Across the Sleeping Land : A Journey Through Russia

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Beer, Russian champagne, vodka, chocolate and snacks are sold at the bar. The Mongolian Railways restaurant car normally serves rice and mutton, while the Chinese dining car has a good variety of Chinese dishes. In every train car there is a pot with boiling water available for making hot drinks bring your own tea, but the water is free. Carriage attendants also sell tea and coffee, and it's usually possible to buy soft drinks and beer in the restaurant carriage to bring back to your carriage.

Stops at stations allow food to be bought from platform vendors or shops; fare depends on location and season, but usually includes fruit, bread, boiled eggs, pot noodles, beer and soft drinks. Be wary of cold meats and salads and always make sure you know how long each stop is some are no more than five minutes before venturing far from the coach — people have been left behind.

Be wary of cold meats and salads and always make sure you know how long each stop is some are no more than than five minutes before venturing far from the coach — people have been left behind. If travelling by service train, be ready to make the most of the unlimited supply of boiling water from the samovar at the end of each coach. Also useful are slippers, a money belt worn inside , gaffer tape, ear plugs, clothes pegs, sunglasses even in winter , sterilized wipes, a small torch, a universal bath plug and a folding umbrella.

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Go all the way to North Korea It is a great idea to combine your Trans-Siberian trip with an adventure to the most mysterious country in the world. On board On the regular public trains, bedding is supplied in first- and second-class carriages, the berths being folded into seats by day. Shower hose in a carriage.

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A Singaporean's journey through Russia for the World Cup

Vladivostok-Moscow every day. Moscow-Tumangang 4 times a month. Tumangang-Moscow 4 times a month. Travel time. Arrival day. You can take a maximum of 2 litres of alcohol either beer or vodka or any combination of those per person into Russia or you will have to pay a penalty read: bribe to the customs. Get rid of all your Chinese Yuan here unless you want to take them as a souvenir as they become virtually worthless once abroad. There are a couple of black market money changers in front of the station that change renminbi to rubles at ripoff rates.

To get rubles, you have plenty of time on the Russian side of the border Zhabaikalsk. Walk to the ATM located at the bank in town. Allow 30 minutes to go and come back. The train stops for several hours while the carriages are being changed, so you can do some shopping at the local food markets bread, cheese, etc. Coming from Beijing via Mongolia into Russia there are still the same rip-off exchange touts.

There is a very reasonable foreign exchange office at Ulan Baator station, in the waiting area. Most if not all platform vendors in Mongolia and Russia take U. Always ask the attendant how much time is available before you rush off into a station to find a Bankomat ATM because the train will not wait for you. Therefore, spend dollars or euro, but get rubles immediately because Russian vendors are more likely to fabricate exchange rates than Mongolian or Chinese platform vendors.

Food is traditionally placed on the table in the compartment. It is not uncommon to share food. This makes for a nice picnic where you learn to know your fellow travelers. It is polite to let them invite you and that you also have something to bring along. Why not bring something from your home country? Every carriage has a samovar hot water dispenser, lit. Have a stack of dried soups, teabags and Nescafe ready. Just bring your own cup, or ask one from the train attendant. Train attendants also sell tea, coffee, snacks and even freeze-dried meals at slightly inflated prices.

Alcohol is an important part of Russian culture and thus it's not unusual to have some vodka at your compartment picnic. At this stage, you have to be careful and you need to know when to stop. First, drinking strong alcohol is not allowed in Russian trains, but, as always in Russia, "not allowed" does not mean "forbidden".

Carriage attendants will pretend not to see you unless you are making a noise or other drama. Police may go through the train and harass people who are drinking, so stay quiet and keep bottles under the table. Never drink more than you can. A drinking competition will for sure land you in a hospital or worse. Use your common sense when fellow travellers offer you something.

You are much more likely to taste a good drink than to get into trouble, but troubles are not unheard of and range from bad alcohol to alcohol intentionally mixed with drugs that will make you an easy victim. Other than that, tea is also an important drink; in Russia this will mean black tea with lemon, in China green tea. It's drunk at breaks, after meals and sometimes as an aperitif. The aforementioned samovar also comes in handy when you'd like some hot drinks the water is free but bring your own tea or buy some from the carriage attendant.

Trans-Siberian Railway

It's usually possible to buy soft drinks and beer in the restaurant carriage to bring back to your carriage. It's worth having a basic phrasebook as attendants are unlikely to speak English and the drinks provided won't come with milk or sugar unless you specifically ask for them. All tickets for long journey trains are for sleeping places. In the 1st and 2nd classes, they are about 1. Some trains between Moscow and St. Petersburg have seating places. Few trains in Russia have all 4 types of cabins to choose from:.

If the train arrives at your destination before local time, the carriage attendant will wake you up half an hour before arrival. Otherwise you will be notified 15 minutes before arrival. While Russia is a huge country and some provinces have their own local language, Russian is taught in each school. If you know some Russian, you can use it throughout the trip. For most travellers the Cyrillic alphabet might be a barrier. It is recommended to learn it, as many signs do not have a transcription in Latin script. Mongolian , the language of Mongolia also uses the Cyrillic alphabet with two additional letters.

However, Russian is the most widely studied foreign language in Mongolia, so you would generally be able to get by if you speak Russian. In northeastern China Mandarin Chinese is spoken. It's a tonal language and someone unfamiliar with Chinese reading Latin transcriptions that don't show tones is unlikely to be understood by locals. Likewise, most locals are also unable to understand Latin transcriptions of Chinese. In other words, if you cannot speak Chinese well , have somebody, for example at your hotel, write down addresses to show to taxi drivers, etc.

Russian is generally not widely spoken beyond the border towns. English is spoken mostly by youth and educated people. Outside St. Petersburg and Moscow, the locals' English knowledge is not very good, and they usually speak with a strong accent. A few older Russians can speak German. Some younger people can also speak French. Some say that the Trans-Siberian has a reputation of being a major route for illegal drug trafficking. This has influenced at least one film Transsiberian , which is set on the railway and follows a thrilling tale of drug smuggling and criminal activity along the route.

The journey on the Trans-Siberian route is quite safe, especially if you travel in groups of four and have your own compartment. Compartments can be locked from the inside with two locks. One can be opened from outside with a special key, the other cannot be opened from outside, and when locked allows the door to open a bit. It is advisable to use both locks during the night, although robbery is nearly unheard of. You can't lock your compartment from outside when you go out.

But the train attendant can do it for you. If you sleep on the lower berth, use the space under the berth to store your belongings. When on the upper berth, use the shelf above you. Take all valuable things with you when going out on to the station. Things are rarely stolen, but reasonable caution should be used. Police in Russia can be your good friend or a bad enemy depending on the situation. Each train has at least one policeman who may shuffle around looking for drunks, drugs, beggars, and criminals.

If you are harassed or threatened, contact the train attendant who will call the police. On the other hand, avoid doing something that can draw the attention of the police to you. Given recent terrorist attacks, each train station will have lots of police who tend to sporadically check documents and ask questions about your luggage. Never leave the train without your ticket and passport. Russian police are also very sensitive to people taking pictures of railways, stations, and trains.

This is another aspect of anti-terrorist paranoia. Foreigners and especially Western tourists are less likely to face this problem. However, if you are approached by the police and asked to delete some photos, just do it and forget or restore your photos later. Never try to take pictures of the police. As a rule of thumb, smaller towns are less safe than bigger cities. If you are travelling alone, avoid areas void of people, near crowds the only thing to watch out for are pickpockets.

If you are travelling shorter hops, it's possible that your train will arrive in the middle of the night. Stay inside the train station until the morning unless you know well where to go , or choose a train that arrives in the daytime. If you are an obvious tourist you are likely to get cheated at markets and especially by taxi drivers. The remedy for this is some knowledge of Russian and good bargaining skills. Always negotiate the price in rubles, even if the seller starts quoting the price in dollars and even if you plan to pay with dollars.

Dollar prices are calculated according to the current bank exchange rates. Most places will not accept any currency other than rubles, though. Often sellers and cab drivers will grab your arm to drag you to their stand or car. In this case it suffices to just rip yourself loose. They are there to make you pay high prices for their merchandise and services, not to hurt you. There's prostitution going on in some hotels and even next to the train stations.

To avoid possibly losing your money and health, steer clear. Same is true for drugs of any sort. Likely the most dangerous city in the night time is Ulanbataar. Hotels and hostels often keep their doors shut between midnight and because it's too unsafe on the streets. You should be in good physical condition while starting a trip like this, with no reason to believe your condition will worsen during the trip. Good medical care according to Western standards is really only available in Moscow and at private clinics in Beijing.

In Mongolia you should really have a first aid kit. For smaller injuries, private clinics in Ulaanbaatar are good enough but if something serious happens you should get to Beijing, Europe or the United States regardless of the costs. Tap water may not be safe for drinking. Russians consider it safe after boiling, and this is what you get from the samovar. If you are cautious, bring bottled water but remember that you won't have any opportunity to warm it. Especially if you travel alone you will be spending some time on the train with locals, so it's useful to learn basic do's and don'ts before the journey.

Please refer to the respect sections of the Russia , Mongolia and China articles to learn about the culture in the countries you will be traveling through. Despite the opening of the countries for tourism, photography is still not allowed everywhere. Do not take photos of military and governmental buildings, as this can land you in jail in the worst case.

You should also think twice before taking photos of other government-owned buildings like railway stations. Museums often have their own rules concerning photography, as elsewhere in the world. The level of comfort and the number of amenities depend on the type of the train you are taking. Newer carriages feature air conditioning and abundant power sockets, and have an overall nice look, while older carriages have none of those and may become uncomfortably hot during summer as well as very cold during the harsh Siberian winter.

If you can choose between several trains on your route, the train with more expensive tickets is more likely to have newer, comfortable carriages. Standard amenities include a berth, mattress, pillow, blanket, and bedding. Mattress, pillow, and blankets are stored on the shelf above your berth. Sometimes train attendants will prepare the bed for you, but most likely you will have to do it on your own, especially in 3rd class. Things are pretty heavy, so taking them down and manipulating them in the narrow space is not the most trivial task.

People needing assistance should feel free to ask for help from fellow travellers. On a long journey, it is common to remove the bedding and mattress from the lower berths during the day, so that everyone can sit. On the other hand, people on the lower berths may prefer to take a nap. Then you have absolutely no space to sit and will be forced to lie on your upper berth, even if you don't want to. People traveling alone in 3rd class are advised to book the lower berth on the side of the carriage. This will give you the opportunity to sit and even use the table at any time, undisturbed by other travelers.

Sleeping on the train may not be as simple as you imagine. Russian trains are not very smooth, so expect constant pushes, noises, and unavoidable disturbances from fellow travelers. The berths in the 2nd class are long enough for most people, but the berths in the 3rd class are slightly below 1. If you are taller than that, bend your legs. Letting them jut into the aisle is another option, but this will make other people hit you every time they pass by. Russians always sleep with their head toward the window and their feet toward the aisle.

The opposite way of sleeping feet toward the window will not be frowned upon, but it is never used by locals. Always use the dark window curtain that can be pulled against the window. This will save you from bright lights shining outside.

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Bring ear plugs and consider what else could help you to fall asleep in a noisy environment. A shot of strong alcohol, a favorite book, or just good music might be helpful. If you've never used night trains before, try yourself on a short, one-night journey before crossing the whole country. Power connections may be difficult to find.

Newer carriages have power sockets at each berth or at least 2 sockets per compartment. Older carriages have only one "public" socket next to the toilet and another one close to the samovar. Train attendants have a few extra sockets hidden inside their compartment. All sockets are designed for shavers: you may see special signs saying that laptops and gadgets should not be charged there. You can, however, connect whatever you want kettles not recommended, though , but nobody takes responsibility for your gadgets. Although voltage is notoriously unstable, most gadgets survive this kind of shock treatment.

Train attendants are your best friends in a long journey. They may have useful facilities, such as a fridge, microwave and extra power sockets. Train attendants are usually reserved with foreigners and rarely know a word of English, but most of them become more friendly the moment you try to make a small chat or present a gift. They may also help you to negotiate with police, border control, and fellow travellers. Toilets are usually found at both ends of the carriage. Newer carriages have closed-cycle toilets so-called "biotoilets" that operate at any time.

Older carriages feature something similar to a latrine hole-in-the-floor and remain closed when the train is on the station or approaching it. There is a formal schedule posted on the door of each toilet, although train attendants tend to be kind and lock the toilets right before arrival rather than minutes in advance.

Most toilets nowadays are clean and equipped with toilet paper as well as soap. Paper towels are not common, but you always get a tiny towel with your bedding. However, sinks are very small and difficult to use, so wet napkins remain your best choice.

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Bringing paper towels or toilet paper is also a good idea. A shower is available on most long-distance trains, including trans-Siberian routes. One or two shower cabins are located in one carriage somewhere in the middle of the train. A small fee is collected. Internet is never available on board, except on a few of the newest trains that do not run on the trans-Siberian routes. However, you can do pretty well with a mobile connection buy a local SIM card! These days, the majority of Russians have smartphones, and it is not uncommon to see laptops or tablets even in 3rd class.

But beware of your belongings! If you have arrived in Vladivostok after a week on the train, you will feel like you have travelled to the end of the world, but as we know, the world isn't flat. Hence you will have the option to take the ferry to Japan or South Korea or the train to Harbin and from there to other destinations in China.


It is theoretically possible, but practically very difficult to continue your journey to North Korea. If your trip ends in Beijing , this is a great opportunity to explore other parts of China or even other parts of Asia. High-speed rail is the best way of getting around the country and for trips into North Korea, Beijing is a comparatively better starting point. If you have time, it's actually possible to get all the way to Papua New Guinea by a combination of trains, buses and ferries.

Petersburg and all the way to the Nordic countries or take one of the several direct trains to European destinations. Notice that direct trains to Central Europe go through Belarus and practically everyone will need a visa must be obtained in advance to enter. Trans-Siberian Railway. This article is an itinerary. As he turns to acknowledge me, I see the Russia logo on his jacket.

Before I depart, I catch up for lunch with Mikhail and his daughters, and he shares his dreams of improving the way children are educated in Russia. If Vladivostok is a city with salt water in its veins, then Irkutsk is a city of fresh water. Flying past it in the dying light however, you only get a glimpse of its magnitude. By the time I land, Irkutsk has gone to sleep. My hostel here is a little less than underwhelming which is a good reminder to not always trust online reviews. Home in Irkutsk is often an ancient wooden house, some appearing to warp and lean in every direction, but nevertheless still sturdily standing after more than a century of use.

As kick-off approaches, Russian fans finally begin to make their presence known. President Vladimir Putin and the Russian national anthem get tepid responses from the assembled crowd; the majority perhaps expecting a swift exit for their team little do they know. At , the hugs and high-fives begin flowing, and at and , the vodka starts to flow as well.

A city that was silent a mere 24 hours ago sees people partying in the streets, and I get poured vodka shots by Paril, a visitor from the industrial city of Tula, south of Moscow.

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We down them together with a street musician named Pete, who has earned his share for making his way here from Rostov-on-Don on foot — a trek of more than 6,km. In Russia, trains can offer the ultimate in relaxation.