Yikes! We made it! We pulled into Moscow around 4am and stepped off the train we had boarded five days earlier. We blinked in the bright sun, which barely sets these days. With the five time zones we had crossed, the sun shining over 20 hours a day, and the constant movement of this long train trip, we were a little discombobulated.
The twins had their 10th birthday and we had celebrated Father’s Day onboard, we did a little schoolwork and read a lot of Harry Potter out loud. We ate a lot of noodle bowls, we met some passengers and probably annoyed a few. We saw small towns and many forests of Siberia. It was a good trip.
The kids had a four-bed room to themselves, while DH and I were about 12 rooms away in the next car, sharing a room with a rotating cast of characters. We spent a lot of time in the kids’ room. Somehow their room was in a higher class- they had better linens, got a snack and toiletries when they boarded, and the bathroom and a/c were nicer in their car. We had booked on two different websites since the Russian Rail site only allowed us to book four seats at a time then refused our credit card repeatedly. The arrangement was not ideal but did not cause any problems. It was kind of nice to have some separation at times, actually.
The compartments are fairly small- about 7x7x9 feet I would say. Two bunks, with a table against the window. DH and I had upper bunks, so we really didn’t have access to the table when the lower bunks were occupied, which was most of the time. The beds were comfortable and I slept well. We shared the compartment with two couples, one of which drank a lot and became very friendly and a little smelly while unfortunately remaining monolingual and we just couldn’t understand eachother. They laughed a lot and shook our hands a lot and DH and I tried some Russian words. They seemed to be either drinking or sleeping for the roughly 24 hours we shared the space. The other couple was very quiet and we just said hi. The third pair was a friendly woman and a man I never spoke with, and for one lovely day we had the compartment to ourselves. It sounds wierd to an American, I think, to share such close quarters and sleep so close to strangers, but it was surprisingly not wierd, being the norm on most of Russian Rail.
Some practical details. One major thing to remember: all Russian trains run on Moscow time, even though you could be five hours ahead as we were in Irkutsk. And the bathrooms: they lock the doors for up to 1/2 hour before and after larger stations, so plan accordingly! Other than that, for meals there are many stops to buy food- bread, cheese and fruit were easy, affordable, and tasty. There weren’t any food sellers with trolleys in the aisles like in China and India. We stocked up on noodle bowls, since hot water is always available. Many people brought mugs and teabags for hot drinks. Alcohol is plentiful and popular, if you are so inclined. There were several families in the two cars where we were and I didn’t notice any troublesome drinkers. I should mention here, though, that Fiercely did receive a marriage proposal once when we were in the dining car. Apparently meeting on a train insures that a couple will have many children, good to know! I imagine train staff would help with any problems; there were one or two per car and they were very visible and approachable. We ate in the restaurant car a few times, and though the car was spacious and the views spectacular, the food was disappointing and overpriced. It was best for tea and hanging out as opposed to eating.
We passed many trees and small towns with wooden buildings. There are so many stops, ranging from 2-30 minutes, rarely more than an hour apart. These are timed exceptionally well, I don’t know how they do it with such accuracy in such a long journey but there is a timetable and it always matched when we checked the time. People get out to smoke, stretch their legs, walk their dog (we saw two at these stops!), and get a snack. Of course, people also embark and disembark at the stations. Another thing we noticed at the longer stops was that a railroad staff guy with a hammer on a very long handle would tap different parts of the undercarriage of each car. The taps sounded like music sometimes with different pitches on different parts of the undercarriage as he hit them.
The Moscow subway- wow! The cars are built like tanks and look vintage. The station looked like an elegant ballroom.
When we arrived at the train station, we did a little planning at a diner with wifi where a surprisingly large number of people were drinking beer at that early hour, about 430am. We figured out our housing location- we had booked an apartment rental for a few days in the southeast part of the city. We dropped off our bags and went sightseeing since it was so early in the day and settled into our few days in the capital of Russia.