Monday, August 29, 2011

Vladimir to Tomsk in 52 hours (Across Russia, Part 5)

Our time in Suzdal was short, but the next leg of our trip across Russia was the big one: 52 hours on a train from Vladimir to Tomsk. One straight shot on the number 38 and a true test of whether I can handle trains or not.

A bit of background might be necessary here: I am SeattleFlyerGuy. The only other experience I had walking into this was on Amtrak from Seattle to Minneapolis, which was a journey that did not sit well with me. I had motion sickness from the edge of Montana all the way across the midwest. It was so bad that I cancelled my return ticket and bought a one-way flight home when it came time to come back. It was not positive to say the least.
The waiting area of the Vladimir Train Station

The 38 pulls in early in the morning

So what would be in store for this trip? What was the train going to be like? What's the bathroom like (a common question for would be travelers)? All that and pictures from all along the 1,500 miles of the trip is after the break.

We'll start off with the six most important pictures: What the train is actually like. This was the nicest train we were on during the entire trip and on par with the Red Arrow from St. Petersburg to Moscow.
Looking left....
Looking right towards the samovar
The bathroom. It's not the nicest in the world, but it will do the job.
And the people you're likely to meet.

All the boiling water you could ever need is available here at the samovar. No electricity here: There's real fire boiling the water.
And here's the diagram of the samovar. It seems overly complex for something designed just to boil water!
The train is actually nice and on this train there was power available in the hallway (standard European plug and 220V). There really isn't anything to fear with these trains, although ones with higher numbers are not of the same quality. Each compartment has four beds and with the top bunk down you can sit comfortably without hunching over. This is similar to what we'll see on the Rossiya (the number 2), although this one was actually better than the most famous transsiberian train.

Much to my surprise, the ride was comfortable throughout the entire journey and much better than my trip with Amtrak. What are we doing wrong that the Russians can keep such a consistent smooth ride across all of Russia, but we can't? Under the trip, there's not much to do but sleep, talk, and look out the window. Stops are posted (along with how long the train will stop at each station, which varies between 2 minutes and 45 minutes) and on the way towards China the platforms are full of people selling food and snacks. A friend of mine who did the trip in the opposite direction told me that from China the platforms fill with people looking to buy things from the train. Food on the train is limited to what you can cook with boiling water or whatever you can buy from the tracks at the stops. There are dining cars, but we never had a reason to venture beyond our car.

As you travel over Russia, there's not too much to do except watch the landscape slowly roll by. The most dramatic events on the train are the river crossings, but many of these are at night or easy to miss. Otherwise, you'll have a lot of time to read a book, sleep, or talk with your fellow travelers. You can learn quite a bit if you decide to talk along the way and that to me is really what made this memorable.

Small houses are the norm for the the lower income families in Russia, and all of the yards without exception have vegetables or other food crops growing in them. Just as a hundred years ago, potatoes are an important crop for the individual family.

Relics of an industrial era are often seen at the side of the railway. Some are still active while others have been left to collapse in on themselves with time.

Another common sight are trains full of resources being hauled one direction or another. The transsiberian railroad is a working railroad.

A road crossing along the way. Every so often you'll see a person standing with a stick. If the stick is yellow, it means that they received a call and the rail line is safe. If the stick is red, the train stops.

Sellers at the station and passengers enjoying a quick break. 
In addition to processed foods, there are also fresh foods being sold. These are wild strawberries which are not commonly cultivated in the US, but common in Russia. A perfectly ripe one of these is like biting into the essence of strawberry.

Arrival in Tomsk, which is the final stop for the 38. There were a lot of happy reunions as soon as the train stopped. We're now deep in Siberia! Next week, we'll take a look around Tomsk and see what this university city has to offer.

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