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The Travel Journal of Jacqui and Lars

 

Russia - 20-22 August, 2003

 

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Location Latitude Longitude Elevation

Travel Distance

Start Aboard Train #009 - Baikal (Irkutsk to Yekaterinburg) .
Numerous stops along the way . . . .
Finish Yekaterinburg train station N5651.492' E06036.357' 287 meters 3,369 km (by train)

Total (by train):

10,711 km

Total (Mongolia):

2,880 km

Total (Kamchatka):

1,339 km

Total (other):

379 km

Total:

15,309 km

 

Weather: Mostly clear with occasional sun and hot.  As we went west, the clouds cleared, the sun shone and it got hotter.

 

 

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20 August, 2003

The very pleasant greeting and boarding we had for this train was a good sign of the quality of train we were on.  The provodnitsa were very friendly and even helpful.  We had quickly settled into our compartment and Lars even had time to get off and take a few more pictures of the train station and the train.  This train #009 originates in Irkutsk and it's name, of course, is "Baikal".

 

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Our departure from the station is announced by the blaring of some martial music over the station's loudspeakers.  If you did not know that the train was leaving, this would certainly wake you up to this fact.  The train pulled out of Irkutsk - 1635/1135 - KM 5,185/4,104 right on time and we were once more back on the rails and heading west.

 

This was certainly one of the better trains that we have been on in Russia.  Most importantly, the provodnitsa seemed to behave more like we were customers who had paid for the seats, rather than like we were a pain in the butt and a nuisance to have around on their train.  The compartments came with a TV.  Not that the TV was of much use to us (no interest in the Hollywood movies poorly dubbed into Russian), but the electrical outlet in the compartment was.  We could use it to power our laptop and to charge our IPOD.  The provodnitsa did see us using it once, but rather than make us stop using it (guess it is forbidden), she just told us to make sure our compartment door was closed and locked so the supervisor did not catch us!

 

Our compartment also came with cups, saucers and plates made from china.  The bed sheets were of a good quality and the sleeping pad was firm and smooth.  We even had a small fake plant on the small table under our window.  Finally, the curtains were of a decent material and color.  In the bathrooms (which were regularly cleaned), there was soap, soft (rather than sand paper) toilet paper, toilet seat covers, hand towels and tissues.  What luxury.

 

In terms of the overall train, it traveled much faster and smoother than east of Irkutsk.  Maybe this is because the track from here to Moscow is better maintained given the higher traffic.  Also, we made fewer stops and the stops tended to be of a shorter duration.  We were able to cover a significant amount of territory during the 50 hours that we were on the train.  We passed through two time zones while on this train.

 

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Our first stop was at Angarsk - 1730/1230 - KM 5,160/4,129, which is a large industrial city with a modern station.  We decide to head over to the dining car and check it out.  The dining car is very nice and the staff relatively friendly.  We sit down and enjoy a beer and tea while watching a Bill Murphy comedy horribly dubbed into Russian.  The problem is that they keep the original soundtrack, but the dubbed voice is just added on top, a second late.  Also, they will often use just one or two voices for a movie, even with many characters.  So, everyone speaks with the same voice.  And, they use no feeling or emotions, so even in the middle of a passionate love scene or a brutal fight, the voice carries on in the same level tone.  Very strange.

 

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The next stop is at Usole-Sibirskoe - 1800/1300 - KM 5,124/4,165.  Other than for producing a very popular brand of salt in Russia, it is known for its nearby Tsarist prison camp that was very brutal.  An hour later we have a short stop at Cheremkhovo - 1900/1400 - KM 5,061/4,228, known for it's coal deposits.  We then use the next few hours to work on our journals in our compartment.  We have a brief stop at Zalari - 1955/1455, so small none of our guidebooks mention it (unless the name has recently changed).  Our last long stop of the day is at Zima - 2055/1555 - KM 4,940/4,349, but there is nothing fresh to buy here, so we do not spend much time on the platform.  We return to our compartment to prepare our own dinner (instant noodles from Thailand - yummy) and then relax before we retire for the night.

 

21 August, 2003

We have a very pleasant nights sleep - the ride was rather smooth (good thing we had gotten used to the much more noisy and rattling ride east of Irkutsk).  During the night we had passed through a time zone and we are now four hours ahead of Moscow - a nice way to get an extra hour of sleep.  Just before 9:45 AM we decide to get ready - we will soon be crossing the Yensei River - 0945/0545 - KM 4,100/5,189.

 

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The Yensei River bisects Siberia from north to south and it is a huge river that has it's source in Mongolia and runs 5,200 km north to the Arctic Ocean.  The bridge we use to cross the river is a new one, built in 1999.  The old bridge dates from the 1890's and required 94,000 workers three years to build.  It won a gold prize at the World Fair in Paris in 1900.  It has huge granite piers, built to withstand the ice floes that bulldozer their way down the river each year in the spring.  Shortly after crossing the river, we pull into Krasnoyarsk - 0955/0555 - KM 4,098/5,191, a big industrial city where we have a long stop.  Nothing much to see - the station building seems to be in the process of being torn down.

 

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Once back on the train, we have a quiet morning.  After our light breakfast, we decide to spend some time working on our journals.  There are no other stops for the rest of the morning.  A lady from the dining car comes down the aisle, offering freshly deep fried snacks.  Boy, is she one of the better sales people we have encountered in Russia.  Very friendly with a ready smile.  She would joke with us and gently try to persuade us to sample her snacks.  In the end, we relented and we glad we did - they were very tasty.  Nice thing, though, was that she never got upset or rude of we did not buy something from her.  Just after 1 PM we have our lunch, just before pulling into our next stop.

 

Our stop at Achinsk 1 - 1335/0935 - KM 3,917/5,372 was short and there was not much else to see but a 1960's style concrete and glass train station. After leaving the station, we soon cross the Chulim River.  Just about an hour later we have a short stop at Bogotol - 1435/1035 - KM 3,849/5,440 - nothing here.  The rest of the afternoon is spent napping and reading.  During this time we cross from eastern Siberia into western Siberia.

 

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The train station at our next stop, Mariinsk - 1635/1235 - KM 3,715/5,574, is a small and simple, but nice, red brick building.  We have a bit more time here to get off and stretch our legs.  There are some vendors wandering the platform, selling food and drink.  The most interesting thing they are selling is crayfish.  We buy one to sample - turns out to be quite good.  After we leave this station, we head over to the dinner car to have drink and just hang out in a different environment for a while.  Then back to our compartment for a nap and some reading.

 

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The next stop is at Taiga - 1900/1500 - KM 3,570/5,719.  The stop is shorter than planned as we are behind schedule, so we are not able to get down onto the platform.  At one time, this town stood in the middle of dense taiga forest, but that has long since been chopped down.  Here is the junction to Tomsk, once the most important city in Siberia.  But back when the railroad was being built, the city's administrators blocked the railroad from passing through as they felt it would threaten their monopolies.  Well, in the end, with the railroad passing by around 80 kms away, everything passed them by, so the city soon lost it's importance.

 

During the day as we had wandered through some of the train's corridors, we had run into the trains electrical engineer.  We struck up a conversation with him and this evening he stopped by our compartment.  He ended up spending an hour or so with us.  We offered him some vodka (he would only have a small amount) and some snacks.  He told us all about himself and how he is currently in the train company's college studying.  He also told us about some major vacation travel plans he has.  He will be heading down to the Crimea and then be heading to Europe to visit a friend in Holland that he met on the train.  While trying to show us something on the window, he leaned on the table and - crash - down it comes.  We are lucky and are able to save the bottle of vodka and the glasses before they fall to the floor.  He then rushes around trying to fix it.  The screws have come loose and he needs to get some new, larger one to replace them.  Sometime around here we pass through another time zone - now we are just three hours ahead of Moscow.

 

After this excitement, we have our dinner (curry with bread) before we make our last stop of the night at Novosibirsk - 2110/1810 - KM 3,570/5,719.  This is a long stop at the capital of Western Siberia, which has the largest station in Siberia.  We have enough time to run along the platform and up the steps and into the station for a look.  It was built between 1929 and 1941 and is a blue-green glass vaulted building.

 

The interior is very grand, with a giant waiting room with a ceiling that reaches for the skies.  They have done a very good job of renovating and restoring the building.  We have enough time to run back down to the platform and head over to the other side for a full view of the station in the last light of the setting sun.  Before getting back on the train, we buy a few snacks for desert.  But before we head off to sleep, we stay up until we leave the station so that we can watch as we cross the Great Ob River Bridge.

 

As we cross the bridge, we have an excellent view up and down the river of the setting sun.  The bridge is the original one built when the trans-Siberian tracks were first laid.  The construction proceeded all year round and was very hazardous work.  A number of workers fell to their deaths in the icy waters below.  As with the other bridges in this region, the steel buttresses are supported by huge stone piers that must be capable of withstanding the chunks of ice that flow down the river in spring.  Once across the river, we begin to get ready to sleep.  The routine, going to one of the two toilets located at each end of the car, is very simple, but we often have to wait our turn, especially in the morning and at night.

 

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22 August, 2003

As we slept, we passed through yet another time zone.  Now we are only two hours ahead of Moscow.  It gives us yet another hour to sleep.  We have a quiet, relaxing morning dozing in our bunks until we arrive at our first stop of the day at Ishim - 0800/0600 - KM 2,431/6,858, a small stop with a correspondingly small, red brick station building with white trim.  After we leave the station, we have our breakfast (the usual bread with nutella and, for Jacqui, her sambal which she brought with her from Malaysia) and spend the rest of the morning working on our journals, taking advantage of our power outlet.  The countryside is flat and covered with farms interspersed with small blocks or lines of trees.

 

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Our next stop is at Tyumen - 1135/0935 - KM 2,144/7,145, the oldest town in Siberia.  We have a long stop here, so we get out to stretch our legs.  It is an ugly, concrete station building that comes straight off of a Soviet, central planners desk.  No thought or creativity.  There are a number of ladies wandering up and down the platform trying to sell their wares that they carry in small, shopping baskets.  This city used to be the transit point for the exiles sent to Siberia.  Over 1 million convicts and exiles passed through before the train was built, eliminating the need for transit prisons (before the train line was built, the prisoners had to walk the thousands of kilometers into exile).

 

After we leave the station, we have our lunch and then wait for the moment that we will leave Siberia.  We officially leave Siberia and cross the Siberia-Ural Border - 1228/1028 - KM 2,102/7,187, shortly after noon.  The spot is marked by a small white obelisk set up on the side of the track.  Near here was where the original square twelve foot pillar was set up to mark the boundary.  This was the point where the exiled people had to say good buy to their family, friends and country.  The spot had witnessed many emotional and grief stricken scenes as the exiles entered Siberia, many never to return.

 

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The landscape we pass through has become much more forested and the birch tree seems to dominate (or maybe it just stands out).  We spend the next four hours, the final ones of this segment of the train journey, just relaxing and watching the scenery go by.  A short time before we arrive at our destination, we begin to re-pack our bags and organise our stuff.  We pull into Yekaterinburg - 1610/1410 - KM 1,816/7,473, a little behind schedule and grab our bags and hop off the train.  We bid our fond farewell to the two kind provodnitsa that had this leg of our journey so pleasant.

 

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