Thursday, 8th June 1988
The Soviet officials climbed aboard the train and began checking everyone. They headed off with our passports and then a big (and I mean really big) woman came to the compartment to take our custom declaration forms.
Our third visit was from the lady from Intourist. She introduced herself by saying “I am Ze Lady from Ze Intourist” and then proceeded to check our hotel vouchers. It was all very thorough but it wasn’t unfriendly. We then got our passports back.
The train moved forward through the opened gate and stopped in the station beyond.
It was now 10pm. Except it wasn’t. It was 5pm. All the clocks said 5pm and we realised that we had forgotten that all trains in the USSR run on Moscow time. Although there was a 5 hour time difference locally, our train was scheduled to depart at 8:30pm (Moscow time) meaning a stop of over 3 hours.
This was to be a constant source of confusion for the rest of the trip. The dining car worked on local time but the published schedule of the train was on Moscow time. We were forever getting confused. We would plan to have dinner after we had passed so and so at 8pm, only to realise we were reaching it at 3pm in the afternoon.
Whilst we were stopped at the border station at Naushki, we proceeded to try to buy some Russian Roubles. It was quite cold outside and we ran around about 5 buildings looking for the bank. We finally asked two stone-faced women behind a desk in a small hut where the bank was. This is it, they told us.
They took 39 of our US dollars and gave us 22 Roubles in return.
We then went to the waiting room to keep warm. The room was impressively tiled and it was quite atmospheric. It was also full of Russian soldiers who had obviously just disembarked from a troop train. They looked almost like American soldiers except that their caps seemed a little too big for their heads.
We sat still in the waiting room and eventually we befriended a couple from San Francisco who were on a world trip and also heading to London.
Just before 8:00pm (Moscow Time) we were allowed back on the train, it departed and we fell asleep.
Friday, 9th June 1988
We awoke at about 10am “train time” and we noticed that the countryside had changed again and we were already skirting Lake Baikal. There were plenty of fir trees, little Russian settlements and lots of horses to see out of the window. It all gave the impression of being slightly more developed than what we had seen so far.
We were now on the Trans-Siberian line proper and the locomotive had been changed to an electric one. The train was also moving faster and was smoother than in the last 2 days.
We had a late breakfast of ham, bread and coffee whilst sitting opposite a young Swedish couple. The dining car had been changed again and at least seemed to be better stocked than the Mongolian one.
They had cherry juice and caviar on the menu.
We tried the cherry juice and, although it was a little over sweet, it was absolutely delicious.
The scenery outside hadn’t really changed much. We still had Lake Baikal on one side and the fir trees on the other. The amount of trains going in the opposite direction was quite amazing. There was one every 15 minutes or so. Most of the trains were freight trains and there were a lot of tank flats too.
We made it into Irkustk by 9:30 am Moscow time. That was just in time for lunch at 1:30pm local.
After Irkutsk we continued to trundle through birch trees and lilacs as we spent the whole afternoon sitting in the restaurant car.
We had borsht and cabbage soup followed by goulash for lunch. The goulash was lukewarm but tasty nonetheless.
We then had a brief stop at Jima. We got off the train to take a few photographs and we bought some potato cakes and radishes. The latter were crunchy and quite delicious but expensive. The former were stodgy but cheap.
After Jima we sat and drank whisky with the couple from San Francisco. It was their wedding anniversary so we toasted them. We talked over 4 hours to them all about politics, travel and the scenery outside. The scenery had not changed at all since lunch.
We saw a lot of little houses, a lot of lumber yards and still a lot of freight trains moving east. As we climbed back to the compartments and into bed, we noticed that it had started to rain outside.
Saturday, 10th June 1988
In the morning it was still raining and the scenery hadn’t really changed in the night either.
The compartment was getting really untidy now. The attendant came in to change the hot water flasks but biscuit wrappers, cups and books were littered all around the place. With still another 2 days to go to Moscow the place was a bit of a tip.
Breakfast was ham, cheese, bread and yogurt. We sat opposite another Swedish couple but we didn’t talk much. The two waiters in the restaurant car looked bored stiff.
We spent the rest of the day speaking Japanese. Lunch was noodle soup and beef Stroganoff again. We had beef soup and boiled chicken for dinner.
We made longish stop at Novosibirsk, a big city with a beautiful river. We made a little trip off the train and into the station.
There was an interesting cigarette smoke smell everywhere that I had never smelt before. We saw queues at the food shops, watched people getting their hair cut at a barber’s shop and saw that there was, curiously, a rifle range at the bottom of the stairwell in the station.
The next station we reached was also pretty big and a lot of the passengers including me were told off for trying to take pictures of the large freight yard next to it. The policeman kept shouting “nyet, nyet“, but I got the picture.
We set off once more. By now the train had increased its speed again, the track seemed better and it was giving us a much smoother ride. It was easy to fall asleep again.
Sunday, 11th June 1988
The scenery was changing gradually and the forests were now being interrupted by more and more towns. Eventually we left the forests behind and crossed wider plains and saw much more industry.
We spent most of Sunday afternoon in an electric storm. The scenery got even flatter after we passed an oblesk which marked the end of Asia and the start of Europe.
The scenery got more beautiful as the train skirted a wide river before pulling into Perm.
We made the usual 3 trips to the dining car. Breakfast was smoked fish, ham, sour milk and cherry juice. Lunch was chicken rice soup and beef stew. Dinner was beef solyanka and stroganoff yet again
The waiters were growing even more disinterested and unfriendly each time we visited them.
The 6-carriage walk to the restaurant car provided a bit of much-needed exercise. The walk increased the appetite and it also provided a useful insight into the make up of the train.
The first 3 Chinese coaches were like ours each with its Chinese attendant and a mixture of western and Chinese passengers. People had made themselves at home and there were personal stickers on the doors and a few national flags on display. Through the open doors into the compartment you could see people playing cards, reading or searching for that rare commodity on the train; booze.
The next three cars were Russian and they actually smelt different. There was a lot more food being cooked individually and there was a smell of boiling lamb mixed with the odor of cheap cigarette smoke.
As we fell asleep on Sunday, the train was rolling along at 120kph. It was, we had been told, now an hour behind schedule.
Monday, 12th June 1988
After a surprisingly cold night the sun once again began to shine through the compartment window. In relative terms we were now very near Moscow, but actually we were still 5 hours away. Normally a 5-hour train journey would be classed as a longish one, but it seemed to us like there was just a tiny bit of the trip left.
Finally, after 130 hours on the move, we reached the outskirts of Moscow. In the end we were just a little over an hour late, and that was quite impressive I thought.
Everyone waited in anticipation, first the stations on the suburban railway came into view and then more and more buildings appeared until finally we were there. Very slowly and almost without noticing the train finally came to a stop at Yaraslov station.
We got off the train, said our farewells to some of our fellow passengers and, after a few photographs of the locomotive, went off to find the Intourist people and the taxi they were arranging for us to get to our hotel.
We couldn’t find them in the station. We asked a policemen but he couldn’t help us. We went outside and came back in again.
Finally Aiko admitted that she had seen some people on the platform holding signs saying Intourist, but she hadn’t mentioned it because I had been too busy taking photographs of the locomotive.
We hurried back to the platform but there was nobody there. There was no train there either. The Russians didn’t hang about with clearing out their rolling stock.
Welcome to Moscow.