|The evening after we went to the Kremlin we embarked on perhaps the hardest part of our trip so far. A four day unguided train journey across Russia and into Siberia. We stocked up on plenty of provisions including a couple of bottles of Vodka and copious amounts of beers (oh and some ryvitas) and proceeded to bed down for the next four days. The compartments are very small, our 4 berth carriage was only 6ft long by 5 ft wide by 9 ft high. I got the top bunk as everyone else was worried they might fall out, and it was actually a real bonus as it means you don't have everyone sitting on your bed during the day and can go to bed when you want to. It also means you don't get woken up when any of your room mates need to go to the loo ! (Unless of course they decide to piss in the carriage thinking its the loo in which case you wake up rather quickly and try and move everything in sight)
The train itself was truly an experience. You quickly settle into a routine of sleeping until about 11am, getting up (that takes about an hour as everyone has to move around everyone else) then grabbing some lunch and then cracking into the beers. The afternoon is spent chatting, reading, (preferably something high brow) drinking beers, eating noodles as they have a 'samovar' full of hot water, and getting off occassionally to peruse what the local Baboushkas are selling. The latter is usually some kind of pastry that could have a varitey of fillings...you would always choose it using pot luck hoping that you'd got a potato one, but it could sometimes contain mystery meat one (at which point you take a call on how hungry you are vs likelihood of developing food poisoning then weighing up which you'd prefer) or worst of all ...a fish one (in which case bin immediately and wash hands with sulphuric acid)
Obviously the other thing you can do is look out of the window and train journeys are great for this as you get to see so much without having to stop and start all the time. The scenery is quite simply amazing. Miles and miles of empty unending countryside, the landscape is not vastly different from other parts of europe but when you get into Siberia, every so often you pass through a run down industrialised town which gives you a real sense of what Communist Russia was like, and also how bleak and god forsaken these places are now that they have been left to rot by a government that has forgortten about them.
The worst thing about the train is of course the toilets....the toilets themselves were actually not too bad (I think your standards drop surprisingly quickly!!) but they are supposed to be closed for 20 minutes before and after getting into a station (when you flush the loo and see where it goes you understand why)This is fine, as we had been pre warned by our guide books and by our guide in Moscow. I even spent day one with my cyrillic alphabet trying to decipher the timetable in order not to get "caught short" So everyone is fully aware of the twenty mintue rule. Everyone that is apart from the provodnitsas (carriage attendants) who helpfully don't speak a word of english. Her rule seemed to be, I'll close them whenever I fucking well feel like it, and damn the people who are standing in the queue doubled up in pain. I had a particularly bad encounter at Ekaterinbrug (where the last Russian Tsar and his family were executed...although the historical importance was lost on me at the time) Here, bladder control took on a new meaning. I had to wait for an hour and forty five minutes in the aisle outside the toilet... despite us having left the station nearly an hour earlier she still would not open the door. It was only when I referred to the oldest trick in the book and started sobbing that she finally relented. Needless to say I had the last laugh when my room mate decided to wee all over the floor on the last night...
So after 4 long but fun "groundhog days" and having crossed from Eurpoe into Asia, covering nearly 7000 miles we finally arrived in Irkutsk, a small town in eastern Siberia and we head out to Lake Baikal.