Russia-Mongolia by the TransSiberian

Trip Start Jul 31, 2005
Trip End Feb 18, 2007

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Thursday, September 8, 2005

So we set off, not really knowing what to expect, on the world's longest railway journey: The TransSiberian

As we were to learn, the TransSiberian is not so much a journey but a unique lifestyle. The train becomes your bedroom, living room, bathroom, kitchen, restaurant, bar and your disco. You don't worry about how long it is to you get off and just take it easy, talking to your fellow travelers, reading books, gazing out of the window at the slowly changing scenery, playing games, and of course..... drinking loads of vodka!

Every 3 hours or so the train stops for about 20 minutes, where you can get off, stretch your legs and fill yourself up with tasty and cheap platform snacks and drinks.

The first leg of our journey was from Moscow to Yekaterinburg, on the Europe-Asia border and a total of about 26 hours traveling.
Yekaterinburg was closed to foreigners until 1993 because of all the secret arms factories near by and it still feels very much like what Moscow and St Petersburg were like many years back. We stopped there for a day to see the official border at the Ural mountains. After this, we got back on the train for a further 3 nights to Irkutsk.

For some reason our cabin was designated the party cabin, and we had many crazy vodka parties on the train.
In order to keep themselves amused, Marc and an Australian guy from the tour (Glen) used to play an inebriated game which could be described as "chase the train". I.e. when the train stopped at night, they would run off to find the nearest bar to the railway station, have a very swift beer with the locals and try to get back on the train before it left them stranded in the middle of nowhere. Needless to say that sensible Patricia ordered Marc to hand over her passport and half the cash before he attempted each run -:) Every time they make it back on the train in time and are greeted with a round of applause by the rest of the group.

So we finally arrive in Irkutsk. In the past five days we have traveled through 5 time zones and by land so we're a bit disorientated to say the least. We transfer over to Lake Baikal, the largest fresh water lake in the world and enjoy a home-stay in a traditional Siberian village for 3 days with some amazing home-cooked food.
We spend the days walking and relaxing along the beautiful lake. It's incredible to think that for most of the year this lake, which because of it's size looks more like a sea, completely freezes over and the locals drive over it to reach other villages.
The traditional Siberian villages are stunning and all the houses are made of wood. There is no running water as there is no point because for 9 months of the year all the pipes would be frozen. We wash with water brought up in milk churns from the lake and bathe everyday in a traditional Siberian Sauna. I
t's strange (and frightening) to think how far we are away from real civilization.

After Lake Baikal we head back to the nearest railway station in Irkurst and jump back on the train to head off to Mongolia.
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