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Goodbye New Jersey. Hello World! A record of my journey as I give up my job, my possessions, and life as I know it to go off and see the world!

Riding the Tran Siberian Train

RUSSIAN FEDERATION | Saturday, 18 September 2010 | Views [1905]

It’s day 3 on the Tran Siberian Railway and I’ve decided to attempt to wash my hair. It’s not that I am particularly vain but my hair has become gross, and I certainly do have the time. So, how does one go about washing their hair in a train bathroom that contains a sink and a hole in the floor for drainage? Step one: Obtain some hot water, which thankfully is in abundance on the train. Use some empty water bottles that you just happened to be saving for a good reason. Two: Develop the right combination of the hot water and cold water from the tap so you don’t completely scald yourself. Three, take off your clothes in the bathroom, make sure the door is locked and hang your stuff as high as possible. Reflect on how your body has changed in the last 80 days of travel (unfortunately not for the better in my case). Four, pour water on your head. Lather up. Pour water on your head to rinse. Repeat. You will probably run out of the hot water you got and will need to start preparing for the last few cold rinses. Hurray - you have now taken your first shower in a train bathroom!

Being on the Tran Siberian railway is unlike any experience I have ever taken. The trip has surprised myself in a few ways. I came prepared to do massive amounts of reading and learning. I had several books, and quite a few apps on my ipod where I had planned to teach myself Mandarin and some more Russian before I ended in Beijing. Instead I have spent my days looking out the windows for hours and hours. I’m perfectly content with listening to music, standing in the hallway, and watching the scenery wiz by. What is there to look at? In the beginning we went through vast expanses of forests. I was surprised because the leaves were already starting to change and was happily reminded of autumn at home. Every now and then we would pass through some towns consisting of small houses and shacks. Sometimes I see a random person just walking along the tracks and I catch myself wondering, where are they going? Where have they been? We’ve passed through many industrial areas as well with large cranes surrounding the area. In some places the land is flatter with less trees. The fields are yellow and the color really pops against the blue sky as it rolls by outside my window. The trees that are on the field stand out even more against the vast span of the land.

Getting off of the train has been a riot. Each stop is unique in its own way. Sometimes it’s a five minute stop while others can be up to twenty. We always make sure to check with the attendant in our carriage so that the train doesn’t leave without us. She speaks very little English and thus uses her fingers to indicate the countdown of time as we try to get our shopping done. Each stop has some kiosks where you can buy cigarettes, beer, chips, noodles, bread, juice, and other food for the train. The longest line is usually for the cigarettes. Some stops have the babushka ladies swarming around you with smoked fish dangling from hooks and prepackaged lunches for sale. They try to get you to buy scarves and other souvenirs. I wonder, what are all these ladies doing when there are no trains at the stations? Do they sit quietly and wait or do they do other things? I will say that the greatest dumplings I have had in my life came from a very nice woman at one of the stops. They were still warm with delicious cabbage on the inside. I have also tried fried bread with mashed potato on the inside that were to die for. Trying these concoctions that the ladies have made are all great part of the fun.

The train itself is quite posh and much nicer than I was expecting. I’m traveling in second class where the train cars are broken into small cabins consisting with 2 sets of bunks. I am sleeping in a top bed with 3 other people from my tour. Thankfully we all get along! The bottom bunks also serve as padded seats to sit on during the day and there is a small table and window in the cabin to watch the country side go by. The hallways are carpeted and they get vacuumed several times a day. Our attendant also vacuums our rooms and we have to lift up our feet as she passes through. It reminds me of when my mom used to vacuum the living room when I was a kid! There are two toilets at the end of each car which stay relatively clean. I am reminded of an airplane each time I flush it. Each carriage also contains a place to get hot water which is essential for your instant meals and your tea and coffee (and shampooing your hair!) Our attendant is a plump, brunette Russian woman who is never out of her uniform…right down to the hat. She has a stern look and when she speaks she sounds always like she is reprimanding you but I have learned that she is actually quite nice. I was standing in the hallway the first morning and she kept gesturing for me to come with her. I thought I was going to get yelled at for something but in fact she was just showing me where she kept massive amounts of toilet paper. The language barrier just leads to confusion I guess.

I wish I could say the same for the waitresses at the restaurant car. They sigh heavily when you attempt to communicate what you want and we can’t quite get our order across. Today we ordered our food, waited an hour and a half and then found out from another traveler that the oven was in fact broken and they were not serving any food for at least another hour or two. They do know the English word for beer though and are constantly asking us if we want it. Some of the waitresses are quite insistent that we buy them a beer as well! The restaurant car is a good place to meet people. Some are Russian but many are from all over Europe. Germans, British, French, Swiss, Belgian, Swedish, and Norwegian but there are others that I am not even sure where they are from. You feel a bit comforted when you look over and see them struggling with the menu as you had just done twenty minutes ago. We all have the same look of wonder in our faces as we watch the country side fly by.

What do we all do to pass the time? Let’s say I have had more tea these last few days than I have in the last month! It’s nice to sip your tea and enjoy conversation and watch the scenery. Eating is also a nice thing to do, although I would say that this leg of the trip is not the best time to diet! I have been eating out of boredom to be honest. I have had bread, cheese, jam, instant noodles and instant potatoes. Last night I had Borscht (the traditional Russian soup) at the restaurant car and it was quite good. At night we drink. Beer, vodka, wine, you name it. Some people read, others listen to music, and there is quite a bit of journal writing going on. We constantly look at the train schedule to countdown the time until our next stop and chance for some fresh air. We talk to each other and compare each other’s culture and life at home. We talk about where we have been and where we are going next.

I do have moments where I get to feeling a bit confined on the train. I have never experienced so much idle time in my life and I have had some time getting used to it. I lie in bed in the morning and day dream so heavily that I have confused them with sleeping dreams. I have had a few dreams where I am on the train and I have memories now where I am not sure if I was dreaming it or if it really happened. I am looking forward to our stop Irkutsk in Siberia. I can’t wait to see Lake Baikal and take a dip, I don’t care how cold it is. Until then - I’m signing off. Will keep you all updated on the experience.

Tags: russia, tran siberian train

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