Trans-Siberian Railway

Irkutsk Travel Blog

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Trans-Siberian train stopped at a station

As I boarded the train in Moscow, I don't think I quite knew what I was getting myself into. Normally tourists travel in first or second class, with nice cabins shared by a couple other people. I had an unwieldy bike box and I was hesitant to put it in the baggage car so I bought a ticket for third class, where I heard there was more luggage storage room in the carriage (cheap too! 4 nights on the train and 5 time zones for less than $100). Third class, called platzcart by the Russians, is absolutely packed. There are 54 beds per wagon and everywhere you look there are people sitting, lying, hanging on the beds. The beds also double as seats for eating. If you're unlucky enough to have a bottom bed, you have to put up with people sitting on your bed eating their dinner while you are in it.

Third class wagons were absolutely packed with people
Few tourists travel this way.

I was extremely lucky because when I boarded the train, two young Russian guys appeared who not only helped me pack my awkward bike into the overhead luggage space, but they also spoke English! I ended up spending 3 days hanging out with Sergey and Alexei, chatting late into the night (the train passes through five time zones past Moscow, but I was still on Toronto time, so it wasn't hard to stay up late). We played chess, ate endless sunflower seeds and talked about life in Russia and in Canada. It was very difficult to explain why I am a vegetarian to them, but I'm glad they took an interest. It was also nice to have them around to help explain to my neighbours what I was doing with a bike on a Russian train.

People came and went as we passed through the monotonous Russian countryside and the train stopped at main stations for half an hour so we could get out, stretch our legs, and sample the options from the local vendors.

My bunk with the bike stashed precariously above
At one station, everyone bought these dried fish and the smell of the sea briefly mingled with the omnipresent stenches of feet, cigarettes and body odour. After three nights, Alexei and Sergey left the train in Krasnoyarsk and wished me well. I spent one more night on the train, barely uttering a word because no one remained who spoke English. My bed was like sleeping in a drawer, and I was constantly afraid that the bike would fly out from its luggage rack and gouge some poor Russian sleeping below. As the sun rose over the horizon for the fourth time, after several thousand kilometres, the train finally pulled into Irkutsk station, my next stop

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Trans-Siberian train stopped at a …
Trans-Siberian train stopped at a…
Third class wagons were absolutely…
Third class wagons were absolutel…
My bunk with the bike stashed prec…
My bunk with the bike stashed pre…
Irkutsk
photo by: nidge76