Somehow, I’ve always had a prejudice of the Russians. A bit bearisch, a little unfriendly and only drinking vodka all the time. Ok, the last one might be true, but our Transsiberian adventure taught me that Russians can be the most awesome, friendly and funny people around!
Who am I? Annelies from Belgium
What did I do? I travelled by train through Russian Siberia, the Mongolian wilderness and the Chinese city-life with my boyfriend.
When did I go? The summer of 2017
Our trip started in Saint Petersburg. After a full day of traveling, we were welcomed in the hostel with a big smile and a shot of vodka with everyone that was sitting around, could you think of a better start for your trip? Neither could we!
After discovering beautiful Saint Petersburg to the fullest the real Transsiberian railway started in Moscow. Everything at the train station is quite clear and easy to find if you take a small effort into learning a little bit of Cyrillic. You’ll understand easily what track to go to and what wagon will be your home for the trip. And then the adventure starts, you hit the train!
Within the wagon, there is a cabin that you should be in, and a bed that’s yours to sleep on. We stayed in 2nd class, and then you’re with 4 people in a cabin, two bunkbeds on each side. A whole wagon exists out of 6 cabins or so. You can walk from wagon to wagon, but the people within your wagon are your family for the next couple of days. And there is a head of the family too: the provodnitsa, the lady or (sometimes) guy who makes sure the wagon is clean and every one of the family behaves nicely.
Wondering what to take on the train? A tin cup is handy, a pocket knife, lots of food (noodles), water, tea bags, some chocolates for the provodnitsa and a powerbank would be nice. But all that is way less important than the one essential thing you should have in your luggage when entering the Transsiberian: Vodka!
But, make sure that it’s a nice bottle, because Russians can be picky. We went into a shop to pick up a bottle and some food and water for our time on the train. We judged the bottle by its label and just picked the one we liked. But when a very serious security man saw us walking with this bottle, a smile appeared on his face, and he told us that we couldn’t show ourselves in public with this brand. Fortunately, he helped us pick out a wonderful bottle with a big smile, lifesaver!
That bottle came in handy when the neighbor-cabin invited us over for a drink. Of course, we wanted to! Although we found out quickly that we couldn’t speak a single word of Russian and their English wasn’t understandable, we had the best time. Communicating through the Google Translate-app gave hilarious situations when we we’re ‘talking’ about where we live, what we do and what we love. The first bottle was empty in less than two hours. Luckily, they were well stocked as well. They went easy on us: whenever they were pouring in a pure vodka for themselves, we got a vodka mixed with juice. After playing cards a whole night, we still didn’t know how the game should have been played but we had the best time! Our new made friends tried their utterly best to explain the cardgame to us, and every time we thought we’d be winning, we were the biggest losers instead.
They weren’t joining us for the whole four days on our first train ride, so after 2 days we woke up at three at night to wave them goodbye. And their best friend was waiting for us with loads of souvenirs. They just asked their friend to get up at three in the morning to bring us souvenirs, how lovely can a person be!
These first four days on the train were amazing, because of these three lovely Russians. However, the whole journey from Moscow to Beijing involves 7 days on the train. After Irkutsk we've joined the Transmongolian Railway, with a stop in Ulaanbataar and ending in Beijing. This journey took up 3 more days in total in the train, filled with meeting people from all over the world. And since you all have all the time there is, you'll see that everybody is really interested in one another, wanting to share their culture, funniest stories and food and drinks with you.
To have the full experience, I'd suggest going on 2nd class. This way you'll meet a lot of people. Within your cabin, but also everyone in your wagon is in 2nd class, most of them also with the intention of meeting other people. We can easily say that this was the best trip of our lives, mostly because of the new friendships that were born along the way!