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All Aboard, Moscow to Irkutsk

We were already in a festive mood - the vodka sampling had proved a success - so the start of the "Trans-Siberia Express" was a lot of fun. Good thing we got it off to a bang; there wouldn't be much more excitement for the next four days. Actually, it was a 77 hour ride, over 5,152 Km. We calculated a 67 Km/H average speed, including all of the 2 to 23 minute stops.

We made a point of getting off at most of the longer stops. A few minutes to stretch our legs, buy some food, kick the snow, and watch the train attendant bang the ice off the undercarriage with a steel bar. We hit a low temperature of -23 C, (-9 F), on one late night stop. We were dressed for it and comfortable. The sound of the snow crunching underfoot brought back Canadian winter memories.

Train life is very relaxing. The days are delimited by the few hours of sunshine; we were lucky to see the sun every day. The snow was calf deep - frozen hard. We didn't see any fresh snow along the train ride. We both spent a lot of time reading, snoozing, and gazing out the window at the rolling hills and frost covered birch trees. The numerous small villages along the route seemed frozen; in time and space!

The dining (an interesting euphemism for any food that includes lard) car was a bit of a disappointment. The food was edible, but nothing that one would look forward to consuming. It wasn't very social there either, contrary to our expectations. The culinary highlight was a food called "pishky" (sp?), deep fried bread, with and without mystery meat, brought around the train in the morning. This was a childhood favourite of mine; our Russian neighbours having shown my Mom this delicious dish.

There weren't many opportunities to be social. Our Russian cabin mates didn't speak much English at all, nor did any of the staff. The passengers were almost entirely Russian and again, only a very few words of English were available. We got to the stage of being able to read most of the signs, a good percentage of which are comprehensible once you can sound them out. With a small Russian vocabulary, we weren't much better at keeping an interesting conversation going. Toward the end of the trip, two English speaking women, (well sort of, one was an Aussie and the other Welsh ;-), joined the train to Irkutsk. It became clear that they were not enjoying the train; we found that silence was better than listening to the complaining pretty quickly.

By the end of the ride, I was glad to be getting off the train for a few days in a hotel. Being cooped up made everyone on board a little grouchy.

Will - from Irkutsk