Sunday, February 3, 2013

So this is the big journey linking the West to East which is an integral part of our overland trip and our goal to get to Singapore by land.

This train journey is known worldwide as the longest train journey and at 101 hours is certainly a long trek by any stretch of the imagination but apparently, unbelievably it's only the 5th longest!

As described so well by our friend over at

'You'll sometimes hear Moscow-Vladivostok in 7 days on the 'Rossiya' referred to as the longest train ride of them all. It isn't. Nor is Moscow-Vladivostok in 9 days on the daily lower-quality slow train 904. Once a week or so the Rossiya conveys two through sleepers from Moscow to the North Korean border. This is detached at Ussuryisk just an hour or so before Vladivostok, then it heads south all the way to Korea, making this a longer continuous train ride than Moscow-Vladivostok. But this isn't the longest train ride either. There is a through train from Donetsk and Kharkov in Ukraine to Vladivostok, and this appears to be the longest scheduled continuous train ride of them all'

So now knowing it is not the longest what was it like...

Day 1

Unfortunately Ross caught a fever on the last day in Moscow. We think it has something to do with the insane temperature they heat the buildings to a breeding ground for germs. Why would you want inside to be +30 when its -15 or lower outside it just doesn't make any sense!

Arriving at the station feeling pretty rough the thought of over 4 days on the train wasn't as appealing as it had been during our months of planning!

The train was much older than we were expecting. The departures from Moscow alternate between Russian and Chinese trains and we had been advised to catch the No 4 as it was the better of the two. Built in the 90's and probably only been cleaned and serviced a handful of times since! It was very basic! If the Russian train is even more basic then it would be pretty tough to endure for such a long time. We will get a taste of the Russian train between Mongolia and Beijing as our stopover puts us on the train behind us so more on that later...

We opted for 2nd class which are 4 berth compartments with a max of 36 people per carriage. 1st Class is 2 berths with a shared bathroom for every 2 compartments. It looks very nice but the opportunity to socialise is not as good as in 2nd class and this is a massive part of the experience. We also heard some horror stories about the showers as they only have tiny storage tanks for waste water so it often flows backwards and floods the shower so you end up standing in cold recycled water... nice! Our train didn't have a 3rd class and quite frankly wouldn't want to imagine spending so long in even more primitive conditions than 2nd.

Each carriage has a Provodnik (carriage attendant) who's purpose is to keep the train clean and tidy, keep the fire topped up and look important. Ours was a grumpy Chinese guy who didn't speak a word of English which we can't begrudge him for but a smile is a smile in any language! He only ever barked or scowled and was only ever happy when he was preparing food or eating. The guards live like kings and in addition to their proper living compartment and day compartment he took over another compartment for his own use and locked one of the toilets so only he can use it meaning the other 11 of us ended up sharing a single toilet! And when the sink blocked he just turned the water off so we had no running water in our compartment at all. The worst bit was he spent very little time in our carriage often disappearing to another carriage to have a banquet with the other attendants.

Day 2

Ross was starting to feel pretty rough by this point and the thought of another 3 days on the train was not appealing! And even the thought of Vodka couldn't raise him from his bed.

Outside the window the scenery didn't change much and was trees, trees, more trees, lots of snow and the odd industrial city.

Day 3

Ross by this point was feeling worse and worse by the day and he was kind enough to pass his fever onto Sonya!

The scenery was pretty much identical to yesterday and after hours of trees and more trees it will be nice to see something else.

Day 4

Sonya now feeling the full effects of the fever really wanted to get off the train!

We finally passed through Siberia and into the Ural mountains. Still lots of trees but broken up with lakes and mountains made it a pleasant change of scenery.

Day 5

We arrived in UB at 6:30 with sleep deprivation and still feeling like death warmed up. Hoping that being on solid ground for a few days we should be able to knock the fever on the head before we get to Beijing which is currently suffering from its worst ever pollution. Happy Days! Looking forward to getting to the countryside in China.

Folk Law

We had read lots of stories about the 'Vodka train' how you will be offered Vodka by the locals and after our experience from Warsaw to Moscow we stocked up at the local supermarket and braced ourselves for the days ahead. Well that's where the experience ended, apart from the people running the buffet car we haven't seen any Russian people. It's a Chinese train so all the attendants are Chinese and as for passengers there are some other English, a herd of French, a couple of Canadian's, a couple of Italian's, some Mongolian's and Chinese going home but not any Russian's.

The Experience

This sounds very negative but shouldn't be read in that way. This journey is an experience not about getting from A-B, if you wanted to do that you would fly as we spent as long at the Russian/Mongolian border as it would take to fly from Moscow to Beijing! As with all experiences one will never be the same as the next. Don't do too much research and listen to the folk laws as your experience might not live up to your preconceptions. Your experience will be completely different from the next persons and although our attendant was by all intents and purposes a prize prat he didn't ruin our experience but merely added to it. He could keep us amused for hours barking at everybody and trying to look important. I'm sure we will be talking about him long after our trip. Nobody can change your experience more than you can so immerse yourself, let your hair down and just get on with it as it will only be as good as you make it. Most of all be sociable as it's a great way to pass the long nights and share a beer or Vodka with your new friends!

Would we do it again, not anytime soon and definitely not with a fever! If we did it would be in 1st class although we would spend most of the time socialising with the peasants in 2nd or in the dining car. And the thought that this is only the 5th longest journey in the world quite frankly sends shivers down our spines.

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