It’s a lovely mild day in Moscow and it’s great to be out of the 2m x 2.5m ‘tomb’ that we have been almost confined to for the last 6 days and 7 nights.
Was the Trans-Siberian Train ride ‘worth it’? Would we recommend you do it? Only if it was the only means to achieve the destination or you didn’t have the time to walk it..:). The train incidentally was 20 carriages long.
We had some interesting discussions via Google Translate with Alexander of similar age and retired. He showed us some pictures of his Alsatian and of his recent travels around Vladivostok and to Pusan, Korea where he just holidayed. I asked him where was he going to holiday next and he said straight away, Volgograd, after having read our blog, which he had translated into Russian. He lives in Yekaterinburg so we missed his company for the last couple of days.
Which reminds me Cathy, if you are still there, can we employ a translation option that non English speakers can switch to?
A little more about the journey. The single most amazing thing about it was the volume of freight going into China. It is colossal by anyone’s standards. Along the corridor from Vladivostok to Ulan-Ude the oncoming trains were every 3-5 minutes. Averaging 70 carriages long and predominantly carrying coal, timber both logs and sawn, and oil. 24 hours a day. The transfer of materials is to my mind, staggering. You ask yourself, where is the wealth that must be flowing from these materials? The villages along the way are very poor. The answer to the question is obvious when you get to Moscow. It appears to be booming. There is rejuvenation in the regions but it is slow. However, it will take time to filter through. There are signs appearing with rural houses being roofed in modern materials and some new houses too. Essentially the smaller towns have hardly changed in the last 80 years, maybe longer. I would suggest that there must be a significant shift of populations from the towns to the cities. Novosibirsk is also a modern bustling city en route. Another interesting point is the number of people who smoke cigarettes, particularly young people. There is a declining population and there is going to be an avalanche caused by smoking related deaths in the years ahead. As a resident of Russia the security would bother me too. It’s everywhere, in so many forms. The upside is that it is no doubt providing employment. Bridges in the middle of nowhere have security guards in little huts, some bridges with a guard at each end. The level of policing must be a flow over from Soviet times. Everyone has a passport and it is checked regularly and required when booking a hotel or buying a mobile phone or SIM card, to name just a couple of instances. Police can and do stop people in the street and ask for their I.D. It’s slightly scary and having just read a book called ‘It Can’t Happen Here’ by Sinclair Lewis. It’s a little bit like George Orwell’s 1984 and has been re released from 1935 following the election of Mr Trump. It’s a satirical novel. It’s been a great time to catch up with our reading. Iv’e also read Ian Mortimer’s ‘The Time Travellers Guide to Restoration Britain’ and ‘A Line in the Sand’ by James Barr about the Sykes-Picot agreement (or disagreement) and Balfour Declaration, that changed the shape of the Middle East and is still having disastrous implications today.
So, after being scammed of 8500 Rubles (approx £65) for a taxi ride of approx 9ks we are in our hotel. A quirky, boutique hotel in the inner part of the city. We set out to walk the 40 minutes to Red Square but didn’t get too far before realising that we were not going in the direction we needed to. So we’ll have another go tomorrow but will have Jen’s phone with us and be following google, or someone else’s maps. We did stop for a rather delicious Mexican lunch though in one of the small eateries. Such a pleasure to have a decent sized meal portion. The train food, while tasty, has miserable portions and was expensive. Something about the service on the train too. There isn’t any.
This is Jen taking over. While Dennis has been writing I have been luxuriating in the shower and washing my hair. Absolute bliss. 7 nights on a train without facilities is not really to be recommended. There is a toilet at each end of each carriage, but they are not pleasant places. This is it, no showers. The funniest thing was we couldn’t get water out of either of the taps in the toilet basin, so took to washing with a combination of wet wipes and bottled water from a mug. This morning I discovered there was a nozzle under the tap that you have to hold up to produce water. Still, with the basin not having a plug, being tiny and the water only running while you held the nozzle in, washing would still not have been any easier, had we discovered the source earlier.
The train is run by a posse of fierce babushkas who control everything.
The carriage has to be hoovered at a particular time every day and their rules have to be obeyed. The journey was made longer by the 7 hour time difference between Vladivostok and Moscow three of them in the last 24 hours making a 27 hour day, so we kept finding we had to add extra hours to our days. Then I had thought it was only 6 nights, when it was 7!
Although it is a beautiful blue sky day here in Moscow there is a definite feel that winter is not far away. Every day on the journey, the trees seemed to have become a deeper shade of yellow, orange and red and the leaves were fluttering down in the wind.
The Russian Far East and Siberia are simply enormous and the scenery pretty monotonous. Silver birch and fir trees and boggy grasslands in the main, interspersed with very poor villages. Each village seems to have a huge rotting factory or industrial buildings of some type. A hang over from the Soviet era when millions of people were moved to the East and employment had to be provided. The main sources of employment now seem to be in the logging industry, working in saw mills and on building and maintaining the rail net work and roads. The rail network is quite impressive. Over the next couple of days we will be exploring in Moscow and will let you know what we discover.