I signed up to travel on the Trans-Siberian express leaving from St. Petersburg, traveling through Siberia and Mongolia, and arriving in Beijing. The whole trip took three weeks, and covered some 9000 km on the third longest train trip in the world.
I arrived in St. Petersburg early to visit family and met up with my tour mates to take the train to Moscow a week later. Tall, auburn-haired Fiona was our Aussie group leader, Dean and Donald, two septuagenarian travelers from Canada, Peter, a law student from London, and Loretta and Wendy, nurses from New Zealand.
We met at the hotel where we would spend a few nights. Fiona entered, backpack on, fresh from the airport and another tour. Loretta and Wendy were mellow and waited patiently in the hotel lobby, and Peter was nervous and quiet, his cheeks red in a permanent blush.
Dean and Donald showed up late and cranky. They barreled into the hotel lobby arguing and grumbling after a long flight, and negotiations with an unfamiliar language, airport, and taxi ride. They pulled heavy suitcases on wheels, and took out Canadian hundred dollar bills with which to pay Fiona for service charges on our trip. “They’re going to have fun schlepping those suitcases,” I thought to myself. We had been instructed to take luggage which was easily carried on and off trains, and the rest of us had backpacks. Fiona tactfully rejected their Canadian cash, asking them to get her American as soon as they could. As they would soon discover, they were unable to cash their Canadian bills anywhere, and were left to use traveler’s cheques, and borrow cash from Peter the whole way.
The train ride to Moscow was uneventful. Fiona decided on who would be roommates for the train rides. Myself and Peter would share a berth with her, while Loretta, Wendy, Dean and Donald would inhabit the other. I thought it an odd configuration, but realized Fiona’s need to be with a younger bunch. Loretta and Wendy settled down uncertainly on top and bottom bunk, across from the cranky Canadians.
We spent three days in Moscow visiting the Kremlin, Red Square, St. Basil’s Cathedral, and the monument commemorating what the Russians call “The War against Fascism”, the Second World War. We ate Uzbeki food. There were salads of eggplant drizzled with seasoned oils, artichoke hearts, lentils, and delicious simmered vegetables in juicy, fragrant sauces.
On the last day, Fiona gave us a recommended shopping list for the train, and I was relieved to bump into Loretta as I wandered anxiously around a small shopping complex and market next to our hotel in Moscow. We were going to be on the train for four days.
In Canada, that would mean clean toilets, kind staff, predictable food in the dining car, and an unlimited supply of toilet paper on demand. In Russia, we were warned, the toilet paper would out on day two, the staff rarely cleaned the bathroom, and the food was iffy in the dining car. The only silver lining was that there was a samovar of hot water available 24 hours at the front of each compartment.
Loretta steered me to the fruit while itemizing a list of foods that would with any luck keep me regular: hot water with lemon first thing in the morning, a cup of herbal tea at night, and regular handfuls of almonds throughout the day. I also bought black tea, Cuppa Soups, and had my muesli and some dried fruit from back in St. Petersburg.
After re-packing my bags to accommodate these necessary items, I was prepared for the four day trip.
The next night, at 11:23 p.m., our train pulled out of the station, headed for Siberia.
Photo 1 The Church of the Spilled Blood St Petersburg
Photo 2 Red Square
Photo 3 The Kremlin
Travel on the Trans-Siberian Express
from St Petersburg to Beijing
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