And I’m off across Siberia
04.03.2013 - 04.03.2013 -15 °C
The day has finally arrived were I’m stepping aboard the most famous rail way in the world! I am absolute trilled… I’ve had a taste of it between Murmansk and Saint Petersburg, but there is just something mythical about setting off from Moscow on the real thing – and I don’t even know why…
The stories you hear and my own romanticised thoughts about it are sure to be part of the explanation. Two concerns does strike me, here at the beginning though: First, the fact that this is not a proper trip with the rail way, it’s just my way of reaching Mongolia. A proper Trans-Siberian journey would take me all the way to Vladivostok and back, and include a non-stop journey one of the ways – almost seven straight days living on the train. But this will have to wait till later in life.
The other thing worrying me is my high expectations for this part of the trip. With all these stories and expectations this part of the trip really needs to be epic not to disappoint. Hopefully it won’t!
On the day of departure is there no shortage of high hopes – I’m like a little boy waking up on Christmas just spending all day impatiently waiting (Anglos should know Danes open their presents on the evening of the 24th). And I don’t even think this really counts since my first stretch is a mere seven hour overnight trip to Nizhny (Nish-nee) Novgorod.
It is a rather tough start though. It only gave me about five hours of sleep before I step off the train at 06:28 – in a battering minus 18 degrees Celsius. Not really my favourite way of starting a Monday morning.
I’m only in town for 12 hours. Second stretch of my journey begins at 19:20 with a train to Perm (look at the map above), where I’m spending a few days. Given this fact I’m homeless (e.g. without a hostel to store my backpack). I repack a little bit: My toilet bag doubles as my daypack, having the perfect size for a small bottle of water, gloves and hat, a guide book and my notebook or laptop if needed. Then I can leave the big pack at left luggage.
The first hour is spent taking the metro into the city center and waking around (mostly in the wrong direction) to find a cheap café and some breakfast. Not to forget, some shelter from those minus degrees. All while the city’s population is rushing to work – a rather nice thing to observer. And a little like going home a Friday morning after being out drinking the whole night. That kind smug felling knowing you’re not one of these guys needing to be somewhere for work in a few minutes.
The sun rises and temperature slowly rises with it, topping at a more pleasant minus 5 – I think I’ve been in the cold too long, since I’m actually finding minus 5 a pleasant temperature to walk around in!
Nizhny’s is Russia’s fifth biggest city, and its main attraction is a 16th century Kremlin still standing, some fine local art museums, plenty of churches and monasteries and the mighty Volga River. I’m mainly focused on the Kremlin, packed with rather nice parks and a peaceful WWII memorial (every Russian city seems to have a few) and it's overlooking the frozen Volga.
This legendary river stretches for more than 5300 kilometers and used to be the most important trade route in Eastern Europe – essential for both Viking and Arab traders. Situated strategically on the river Nizhny grew into the river’s most important trade post.
A pleasant, but cold visit, where keeping warm in various art museums and cafés, drinking an unprecedented amount of tea, filled about half of the time. The temperature had plummet to minus 12 degrees when I boarded the train again, setting off towards Perm. A trip lasting about 16 hours bringing me to the Ural Mountains (23 hours and still in Europe!).
At this it is worth noticing that my neighbour on this trip has a striking similarity to Jabba the Hut – unfortunately it’s been too dark to get any real good shots of him. Forgetting his size for a moment, he was actually quite nice. A 43-year old Moldavian oil worker on his way to Siberia for work.
I spend some time helping him with his English - he was using the train ride on catching up on the grammar hoping to find a job somewhere in North America in the future. With most of his life story in my backpack I got off the train at Perm on a beautiful morning, with the Sun shining from a clear blue sky… And minus 24 degrees.
And I now promise not to talk about the temperature again unless it dips below minus 30