Here we are on the Trans Siberian Railway! Wow!
Grammar and her friends have been planning this trip for eight years. I know, it sounds as thought they are pretty slow but one of them was working on an Atlas of Islamic History project that seemed never to end. And of course, when they were ready to go, politics heated up in the region and we thought that maybe we would not be allowed to go. But we got here and are now almost halfway across Russia.
We have been on three different trains. The first was a fancy commuter train from Moscow to Nizhny Novgorod. The train was level with the platform; so it was easy to get our bags on. There was a small centrally located baggage rack in each car but we kept our bags with us. Generally the seats faced one another with six on one side of the aisle and four on the other. We were in designated seats, the last in the car; so the set-up was two and two with no-one facing us. There were no drop-down tables as in an airplane and no services. It was a four hour trip and the train was packed for the first two hours. The last stop was Nizny; so we did not worry about getting off at the wrong place.
The second train was a medium distance overnight train that ran from Moscow to Ekaterinburg. We only went from Nizny to Ekaterinburg: overnight for 21 hours. The cars are higher than the station platform and there is quite a gap as well. Grammar thought she might lose me, her bag and herself between the platform and the car. Fortunately, a very strong lady swung our bag on board and helped Grammar climb up. We had booked a four person sleeper compartment for the four of us ( three plus me, snowflake). That was perfect as we had room to stretch out and an upper bunk to stow our day packs on. Our bigger bags slid under the lower bunks. Andrew and I (sf) have been climbing into the upper bunks at night. There was a table and a big window. For each car there is a prodvenitsa who makes beds, serves tea, cleans toilets and generally, is in charge of the car. The one on our first overnight train was very sweet and helpful; we rarely see the one on this train.
The second overnight train, the one we are now on, is the Trans Siberian train. It goes from Moscow to Vladivostok. The cabin arrangement is the same as the other overnight train; the dining car is fancier on this one. It has pretty wooden seats and decorative ironwork around the bar. On both trains, we have taken most of our own food: fruit, nuts, coleslaw, cheese, crackers, dried soup. We opted for lunch in the dining car on the first overnight train. Staff seemed overjoyed to see us. There were no other customers. There was no menu and we had a set lunch of soup, salad, boiled beef and rice and tea: 340 rubles or about $10. Today, we decided to have breakfast. There was a bilingual menu (we have seen very few of these) and were able to order a sort-of omelette, tomato and cucumber salad, bread, rice pudding (for Andrew) and tea. It was OK.
At each stop, we had expected to see people selling food on the platforms, but the only one we saw today had fresh dill and coriander.
Sleeping on the train is lovely. We all agree that it feels as though we are being gently rocked in a cradle. We have had excellent sleeps. On the train from Niznhy, Grammar was super sleepy. I figure she slept about 16 of the 21 hours.
We look out the window lots and chat about history, and politics, and world issues. We are very "philosophical"! ( Grammar put that word in). Early in the trip, we saw lots of birch forests and tiny wooden houses made of rough-cut lumber. Each house had a neatly laid out garden behind it. No-one looked very rich. We saw big industrial towns and lots and lots of rail yards. The Russians keep all their very old locomotives and set them up as monuments at the entrance to each major station.
Before we reached Ekaterinburg, we passed through low hills that were part of the Ural Mountains. We also passed the border between Europe and Asia; so now we are in Asia! It is very flat and we went through miles and miles of grasslands - the Siberian Plain. I expected to see lots of cows and horses but I have only seen thee small herds of cows and one horse in two days. Oh, and I saw two big goats and two tiny kids.
I will sign off with a view of far-reaching grasslands and sloughs on the north side and scrubby birch forest and sloughs on the south. Oh, there goes a grain elevator, some barns, houses and a golden domed church. We have not seen churches in most of the small towns. Likely they were originally wooden and were destroyed during the Soviet era.