And so onwards… I must stop being so ‘flappy’ about getting to train stations on time. I’m always alright and haven’t missed a connection yet (Famous last words). It didn’t help that I was rather hungover leaving Moscow and therefore left it tighter than I’d have liked. However, I found Yaroslavsky station in good time and located the correct platform.
Seeing the sign for “Vladivostok” and the train waiting was a really exciting moment for me. It’s one of the defining journeys in worldwide rail travel, and I was standing in front of none other than “Rossiya” (Russia), the flagship train on this route. In an age of fast connections and the casual nature of plane journeys, rail travel retains a mystique and excitement that I could probably bore you with for ages. It still hasn’t surpassed my trip on the Kalka-Simla line in India, but I’m not at Beijing yet.
Train 2 is one of the “named” services in Russia. These trains tend to be faster, and have better accommodation and facilities. They are also referred to as “Firmeny” class, and have accordingly higher fares, although not massively so. My carriage was indeed very modern, with clean and bright compartments and a well-stocked, clean toilet- Possibly the last one I’ll see for a while!
My compartment companions were Aleksandr, his daughter Tanya and her daughter Viki. Right from the off I trotted out my well-learnt phrase “I don’t speak Russian” however they were extremely friendly and did have a few more words in English than my developing, but rubbish, command of Russian.
As I had read, Russians are very generous about sharing food so I’d made sure to bring some shareable bits myself. As luck would have it I managed to select Viki’s favourite crisps, so an early win.
Half an hour into the journey lunch appeared from Tanya’s bags and we all sat down to some chicken, rye bread and tomatoes which was welcome after failing to manage any sort of meaningful breakfast.
The journey to Yekaterinburg was slightly over 24 hours, Aleksandr and family were travelling on to Novosibirsk which was considerably more. Therefore we settled into a rhythm of occasional sleep, reading, drinking tea and watching the world go by, as well as brief and monosyllabic, but well meaning, conversations with the others. Including Aleksandr’s frequent endorsement of Winston Churchill.
I have been moaning for a while about the weight of my bag. Actually on reflection it’s reduced slightly and isn’t too bad. Also, there is very little thus far that I haven’t needed. There will be a further purge in Irkutsk. I have thought of a few things I do need- Namely a fork and a cup. Having access to both ensures that you can both eat and drink freely due to the constant hot water from the Samovar in every train carriage. It also means you do not have to engage with deceitful old crows like the restaurant attendant on Rossiya who robbed me blind for both my cups of tea. The restaurant carriages in Russian trains are separate, private enterprises who can charge what they want. 100Rub for a cup of tea is far from reasonable. I have learnt my lesson. Can I find a plastic cup to buy anywhere? No. [postscript- I have found out that you can borrow a very cool Russian Railways tankard from the carriage wallah, so this is what I shall do from now on]
The train rolled into Yekaterinburg pretty much bang on time. I said my goodbyes to the family, and headed into the city.
I had treated myself this time. Actually this is going to become one of Sam’s Golden Rules that it’s OK to splash out occasionally. Whilst it’s undeniably good to be in hostels for the low prices and social element as a lone traveller, the quality of sleep isn’t always the best and especially when combined with late nights has somewhat of a cumulative effect.
Therefore, this led me to the minimal £22 indulgence of a night at the Marins Park Hotel in Yekaterinburg. I chose this one mainly for the extreme proximity to the train station and also the private room. It turned out to be very comfortable indeed, and just what I needed after a manic couple of weeks.
The nature of truly enjoyable travel is flexibility. As I alluded to in a previous post, it’s sometimes necessary to lay your cards on the table from an early stage, particularly if you have a short time or the mechanics of travel are somewhat onerous. Neither really apply in my case, I have ages and as I progress further eastwards the folly of rushing towards South America becomes clearer.
Aleksandr in Moscow was very direct on his thoughts about Yekaterinburg, namely that if I enjoyed mineral mining it would be a good place to go, but in other respects was rather boring. I had initially intended to spend a couple of days in Yekaterinburg, but after this sound advice had obtained another ticket for the preceding day.
So in the evening I headed out to see some of the city. First stop, and Yekaterinburg’s main draw, was the Church on the Blood, which was built on the site of the Romanov murders. The interior was beautiful and subdued, and out of respect for the worshippers there I took no photos inside.
The waterfront and subsequent riverside are very beautiful, again with signs of encouraging progress such as a bike path along the riverside and a tourist trail around the main sights. I cut this short fairly early on as night was descending. I haven’t felt unsafe anywhere in Russia yet but don’t want to become complacent.
And so, back to the hotel via a good steak meal and a very cheap Uber ride [still no umlaut]. I gather that it’s because they don’t pay tax, however I have personally found them very useful. When combined with a cheap local SIM card it completely cuts out the tourist tax on cab rides. My 2km ride back cost under a pound. Viva Uber.
After a trip to the local supermarket for provisions (I had learnt from my earlier journey and went beyond crisps and biscuits to proper food) it was back to the station for the 12.09 to Irkutsk.
In summary: Yekaterinburg nice to break up a train journey, but don’t give it more than a day.