Rosie crosses Siberia 1993
- From 14 - 31 July 1993 we went on an 'Intourist' vacation which included 2 nights in Moscow, followed by travel on the Trans-Siberian Railway (Rossiya) from Moscow to Vladivostok (9297 km), breaking the journey at Irkutsk, which is near Lake Baikal, for a 1/2 night followed by a 3/4 night and Khabarovsk, for 3 whole nights! 3 train rides in all of 3, 2 and 1 nights. 'Rossiya' means Russia in Russian. There wasn't a revolution and we didn't get "nuked" en-route, even though we passed on the train 30 miles south of Tomsk, where the latest nuclear accident occurred some time ago! We had 1 night in Vladivostok, where it didn't stop raining! We flew (9 hours!) from Vladivostok back to Moscow and then the following day, we flew to St. Petersburg for our last 2 nights in Russia. We spent most of the vacation horribly time-shifted! Moscow and St. Petersburg are 3 hours ahead of London Time, Irkutsk is 5 hours ahead of Moscow Time (MT) and Khabarovsk and Vladivostok are 7 hours ahead of MT.
- Russian cities, in close-up, look very seedy; St. Petersburg being the smartest that we visited. The Venice of the north! Where we have short grass and lawns, the Russian towns and cities have long grass and weeds, which never turn into attractive 'meadows'! St. Petersburg covers a huge area and contains the longest old building in Europe. We visited the Hermitage Museum, which used to be the Winter Palace. This and it's contents are magnificent. We travelled on the 'Metro' in both Moscow and St. Petersburg. These were very crowded, with long, steep, fast-moving escalators. They were built in the 1930's and designed to become bomb shelters in time of war. Something that is missing in all the cities we visited are a respectable number of public conveniences! When one is lucky enough to find one, the cubicles often do not have doors. Lavatory doors are a luxury in Russia! Well, 'when in Moscow-----'!
- Most people, in and around Russian towns and cities, live in ghastly, jerry-built appartment blocks. They commute to work on the 'Metro' (where it exists), tram and trolley bus. Those Russians lucky enough, live in the country-side in little wooden houses or 'dachas', with attractive wooden fences. They have gardens and/or allotments and they commute to work in the meadows on motor-bikes with side-cars. In July they were cutting hay with scythes and piling it into conical shaped heaps. City-types, with enough money, will probably own a 'dacha' in the country with an allotment. These homes can be as small as a very attractive, large garden shed. In the suburbs of Moscow and St. Petersburg, there is some evidence of private house building in progress. These appear to be brick, not wood.
- Women do the same work as men, eg: repairing roads, driving trams and trolley buses, train 'wheel-tapping' etc. As a result, the men are not courteous toward women and will push a woman out of the way on the street, for example. I nearly got trampled on many times! I believe, if they know a woman well, they will treat her with more courtesy! Under the Communist regime, certain officials had special privilages. For example, they could push to the front of a queue. They will still do this, if they can get away with it!
- There are many young, very attractive, tall, slim, expensively dressed girls around. They seem to lounge about the hotel bars and lobbies and are probably high-class hookers looking for foreign businessmen! Russian drunks, of any age, litter the streets, either as Leaning Tower of Pisa look-alikes in perpetual wavy motion or lying horizontally unchallenged on the pavement or in the gutter!
- There are probably far more statues than drunks! All are huge, depicting socialist realism and are a magnificent sight. Well, they were meant to encourage the people! For example, Lenin 'pointing the way', with his coat blowing in the wind! At Buy railway station, a statue of Lenin was originally gold-painted. It has now been downgraded to silver! The various war memorial frescoes that we saw are very memorable too.
- There are many very small shops in the form of kiosks so one cannot see the goods very well. In St. Petersburg, often these were emptied of their goods at night because, I presume, of the risk of being robbed. The names of shops are not well advertised on the outside, eg. 'Gastronom', which are food shops and once inside a shop, there is a lot of space because there is not much for sale. Many food and bread shops have queues outside, so do the banks, especially when certain rouble notes become invalid! In the food shops, there is a horrible aroma of salami and other cured meats! Many people are trying to make ends meet, since the end of Communism. Crowds of sellers standing in long lines along the pavements, selling odd items of clothing, pairs of shoes etc. They stand around holding up the item, for the 'world' to see! Many pairs of jeans (mock 'Levis') and T-shirts are for sale like this.
- In Khabarovsk, we saw 2 groups of 'Hare Krishna' followers, with Tibetan cymbals and drums and chanting as they skipped down the road! We also chatted to an American Peace Corps worker, who was trying to sort out the lack of business acumen of the Russians. In the Moscow or St. Petersburg hotel we stayed in, a group of Jehova's (Jovial!) Witnesses were in residence; I guess they had come, en-masse, to convert the 'communists'! There were also missionaries (Christian - what else?) at one of the airports, bent on the same theme, I suppose! On Vladivostok railway station there were hordes of Koreans, in navy-blue-serge 'business' suits, all squatting and smoking cigarettes, waiting for their train!
- Everywhere there are Matryushka dolls for sale, of all sizes and prices. Nowadays, there are variations of the theme! Eg. 'Gorby-dolls', although, nowadays the biggest (outer) is usually 'Boris'! The smallest is usually Tsar Nicholas II, that is, if one buys a set with a large enough number of dolls!. Also, there are the 'Beatles' and the world's worst dictators! These often include Saddam Hussein! There are also lots of military hats for sale, but I guess these have been 'doctored'.
- The first train we boarded, left Yaroslavl station in Moscow, at 1330 hours (MT). This train went to Chita and we stayed on it until Irkutsk. The cars were old and there was no air-conditioning, so we could open the windows. Fine, we thought in the beginning; we can stick our heads out of the windows and take photographs! Once we got to western Siberia we regretted this, as we and every horizontal surface in the cabins became covered in 'dust'! This 'dust' contained, soil, coal dust and other pollutants, from the various factories scattered around the vast landscape!. There are also many freight trains carrying coal from the many open-cast coal mines! If Arthur Scargill had been around, he would have called us all out on strike! (He is a famous British miners' union leader, for those not in the know!).
- At each end of each carriage is a lavatory with a small sink, the latter without a bung! For this one requires a squash ball! (Eric Newby). At one end of each car is the samovar and the conductor's accommodation. Often the lavatory is locked at this end, because the conductor likes to keep this for his or her own use! This lavatory is usually the cleanest! Unfortunately in our car, the conductress was very young and useless and so both the lavatories were in a disgusting state! I had only brought a sponge, for cleaning the windows. Not only did I have to clean the windows, but I had to clean the lavatories, before I could even think of using them! I should have included on my vacation kit list:- toilet 'duck', disinfectant, lavatory brush and air-freshener!
- As we passed through Zagorsk railway station we could see the magnificent gold domes of churches and at about 1830 hours (MT), we crossed the Volga river. Everywhere there were wildflowers, eg. Rosebay Willow-herb or Fireweed (the most common along the whole route of the TSR) and what may have been Meadowsweet. At about 1145 hours (MT) on the 2nd day, we reached Perm and from there to Sverdlovsk (Yekaterinburg) we were crossing the Urals, but one could not really tell as the railway line passes through the flattest bit! After this we were in Siberia! Early on the 3rd day we could see many oil refineries, we crossed the Irtysh river and then at 0640 hours (MT), we reached Omsk.
- There are also millions of silver birch trees (the species with the snow white bark). Unfortunately, we saw many areas of dead birch trees along the whole route and we were told this was because the water table had risen, making their roots waterlogged. Later in the day we crossed the Ob river and into Novosibirsk, the capital of Siberia! Very early the following morning we passed through Krasnoyarsk and then crossed the Yenisei river. We finally reached Irkutsk at about 2230 hours (MT). As local time was 5 hours ahead, we lost more than half a night! This place lies on the Angara river and our hotel was nearby. In the afternoon we went on a bus trip to the start of Lake Baikal, visited an old, established village and returned on the hydrofoil along the Angara river. This was very interesting and a few of us rode on the stern of the deck of the hydrofoil!
- The following morning, at about 0630 hours (Irkutsk Time), we caught the real 'Rossiya'; the train that goes from Moscow to Vladivostok! The cars on this were much newer and they were air-conditioned, so you could not open the windows. John and I had a cabin which was next door to the lavatory, the one that was not kept locked! This had definite disadvantages as you could hear the lavatory habits of the several Chinese on board! A lot of hawking and spitting goes on when they clean their teeth, which they do often! A lot of hawking and spitting goes on when they are not cleaning their teeth! Another thing, as self-appointed lavatory cleaner, I began to notice footprints on the lavatory pan! Ah well! 'When in Peking-----!
- At 1455 hours (IT) we arrived in Ulan-Ude, having crossed the Selenga river. This is a big place, with modern appartment blocks for 'the workers' as well as the old style wooden houses. By now the vegetation was changing; there were hardly any birch trees, but instead there were loads of pine trees. (Later the birch trees came back for a while). We noticed that the villages we passed did not appear to have any churches, although we occasionally saw graveyards. By the following morning, there were more deciduous shrubs and trees, lots of rivers, 'Scotch mist', wild flowers (including what looked like bluebells or harebells and grape hyacinths), grassy hillsides and pines in the distance. By the evening, we were passing through an area of perma-frost. Telegraph poles are placed in shallow holes and the surrounding earth scraped up and piled around the base of the poles! (Russian railway sleepers are made of birch, so are narrower than ours. They are thus placed closer together).
- By the following early morning, we had reached a more industrial area again, interspersed with villages with small sunflower fields. I guess we had left the Taiga and reached the steppe. After a while we were in heavily deciduous-wooded, hilly country and we could see a few wild poppies growing. There was quite a lot of water around and we saw 2 or 3 herons! Unfortunately, on this train, 2 members of our party had all their money stolen from their cabin, which was locked! At about 2100 hours ( Local Time, which is MT + 7 hours), the train crossed the mighty Amur river and then we slid into Khabarovsk.
- This is as far east as we went! The people are still mostly European looking, but then I suppose they are descended from those who were originally 'sent to Siberia' to work in the salt mines etc.! We were in Khabarovsk for 'Navy Day' and the largest ships in the Russian navy, that would fit on the Amur river, were there! There were about 4 hovercraft going through their paces and when they beached we were able to go on board to look around. By now the weather was boiling hot and sunny! There was a small sandy beach on the river and it was packed with people like Bournemouth beach! A few of them were sunbathing standing up! There was no Russian equivalent for 'slip, slap, slop'! Our hotel was overlooking the river, so we had a superb view.
- While we were in Khabarovsk, John and I went on a tram ride. We just got on any old tram and stayed on it for the whole round trip. The woman driver did not collect our fare. Apparently, one has to buy a ticket or, more usually, a bunch of tickets all the same price from an office somewhere. Passengers are expected to be honest citizens and stamp each ticket in one of the machines inside all buses and trams every time they board! We did not know this at the time and luckily no inspector got on our tram, otherwise we probably would have been 'booked'! As the tram neared it's terminus, where it did a 'U-ie', we were in the suburbs with factories and small wooden houses with gardens; well away from the 'gerry-built' appartment blocks of the main city!
- After 3 nights in Khabarovsk, we caught the 1900 hours (LT) train for Vladivostok. From now the journey is southerly. The air conditioning in our car was not working, but we were able to open the window in our cabin and in the corridor! The 2 women in the next cabin were not so lucky. We also had a spot of bother opening and closing the cabin door; likewise our 2 neighbours on the other side! We only had 1 night on this train, so we survived! We were very close to the Chinese border for a time, which was the other side of the Ussuri river.
- The following morning as we approached our destination at 0900 hours (LT), it was raining! Vladivostok lies on a piece of land between 2 small gulfs, Amurski and Yussruijski. These flow into the Sea of Japan. We had 1 night in probably the best hotel there, the 'Vladivostok Hotel', which was fairly spartan, but I preferred this to the huge impersonal Moscow and St. Petersburg hotels! All Russian hotels have a 'floor lady' on each floor. Each time one goes out, the room key is handed in and the floor lady returns the key receipt. There was a lot of traffic on the roads in Vladivostok and the harbour was full of ships, including a tall ship! The climate, being maritime, means that very little snow falls in winter here, unlike most of Siberia.
- We flew back to Moscow, landing in the same country that we took off from after 9 hours! We headed north over the tundra and over part of the north coast. To the east of this bit of coast there is contamination from nuclear waste. Now we are home, I wonder if we glow in the dark!
- Unfortunate post script to our Trans-Siberian railway trip:-
As well as the 2 guys in our group who had all their money stolen from their locked cabin before we arrived in Khabarovsk, I had about £23 stolen from my suitcase in one of our hotel rooms somewhere between Vladivostok and St. Petersburg during the return journeys by air. I had forgotten to lock it on one occasion. John and I had our locked suitcases tampered with somewhere between Moscow and St. Petersburg airports. Another member of our group had his locked suitcase actually broken into somewhere between the Moscow 'Hotel Cosmos' and Sheremetyevo No 1 airport; the lock had been forced. All the suitcases were of the 'Samsonite' 'Oyster' hard type with combination locks.
- Email to a friend Dave on 23 Apr 2013 read
Late last night Rosie found time from all her cooking, cleaning, gardening and talking
to write down her little Nostalgic story about Vladivostok. Here it is.
"I remember a geography lesson at Parkstone Grammar School given by
Miss Evans back in the 1950s. She asked me to mark, on a map of the World,
the position of Vladivostok. I placed it on the north coast of the then Soviet Union!
She was furious and threw a piece of chalk (or maybe it was the black board
rubber) at me, I cannot remember!
In 1993 John and I travelled on the Transiberian Railway from Moscow to Vladivostok.
I would love to have been able to tell her I have now BEEN to Vladivostok and
so I could now place it correctly on the map!"