We arrived in Irkutsk yesterday after 4 nights on the Trans-Siberian. In the past 2 and a half weeks, we’ve racked up aroundabout 5000 miles on trains and travelled 8 timezones away from London. It’s been a bit of a rush to be honest, we barely spent any time at all in Brussels or Warsaw and could probably have done with an extra day in many of the other cities. Our aggressive pace has been mostly due to needing to get to Kathmandu in Nepal for 22nd September. Now we’re out reasonably far east though, we have the opportunity to calm things down a bit.
Until the transsib, all our other journeys have been pretty short and sweet, from 2-12 hours long, even the overnighters. Four nights is a lot longer to commit to a journey though, and I say this as a man who got frustrated with the 50 minute journey from Cambridge to Kings Cross. If I had to pick one word to describe the trip though, I’d probably pick ‘quiet’. Despite all the tales of drunk russians and partying westerners, there was very little noise at all, indeed we neither saw nor smelled vodka for the whole journey. We took trips to the dining car but it was pretty much deserted – only one or two tables ever had people there. I don’t know if it was just the time of year (late August being end of holiday season) or the train itself (the ‘Vostok’ is the Moscow-Beijing trans-Manchurian train), but it was very relaxed and, well, as I said, quiet.
This left us lots of time to lounge, read, listen to music and podcasts or watch TV on my tablet. Every few hours there was a station stop to stretch our legs and stock up on soft drinks, snacks, beer and occasionally fruit. There were some pretty naff woven raffia hats and toys available for purchase, as well as some slightly dubious (and faintly racist) pictures of massages. You could also get fur-lined boots and woolen blankets, we declined politely.
Irkutsk itself is quite pleasant and very warm. The timezones appear to be slightly odd here, so we get sunrise at 6:30 but sunset after 9. This skews noon and the afternoon heat to pretty late on. The city is definitely making an effort with tourists, weve come across far more random shopkeepers and restauranteurs who speak decent English here. Tomorrow we have an 18km hike along the shore of Lake Baikal and then three days staying in a small village by the lake called Bolshoi Koty.
The long journeys have meant I’ve finished the Henry VI plays for my Shakespeare blog (http://shakesonatrain.wordpress.com). Titus Andronicus is next.