Site Links

___Phase I
___Phase II
___Future Phases
___External Links

Phase II Links___Phase II
___Highlight Photos

Phase II


Main, Photos, Blog

The First Night, Life on the Train, The Provodnitsas

The First Night

We loaded our gear into the cabin and figured it all out. These cabins were much more civilised than those on the Brussels-Moscow train. They consisted of four bunks, two up and two down, on opposite sides of a small table at the window. Fortunately we had one upper and one lower bunk on the same side. This allowed us to sit at the table whenever we chose, instead of having to wait for other passengers to wake up on their lower bunks (we discovered this issue on a subsequent train). We met our cabin mates: Wasi, a teacher from outside Irkutsk, and Nina, an old lady. We also met one of our provodnitsas, a lady who manages the car. She provided us with our bed sheets, pillow cases, tea clothes and towels.

We continued on with our vodka education, started earlier in the hotel room. There is a long story associated with this, not published here.

Life on the Train

There are seven cabins in each car, each with four bunks (two in the first-class cars). There is also the provodnitsas' cabin shared by both of them (one for each shift). There is a bathroom at each end with a western toilet and a sink with cold and warm water. In the hallway at the end near the provodnitsas' cabin is a samovar, a built-in boiling-water dispenser for utensil washing, coffee, tea, or instant noodles. There are buffer areas at the end of each car separating the cabin and hallway area from the outside door. These are the smoking areas. On this train the restaurant car was two cars away - very convenient. The provodnitsas also have a side trade going selling coffee, tea, and souvenirs.

The Russians are quite polite people. They queue like the British, if you have the upper bunk and they realise you want to eat, they will move away from the table for you, and if you want to change clothes they will leave the cabin so that you can close the door for a few minutes.

After a while we discovered the schedule of stops and even later we started figuring it out. We were slowly beginning to understand the Russian alphabet characters. With help from the schedule and confirmations from the provodnitsas, we knew which stops would last 15 minutes or more. We would get out with other passengers, walk around, and perhaps buy supplies from the vendors who had wagon and sleigh loads of water, vodka, sausages, bread, and sometimes potato chips. There were 36 stops to Irkutsk and about half of them were over 15 minutes long.

We ate a few meals in the restaurant car, but they only had about 40% of the items on the menu and what they did have was very bland, cold, and greasy. We would sit there and drink once in a while (not at all on Day 2, though), try to chat with others, or try to follow the really violent movies or really really bad music videos on the TV.

We were still pretty hyped up those first few days, so we didn't really sleep much, more so me than Will. I was getting out at stops at 2:00 am just for something to do. We read a lot. The books that kept us going at first were "The Da Vinci Code" for me and "Cryptonomicon" for Will, both excellent books. Eventually we settled down into a regular routine of washing up as best we could in the mornings, changing underwear and socks, eating instant noodles for breakfast, reading/snoozing, getting out at stops, socialising and occasionally eating at the restaurant car, standing by the windows in the hallway, updating our logs, and occasionally taking pictures.

We were also introduced to the Russian phenomenon of Russian women yelling at us all the time. This had occurred a few times in Moscow, but it started in earnest on the train. The main culprit was Nina, our miserable cabin mate, an old woman. At first it was maybe because of our drunken first night, but it just continued on and on - in Russian, so we usually had no idea what she was on about. She wasn't completely evil; sometimes she was actually telling us how to do things. For example, she helped us make up our bunks in the proper fashion, nagging the whole time. The first two days we may have thought it was amusing, but it was wearing thin by Day 3 and by Day 4 we hated her. The provodnitsas usually gave us their two cents worth as well, as they went by.

Two girls boarded the train at Yekaterinburg. Lisa from Australia and Psycho-Sophie from Wales, both living in London. They were travelling together out of convenience - their travel agency had put these two single travellers together. Lisa was 29 years old and Sophie was 19. Both were not the best travellers in the world, generally complaining about every little thing. Sophie was a Goth or something and was especially morose. They were, however, the only English speaking people we had met since the Eurostar, aside from Lena the Moscow tour guide, so we spent some time with them in the restaurant car.

The Provodnitsas

Each car has two provodnitsas (female train attendant, provodnik is male), one for each 12 hour shift. These ladies work very hard for their money and hold all the power in the car. All the ones we met were extremely tough, competent, and enterprising. We had read about them in the Lonely Planet "Trans-Siberian Railway" guide, so we knew to try and befriend them early in the trip. We weren't that successful, but at least they didn't hate us.

They clean the bathrooms and toilets, stock them with new toilet paper, vacuum the carpets twice a day in the hallway and each cabin, keep the wood burning samovar going, deal with all the tickets, provide the linen and towels, open and close the curtains in the hallway, change the protective hallway mats every day, and deal with all passenger issues. At each stop they go around the car knocking all the ice off the undercarriage with an axe, a pick, or hot water; and they fill the car up with water. They also sell coffee, tea, and souvenirs to the passengers.

Eric - from London