Monday, 10 February 2014

What's it like to travel on the great Transiberian train

10 December 2013.. The start of our travels on the Transmongolian trains from Russia to China

What's it like to travel on the transiberian trains 

But really the start of our journey by train began in London, we took the easy option and travelled to Russia by train.
 The journey took 5 days, 2 day trains and 2 sleeper trains and 1 bus.
We travelled on the euro star from London to Brussels then the ice train to cologne. From there we took the Jan kiepure sleeper to Warsaw, then we took a bus from Warsaw to Vilnius. Then a overnight sleeper from Vilnius to St Petersburg.
From there we took a 7 hour train to Moscow and the start of the Transiberian/Mongolian lines  
The Transiberian/Mongolin train is not one train but a vast network of local Russian, Mongolian and Chinese trains travelling across the vast landscape. You can either take one train for minimum of 7 days travel or break your journey and catch the next outbound train to your destination.

 What's it like to travel on a train for 4 days straight on the train.                      
Most travellers tend to travel from Moscow to Irkutsk This was the first part of our journey and one that before you go worries you the most can we survive for 4 day ! on one train, let alone can we survive two children cooped up on a train or ..can they cope! 

You would think it would be hard, but no it's surprisingly comfortable, we didn't have to worry about packing bags up early  to get off the train, we had our own 4 berth cabin so we could relax and spread out a bit.   The kids quickly settled in and seemed to really enjoy the journey they made the two upper bunks their play area. they even slept well at night, even through the border crossings which are noisy long-winded affairs. 
Inside the cabin The beds were firm but comfortable and had clean sheets and duvets, we even got towels and slippers. We read books, played cards, used the ipad which was great for the kids, chatted and watched the passing landscape which I would never tire of doing, there so much to see and so varied.  And of course meet the locals we got chatting with three Russians  and enjoyed a vodka tasting session one afternoon.  Alisha and seb played with other children and chatted happily to other travellers. 

Security...  We felt really safe and secure the whole time we were on the trains.  The doors locked and had a double lock only opened from inside. There was plenty of storage for bags and we had a lot :-) At first we took turns  to visit the dinner car but once on another other train we had the door locked by the attendant and went together to the dinner.  You get to know your two carriage attendants well  as they stay with you the whole journey. 

Memo to one self for next journey,  leave the toys behind you only have to carry them and they are heavy!  If you must bring something, Lego Is great ! Also you end up buying new local toys as you travel around. 

 The amenities ... There was no showers on this particular train from Moscow to Irkutsk and can i say i don't think i would use them if  they had some, because while the main living compartments were kept in a clean and reasonable condition the toilet rooms were shall i say ..showing their age ! and were not cleaned very often,  some of the pipes looked really to fall apart and were in no fit condition to spend any longer than necessary in,  you must remember to bring toilet paper, soap and a flannel.

We didn't miss showering really, having baby wet wipes or face cleaning wipes and antibacteial sprays for your hands will be enough to stay fresh.  I found out later that some of the trains do have better showering facilities, it just depends on your train. 
Later on the Chinese trains you are introduced to the Chinese hole in the floor toilets, once you get used to squatting they are in a way much more hygienic and better to use.  I needed to help hold the kids over the toilet as it was difficult for them especially in a moving train.

Interestingly and much to kids amusment some of the toilets emptied on to the tracks, this is fine until you have to go through a border crossing and the toilet block is closed half an hour before stopping and will not open till at least half hour after leaving, this is strictly supervised, one of our borders mongolia and china  took 3 hours to cross due to change of bogies so we had no toilets for at least 4 hours. One poor lady missed getting to the toilet early enough and had to wait the full 4 hrs ! 

 In winter ...Dress appropriately for +22 baking hot inside train temperatures and minus temperatures outside and your be ok! Not all train offer slippers it's a  good idea to bring some along.
 Beautiful landscapes pass you by, the Russian flat plains, the Urals, the flat siberian plain, marsh lands, the deepest lake in the world. The rolling hills, the mongolian steppe, the Gobi desert, the Chinese gorge, and carved out mountains that the train passed through, just to name a few.

 Food.. We did try the Russian restaurant dinner once! But decided that pot noddles, crisps  biscuits and fruit from the train station kiosks tasted better and were 10th of the price.....
We also had one meal a day as part of our ticket price which was worth having, this included bottled water, bread, biscuit, a soup, and a cooked meal of either fish, pork or chicken, (the chicken was a little bony I think they Cooked  the legs! ) tea/coffee and sugar milk was rationed, take your own.  I bough extra supply's before we set in Moscow, but it's really easy to jump of the train at stations and buy at the kiosk, you just need good finger pointing skills and bit of nerve to leave the train and be back in good time before it leaves,  
Alisha got on well with the food but seb struggled a bit he didn't  like the pot noodles so he munched through lots of fruit. 

Waiting in a local Russian train station for our next train

There was always hot water for making your own drinks we brought tea bags and chocolate, dried milk and sugar supply's. Remember to bring your own cups to drink out of. 

Of course the dinner car changes after each border you get to try different menus as you go along. The Mongolian  car was splendid in its decoration, carved wood decorated the entire car and we were told the food was much better, but because we didn't have any Mongolian currency left over we could not eat in it, so if possible carry some extra for train food.

An interesting point on the Russian -Mongolian border we could if we wanted change currency but this didn't  happen on the Mongolian -Chinese border.  

 In our later train  journeys We did get a free Chinese meal voucher for the Chinese dinner which was helpful. But we are not sure if this is the norm for every journey.  Also Sebastian who is 5 struggled with chopsticks so bringing a spare knife and fork set might be very helpful and help them eat better.

We brought some Russian vodka cups and celebrated border crossings Russian style. we tried Russian, Siberian and Mongolian Genghis vodka, and we can say they are all very good. :-)

The Mongolian steppe minus 26 to minus 33 its surprising how quickly you get used to the temperature.

Andy says he would happily live in a ger/yert tent and wonders if we can store on in a motorhome ! 
 There plenty to never get bored

Chinese high rise flats that dominated the large cities  

With thanks to the wonderful websites: the man at seat 61 with his information trains around the world.
and our travel agents who were both informative and helped us make our trip perfect.   

Here;s hoping you now get the urge to travel on the Transmongolian trains  enjoy ..x

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