I’m often asked about what life is like on board a Trans-Siberian train. Well, actually, I’m rarely asked but I’m going to tell you anyway.
A lot of people love the idea of attempting a Trans-Siberian trip, but are put off by the thought of spending so much time on a train. Trust me: you will not be bored on board. Time flies by, or at least it has a different quality on a train.
Firstly, the gentle rocking motion of a long distance train is a powerful sedative. I slept really well on all our train journeys, and had plenty of naps during the day. In fact, a day on a Trans-Siberian train is broken up into short fragments of consciousness interspersed with long naps of deep sleep.
A Trans-Siberian day runs something like this: you wake up early and have a wash and breakfast. Then you stare out of the window for a while in a hypnotised, dreamlike sort of way, seeing wide rivers, fields, empty expanses of the steppe flow unhurriedly past the window; or acres of Siberian forest, dark pines and young white birch trees as slender as brooms. You pass round the back of small towns with mud roads and painted wooden houses.
After a while the train arrives at a station, and you see women in bright headscarves marching up and down the platform, displaying their wares to the train: smoked fish, fresh fruit, crocheted scarves and blankets. You consider getting out to stretch your legs and buy a plastic pint cup full of raspberries, but it seems like a tremendous effort. Then the train rolls on.
Perhaps you have a new compartment mate to talk to, or perhaps you have just said goodbye to someone who has in the space of a few hours or half a day become a firm friend, almost family. You never forget the people you’ve met on the train.
It’s only mid-morning, but the anaesthetic of the rocking train drifts you into a nap, so you stretch back out on your bunk and drop into a deep restful sleep. When you wake up, it’s time for a cup of tea. This isn’t the casual, almost unconscious act it is in the rest of the world; it’s an important event.
First, you ask each other whether you want a cup of tea. The answer is almost certainly yes, but still you take time to think about it, mulling it over while you stare out of the window at the rolling scenery. Then someone gathers themselves, drops teabags into your camping mugs and makes their way down the rocking corridor to the samovar. Perhaps they encounter someone on the way and stop to exchange smiles or fragmented jokes in multiple languages. They fill up the mugs and return carefully to the compartment, where you sit and sip at the steaming tea, staring out the window. This has taken up at least half an hour, effortlessly.
Chris and I played a lot of backgammon on the train, and a few card games. I made notes about wherever we had just been in my notebook and Chris read War and Peace on his Kindle. Lunch takes a long time, because it too requires a period of reflection before and after the necessary actions. Is it lunchtime? You ponder this, staring out the window. What should you eat? Should you have another cup of tea with it?
After lunch comes another nap, more backgammon, more reading and writing and window-staring, more napping, more cups of tea, and then supper. It becomes hard to fit everything in. Profound and beautiful thoughts will occur to you, but you largely lack the wherewithal to write them down. Everyone goes to bed early. You grab your washbag and head down to the bathroom at the end of carriage, where you become so used to flushing the loo by stepping on a floor pedal you wonder why this isn’t a universal system. Then it’s time for bed, and you gratefully snuggle back down on your cosy bunk, worn out by such a busy day.