After three days in Irkutsk it was mid-afternoon and I was back on the rails again headed roughly due west towards the city of Ekanterinburg, the city which saw the demise of the last Tzar of Russia, Nicholas the Second.
I was on the tram heading to the station, and who should be on the tram? Yes, it was none other than Stewart and Nicole, the friends that I had made on the previous train journey, and who had been on my first two, and as it would turn out, the third train journey too!
So we took the tram to the station, where they wait until the train arrives before letting people onto the platform. This meant that everyone was really pushed in together in the entrance hall where we scrambled to get a few snacks for the train, including the famous 7-days croissants, noodles and well, chips.
We needed to stock up because we didn’t know if there would be a restaurant carriage, and in front of me was a 49-hour, 3374km journey. Irkutsk was 2539km from Beijing (actually, it still is!) and Ekanterinburg 5914km. This was, by both means of measuring, the longest leg of my Trans-Mongolian journey.
And it was the Trans-Mongolian train, too! It wasn’t the original one I had taken, but the one that left Beijing the following week, the K3 or as it was known on this sector, Train 0033. Why, I don’t quite know but it did have a couple of Russian carriages added, and we were in those. Which is a good thing – they were far more comfortable than the Chinese carriages.
And this also meant that we had a restaurant carriage as well, and probably close to half the trip was spent in the said carriage. Unlike on the first leg where people had to wait in line to get into the restaurant car, in this case it was mostly empty. More’s the pity too because the food was absolutely delicious and I didn’t need half the snacks I brought with me. People may have an idea of borscht that it’s awful. It’s actually pretty awesome!
I found myself for the first night alone in a cabin with an older Russian woman who was headed all the way to Moscow. It was the four-berth configuration of the previous train journey which was good as the beds and seats were much more comfortable than the ones in the Chinese cars, which still formed the majority of the train. It wasn’t however the more modern version of it, it seemed a bit older with plastic seating, but still vastly more comfortable than, as mentioned, the Chinese carriages.
We had a bit of a stop at the very wet Malinsk Railway station where I ducked out to grab some more chips. There really aren’t a lot of stops when you’re on the Trans Mongolian, usually a few hours between each and less in the wee hours of the morning.
Novosibirsk came along and I had to say ‘goodbye’ to Nicole and Stewart. Their itinerary finally deviated from mine having a night in Novosibirsk and then a night in Perm, further on down the line. And yet they would arrive in Moscow later but on the same day as I! This quite a long stop, with a little activity at the station.
And then onwards into the second night. It had been just two in the cabin the first night, but we had a third on the second. Woah. These sentences sound like I’m talking about baseball! Which would be highly unlikely…
1130am Moscow time, 130pm local time. We were now three hours behind Beijing, and it had all happened on the one train journey (Irkutsk having the same time as Beijing). I had a hotel directly opposite the train station, which I was thankful for – but I also headed out to see a few things in the city an hour after arrival!