The Last Leg
I am now on the last leg of my journey, from Ulan Ude to Vladivostosk, a cool 4000-odd km. It is taking three days to do it, so I am really getting into the rhythm of train life. At this stage it is worth noting that I am doing it as a bit of a ponce in first class, with a cabin to myself. At one level this is great, as I can spread out a bit and generally have things as I wish. However, part of the joy of this trip has been to meet people, and there’s no better way (I suppose) than to go third class, with 5 other people in your cabin. Mind you, there is a really nice German crowd who are my age (i.e old) doing it this way, and their co-cabiners are a group of Russian soldiers who just talked all night. My friends look pretty crabby this morning.
The weather yesterday was truly stunning and I managed to get some decent photographs of the Shilka River (pictured) which looks huge to me, but is only a tributary of the mighty Amur. It is difficult to describe the thought processes as these extraordinary views come and go – you haven’t savoured one properly before another twist of the track brings another. Even though I have got my decent camera it still doesn’t quite “can” it, somehow. My only hope is that playing back these photographs and video at a later date will fire off some connectors (if they haven’t been killed off by the Russian beer). Still, we are lucky these days, as in Soviet times they would fasten all the blinds on this leg as it was considered a sensitive area, being only 50km north of China.
I now consider myself something of an expert on the different trains. I am now on Train No.2, one of the proper Trans Siberian trains that does the whole journey in one go. It is very smart: quite extraordinarily the staff don’t feel the need to get paralytic at my expense and most things on the menu are actually available (except orange juice, something consistently like the proverbial rocking horse poo all way down the line). I am in “Business Class” and I have the carriage to myself, my provodnitsa explaining all the stops to me as we go, me understanding everything(!). I’m glad I went on the other trains, though, as I really felt that I got to know ordinary Russians and something about their lives.