Day 9: Moscow to Yekaterinberg (1816km)

by - June 19, 2011

View from the window - note, this is not Siberia yet
Our journey from St Petersburg to Moscow had been a pretty gentle introduction to what it is like to sleep on a Russian train, with a journey time of a leisurely 8 hours.  Today we began our first real Trans Siberian experience, with the 28 hour journey from Moscow to Yekaterinberg in the Ural Mountains.  Leaving at 23.55 on Saturday night, we arrived in Yekaterinberg at 3.20 local time - having crossed two time zones.  To give you an indication of how far we had travelled thus far, St Petersburg is on a similar longitude to Istanbul.  Moscow, which is 800km away, is on a similar longitude to Damascus, Syria (the train journey is south east, so there is no time zone change).  Yekaterinberg, 2600km from St Petersburg, is on a similar longitude to Kandahar, Afghanistan.  The total journey from St Petersburg to Vladivostok is about 10,000km - so there is still a long way to go.  Technically, we aren’t at Siberia yet - having just got into Asia from the Urals.

Inside the carraige
Now that you have got the rough logistics of the journey in your head, I can start to tell you about what it was like.  It turns out that the train we were catching was the no.20, which is the service that runs all the way from Moscow to Beijing (taking 8 days).  Our cabin of four only had one other person in - a girl called Valerie.  We weren’t to find out her name until the morning, because we kind of got off on the wrong foot.  She spoke only vague English and wanted to try and explain that she needed to get changed and that we should stand outside, but our lack of Russian vocabulary caused us to just sit there looking confused.  We eventually understood and got out with a flurry of apologies, but I think our original hesitation made us come across as perverts - she didn’t talk to us until the morning.  Alex and I slept pretty well and woke up at 9am feeling fairly fresh.  Our entertainment for the journey was based around reading, admiring the views, sleeping and talking to Valerie.  Once our initial confusion had passed, we were able to get talking in a combination of her fairly basic English and our very basic Russian.  My Russian dictionary sat on the table for when we needed to look up a word - and with a full day to hold a conversation, it didn’t particularly interrupt the flow.  The whole carriage was interested in the two English travellers onboard, because as much as everybody talks about doing the Trans-Siberian, it is still very much a service for Russian people.  The conversation with Valerie based around some pretty frequently asked questions given to English people - do you like David Beckham?, did you enjoy the Royal Wedding?, what football team do you support? etc, but this was interesting and gave us both a chance to pick up some Russian vocab.

View from the window
As for the scenery, I think that most people (myself included) have an image of the Trans Siberian railway journey being an epic voyage across all kinds of dramatic scenery.  Frankly, it was pleasant but not stunning.  The majority of what we saw was pine forest, farmland or rolling plains.  Every now and then there would be a town or village consisting of wooden houses and dirt roads - fitting into my stereotypical image of the Russian countyside.  The Urals, which I thought would be a wall-like mountain range dividing Europe and Asia, are actually only about 500m above sea level at their highest point within the proximity of the railway line (they get a fair bit higher to the north however).  The range is certainly a visible landmark, but it is composed more of hills covered in pine forest than of dramatic snow capped peaks.  Valerie got out at the city of Perm at about 11pm and a new guy called Pavel got in.  He also spoke a bit of English, but as it was getting late we introduced each other before settling down for our second night.  Neither I nor Alex slept much, as we knew we would be up and out at 3.40am.  We arrived on time, and now we are in Yekaterinberg.

Sunset over the Kama River, near Perm

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