we just took two plastic bowls for the soups but forgot to take a cup. But we were lucky – there was a lady that went with us during the whole route – her occupation is called “prowadnica” in Russian.
Her job is to take care of passengers – something like flight attendant during the flight. She has a very small compartment for herself – it’s like a room. She’s constantly at work for two weeks and then she has two weeks off. She sleeps there, eats and she’s there when needed. She has some spare cups and borrowed us. They were funny typical Russian glasses and they were also popular in Poland about 20 years ago and they look like this:
Irkuck & Baikal Lake
So after 4 days and 4 nights in the Transsiberian train we finally reached our destination – Irkutsk – the capital of Russian Siberia. The city looks completely different than the metropolis in the west of the country. Irkutsk is kept in old school style, lots of things are still made of wood and being in this city is like going back in time. Although Irkutsk is not a top travel destination and works more like a transit for tourists who go to the nearby Baikal Lake, it’s still worth to spent a couple of hours there as this is a spot one of its kind.
After a few hours in Irkutsk we took a marshrutka (minibus) to a little town of Listvianka, which is the closest town from Irkutsk located on the shore of Baikal Lake. After one our of ride, we finally sighted the enourmous and spectacular Baikal Lake. It’s so huge that you can’t spot its end over the horizont and we felt like we were by the seaside. In addition, it’s worth to mention that Baikal is the oldest and deepest lake in the world. The water is super-clean and the lake is surrounded by wonderful hills with some wild life present. All that brought together make that we couldn’t miss this place.
Although it’s was raining throughout the time we spent there and the second day the lake became fog-covered, it was a right decision to make such an effort and visit Baikal. We will visit this place again for sure, but next time we will stay there much more time. Time went by very quickly and after two days we had to return to Irkutsk and board the plane to Beijing.
Here we would like to mention that we experienced unbelievable hospitality and tremendous help from Russians. They always wanted to help and did their best to make sure we will be fine. We met a lot of local people in Russia and because of them we have nice memories from our Russian trip.