Russia, east of the Urals onward, December, 2014.
Part 3: I’ve had Siberian Express dreams for years, taking a train across the vast stretch of Siberia, leaving Moscow headed constantly on, day and night, to distant places in Asia. December 2014 was our opportunity to make dreams real . . . but what would Siberian Express dreams life aboard be like?
There are frequently three different classes of cars on the train. There’s little difference between the first and second class cabins except there are two beds in first and four in second, so in second class you may be sharing your compartment. Then there is the third class car which has open bunk beds stacked perpendicularly on one side and laterally on the other, with an aisle down the center. Train #362 from Irkutsk to Ulan Bator was a second and third class train. We found several cars of Russian soldiers in rotation to the border and riding in the third class section.
The long ride meant that as the charge on our electronic gear such as our iPads and iPhones wore down, we had to start looking for electrical outlets for a recharge. There were generally three spots along the aisle of each car with an outlet mounted at shoulder height and another several feet lower providing a total of six outlets in the aisle, one over the lavatory basin at each end, and none in the cabins. They were all 220 volt with European style two-prong connections. Fortunately, most electronics now can operate on 110-220 volts without damage.
Some of the more experienced travelers brought extension cords—often 20 feet long or more—which they plugged into the wall, threaded under the runner carpet in the aisle, and into their cabin. We opted to just plug ours in and keep our door open just in case, but there was never a problem with leaving equipment in the hall.
With no wi-fi on board and cellular signals sporadic at best, we were effectively off the grid for communication, but it made very little difference. We enjoyed listening to our music from time to time. One winter night while crossing part of Siberia we watched the movie “Doctor Zhivago” which I had downloaded on my iPad.
We’d read of cars which have showers, and on our Ulan Bator to Beijing leg aboard Train #2, the Trans-Mongolian, we discovered that our room shared a shower with an adjoining cabin. We never saw a sign of a shower on the first two trains, and relied on quick wash-ups at the toilet compartments.
NOTE: The featured photo at the top is Chris in front of a Russian train station on a very cold night.