What happens when a couple of recent university grads want to go on a trip together, but one of them wants to visit China and the other one wants to visit Russia? They book a trip on the Trans-Siberian Express!
I wasn’t really sure what life would be all about after Manchester University. Embarking on a journey to reflect was necessary - a special journey.
I had worked hard to achieve my 2:1 and travel time was essential for me to figure out this complex future that is rightly or wrongly referred to as ‘real life’. Graduation… What next?!?!
‘I want to go to China,’ I told my boyfriend at the time, an immature, gawky 21 year old who people say looked a bit like Frodo.
‘I want to go to Russia!’ he replied. Okay, so, the Trans-Siberian Express it was!
I’d traveled to a lot of Europe and the US previously, but this was to be my first journey to Asia, and an arduous week long train journey to get Beijing.
We actually got lost the second we left Moscow Airport, because an over-priced taxi driver tried to take us to our hotel, and got the wrong one.
Stupidly, the name of the hotel was written in English instead of Russian. I quickly realized that we would have to wise up and be more assertive if we were to survive this journey!
We spent three interesting days in Moscow, exploring Orthodox churches and eating borscht. The sound of the rickety metro and the sight of Metrooshkas (dolls, inside dolls, inside dolls) comes to mind when I think back to my time in Moscow.
The night of boarding the Trans-Siberian arrived. It was a 10 pm departure, so we arrived at the international station with over an hour to spare.
We were directed to the platform, where it was all in Russian. Thankfully, I’d learnt the Russian alphabet prior to the trip.
‘Read what it says on the platform!’ John said to me.
‘Pekin!’ I said! ‘Oh my God, we’re on the wrong platform! We’re supposed to be going to Beijing!
It was now time to board - maybe we needed more than an hour to spare!
‘Shit, what do we do!?!?!?’
I went to ask the guard and showed him my ticket. ‘Da, da!’ he said. ‘You go to Pekin!’
I’m confused, very confused. Ah, but, Pekin is Beijing! No-one told us that the Russian name for Beijing was not actually Beijing!
It’s four people per standard class cabin on the Trans-Siberian, but at times, we managed to squeeze 10 in a cabin, sharing the 50 pence vodka that we had picked up on our stop-offs along the way.
The Baltika 9 was even cheaper - around 10 pence for a lager, a price that students (sorry, graduates now, I keep forgetting!) wouldn’t say no to!
The food situation was also interesting. I was well prepared with my pot noodles and cup-a-soups, as there was free boiling water on board.
But the mixture of cultures meant that there was a plethora of worldwide food to be tried.
Our Slovakian friend, who wore army trousers and a headband, carried a penknife and who I openly referred to as ‘Rambo!’ was eager to try some Chinese delicacies.
After several Vodkas as per usual, a Chinese fellow traveler gave him some meat which he gobbled up. Russian rock music was blaring from mini speakers in the background.
‘What was it?’ I asked.
He clearly didn’t know what he had just eaten. Another traveler said something in Chinese and then Russian.
Russian rock was blaring from mini speakers in the background.
The worst thing about the Trans-Siberian was pulling into a station first thing in the morning, when you are desperate for the loo, but not allowed to use it!
One morning, I remember being completely desperate and insisting that I go. The conductor looked me in the eye and said ‘sssssssssssss…..da! plop-plop NO!’
How embarrassing! ‘da….sssssssssssss!’ I replied, laughing!
Six days after leaving Moscow, we were stopped by the border checks and asked for our passports.
The food cart changed from borscht, meat, and potatoes to a diverse spread of noodles, chicken, and a variety of spicy dishes.
Jacob, our straight laced Southern cabin buddy, looked at me and said ‘I don’t think it’s ‘Spasiba' anymore!’
In case you're wondering, 'spasiba' is Russian for 'thank you'.
Trans-Siberian Railway 101
The world's longest railroad, the Trans-Siberian Railway runs all the way from Moscow, Russia, to Vladivostok, in the Russian Far East, a distance of 9,289 kilometres, or 5,772 miles.
It takes eight days to complete the entire journey.
There are connecting branch lines at Chita to China, Mongolia, and North Korea. The Chita-Beijing segment of the journey is operated by the Chinese Eastern Railway.
The Trans-Siberian Railway was built between 1891 and 1916. It is still being expanded today.