Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Days 66-68: Trans-Siberian Railway, Part 1 -- Vladivostok to Irkutsk

I was advised by my roommate on the Rus' ferry, Anton, against opting for the cheapest train half-way across Russia: the Ukrainian car of the Vladivostok-Kharkov train, or any car on that train for that matter. It was said to be dirty, cheap, with horrible customer service, etc. The full route, which includes 8 days of non-stop transit, is a long one, indeed. But I didn't listen.

For one, it was the cheapest train available and departed at a time I thought was convenient, so I bought the ticket. Only minutes later did I find out that the time on the ticket for both Vladivostok (departure) and Irkutsk (arrival) were both Moscow time, which means I had to turn the clock 7 and 5 hours ahead, respectively, for the local time for each of those two cities. This meant that I would be departing Vladivostok shortly after midnight and arriving in Irkutsk shortly after midnight local time three days later... some 77 hours total. Fun stuff.

The ride was quick, though. The train might not have been the fastest and made a lot of one- and two-minute stops in small cities, but the time went by fast. We stopped in several large cities, such as Khabarovsk, Chita, and Ulan-Ude. Part of the route later on (after I got off, thankfully) went through Kazakhstan, which I didn't have a visa to transit in any case.

The Russian countryside from the train seemed to be very poor. And there were not many villages, if any, seen for hours. Siberia and the Russian Far East are sparsely populated due to the extreme temperature swings: sweltering in the summer, freezing in the winter.

The highlight of the trip was hospitality, Russian-style. This translates into two alkies riding in my 4-person berth along with a soldier who was going home to visit his relatives. The soldier was my age and was drinking along with the alkies. Actually, I switched my berth to be in theirs, since mine had several people who I felt itsy about: gypsies, etc. I was afraid that my things would go missing, so I switched places.

The alkies sure made the trip more than entertaining. One of them missed the train because he was buying vodka. Only two hours later did he make the train, and I could not fathom as to how... Then he told me: "Taxi, we caught up with the train." And how much did this cost, I inquired. "Seven thousand roubles ($280)," he replied. No comment.

Every two hours they would wake up, drink half a glass of vodka and, occasionally, eat a small caviar sandwich, and then go back to sleep, only for this to repeat again and again. And every morning the alkies would have new scars on their faces, presumably from bumping into random objects at night on their way to the bathroom, which was some 10 meters away. Broken drinking glasses also were a common scene every morning, so you had to watch where you step.

Then one of them was fined 1,000 roubles for purportedly throwing up. He claimed he didn't do it, but the train conductor woman called a train officer to arrest him or take him off the train, so he ended up paying an extra 1,000 roubles ($38) so they would leave him alone. He swore he didn't vomit near the bathroom, but who knows.... ?? In any case, 7,000 + 1,000 + 8,000 (original price of the ticket) = 16,000. Geez, for that money he could have flown to Samara, where he was headed, and he would have made it there much cheaper and quicker, too.

Many Russian soldiers were on their was home and we taking this train, so I met them and took some pictures in their uniform. There were many genuinely good people and some bad ones, but for the most part, this trip was very memorable in a typical Russian fashion. :)

1 comment:

Vitaly said...

nu nakonecto, a to davno uje ot teby nichego ne slishal

Actually, I switched my berth to be in theirs, since mine had several people who I felt itsy about: gypsies

nu ti prosto Borat :)