Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Shanghai to London Part 9

Tyumen (Ural Mountains)- Moscow

Having passed into the Urals there is little to note on the journey until our arrival in Yckaterinburg. Firstly it is the departure point of the Australian couple who have been travelling on the same trains us as since Beijing. We bid our farewells and will now continue the trip as the only English speakers (that we know of) on the train for the next 24 hours to Moscow. While the guidebooks all seem to imply that our train, No.1, is busy with tourists this has been contrary to our experience. Also at odds with the books is the buying experience at stations. We came prepared to be bombarded by an assortment of wheeler-dealers trying to sell us everything from the essential water and noodles to silk ties and garden sheds. This is not the case and it is the best we can do to maintain our supplies of essentials from the platform kiosks, which are at least plentiful.

TEP70-0520 waits on another train at Yckaterinburg. I had
been hoping to see one of these typical Soviet diesel locos on
this trip. The vehicle behind the loco is supplying fresh coal
for the carriage stoves!
Yckaterinburg is also the location of a locomotive change. The previous loco has remained with the train for a good 24 hours and is duly replaced by a CHS2- A Skoda build loco which looks identical to the Czechoslovakian locos found across eastern Europe and which can trace their origins back to the Swiss RE6/6’s. Certainly it is our oldest electric so far and while still being a Co-Co it is also much smaller that our other locos.

Skoda built CHS2 616 backs onto the 'Rossiya'
Like the previous day we will not be receiving a complimentary evening meal and having exhausted the Vodka supply (a feat we feared impossible), so Simon and I head to the dining car for some sustenance. As we wait for our food we pass another milestone (quite literally) on the journey- an obelisk at milepost 1777 which marks our passing from Asia into Europe. While it feels we are making steady progress back to London we must remember that we are still the whole of Europe away! Dinner arrives promptly and while neither a large portion or particularly good value the Russian take on ham and eggs with fried vegetables is most pleasant and the dining car does at least provide a change of scenery.

The Skoda locomotive is still in charge as we make an
overnight stop at Perm.
Back in the cabin the remainder of the evening is spent with my i-pod and making journal notes. It is quite nice to watch the sun set over the Urals without the addition of Vodka as we prepare to settle in for our final night on the Trans-Siberian Railway. Next morning comes and my hair feels even more disgusting than the day before- even so my morning freshen up in the toilet leaves me feeling awake and ready to face the day. It is amazing what a difference can be made by splashing around a little bit of water. Breakfast consists of the last remaining food from yesterdays ‘Supply stops’, which includes a bag of filled mini-croissants which turn out to be really quite tasty. A short while later we are perplexed when our bag containing water and condiments is delivered- usually the precursor to receiving our ‘Diet of guaranteed daily supply’, or meal to you and me.

It is some while later, around 11am when the meal, which we must assume is lunch, is delivered. My chicken soup may only contain one chunk of meat, but it fills a hole.

After our early breakfast there is plenty of time to observe the landscape once again. The Urals have now given way to largely flat land again- populated by pine and birch trees surprise, surprise! In fairness the scenery has altered slightly- there is a lot more water around and even occasional evidence of some farming. We can even see some shoots of green grass breaking through the monotonous brown vegetation from time to time.

A high speed 'Sapsan' train from the Siemens Velaro family.
Our first stop today is late morning and Nizhny Novgorod. I make my customary stroll to the front of the train to see what is now in charge following an overnight loco swap. The answer is a CHS4- a large maroon loco that will surely take us all the way to Moscow, now a mere 8 hours away. There is another surprise at Nizhry Novgorod- in the adjacent platform is one of Russia’s premiere ‘Sapsan’ trains- The familiar Siemens Velario- or ‘ICE 3’ again. These trains work the high speed services from Moscow to St Petersburg as well as a few services to Moscow from Nizhry Novgorod. I catch a crew member from the ‘Roissya’ taking a picture from the side our train, but while walking back myself I am informed by security that I cannot take pictures- the second time I have been approached now in Russia. Fortunately I have what I want so I head back to the train without further issue.

Back on our train the compartment is starting to get very warm again. Whoever wrote the guidebooks which deplore April as ‘possibly the worst month’ to travel the Trans-Siberian have clearly not had the weather we have enjoyed. There has barely been a day without sunshine since I landed in Shanghai yet there is still the last evidence of snow and ice around in places- the best of both worlds surely?

As we approach Moscow we start to see more local trains
such as this stylised Russian EMU at Nizhry Novgorod.
One thing the guidebooks have got right is the advice to bring a good book, or several. Simon is still munching his way through Sunflower seeds as he tackles Dickens' ‘Great Expectations’, quite a heavy read. I have now finished my somewhat lighter book and am left to brush up on my history of Moscow from my Lonely Planet guide as I am not about to embark on a novel now!

Early afternoon it is time for our final scheduled stop before Moscow at Vladimir, some 200km from the capital. To my surprise, but not displeasure, our locomotive is being detached- our third loco change now in less than 24 hours! This time it is a double unit electric of class CHS7 that backs onto the train. Aside from this activity the station is fairly quiet, most likely because it is a Sunday (this would also explain the decrease in passing freight I have noticed). This leaves me time to photograph the plinthed steam loco, of which every major station seems to have at least one, before re-boarding the train for the final time.

CHS4 698 is released from the train during our
final loco swap at Vladimir.
Around two hours before Moscow there is a clear feeling in the air of our compartment that the journeys end is approaching. One by one the four of us start to collect our scattering of possessions and pack our bags. We also start to tidy up the cabin, returning our sheets to the Provodnista and finishing off the last of our supply of junk food. We even unearth enough Vodka for one final toast.

With articulated CHS7-071 at it's head, train No.1 stands at
Moscow Yarinslavsky with the arrival from Vladivostok.
Knowing we are not going to be on the train too much longer makes the last couple of hours pass more quickly. Before we know it we have slowed to pass through the Moscow suburbs and suburban trains are passing either side of us. One wonders how many of the people on the platforms we pass can ever imagine that this train has journeyed all the way from Vladivostok? Arrival at Moscow Yarinslavsky is on time at 17:43. The station is not the impressive architecturally rich trainshed I was expecting but open platforms from where one can walk straight onto the streets of Moscow. The train journey has certainly been an incredible experience and one which I shall never forget. However after three days and three nights aboard we are not sad to see the train go and will be even happier once we have had a shower!

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