After riding kupe and platzkart for the first two legs of our Trans-Siberian trip, we decided that we had earned and deserved an upgrade on the last and longest leg of the trip, Irkutsk to Moscow, a 76-hour marathon style train ride. The two first-class tickets cost a pretty penny, almost double the price of kupe, but they were worth every red ruble.
We left for the train station at the asscrack of dawn since I don’t like messing around with Russian transportation. Since Irkutsk is one of the major stops on the route the train stops there for at least 30 minutes and when we arrived at the platform our train was already waiting for us. There were two carriage attendants to greet us with the expected non-smiling Russian face and after we presented our tickets and passports they made us wait a few minutes on the platform with our heavy backpacks while they prepared our cabin. Once we entered our cabin we could immediately see the luxurious difference between first-class (spalny vagon), and our previous platzkart ride. The spalny vagon cabins look like the kupe cabins but they only have two lower berths instead of two on the bottom and two on top. The sheets were pure white and clearly of a higher thread count, which was more suited to our first-class tastes. We even had two fluffy pillows each! I also noticed that we were provided with wooden hangers because everyone knows that first-class people need to hang their shit up. No more wire hangers!
Vladimir, our male attendant, came by before the train departed to give us a quick tour of the spalny vagon. He pointed out the two bathrooms at the end of the car, the samovar at the other end, the snacks for sale and the water cooler. The water cooler was a nice change since we didn’t have it on our kupe train. In the kupe wagon the hot water was poured in a kettle to cool down and used as drinking water, but first-class people don’t do that shit; we have water coolers. Actually, the water cooler was a nice touch while we had access to it. After the second day, Vladimir cut us off because he said there was only a little water left and he needed it for himself, then he tried to sell me a small bottle of water for 40 rubles (about $1.30). Bitch.
Anyway, our train got on its way and we went back to sleep for a few hours. When we woke up, we opened our cabin door to check out the spalny vagon and to scope out our neighbors. But unlike the kupe, most of the passengers kept their cabin doors closed and pretty much kept to themselves so we went back to our cabin and stared out the window.
The day went by pretty quickly and before we knew it, it was close to 9:00pm. We hadn’t eaten dinner yet but we knew that a long stop was coming up so we decided to wait and see if there would be food vendors. Our patience paid off. We were rewarded with a delightful array of food offerings from at least 20 babushkas on the platform. A lot of them seemed to be selling the same things and we really didn’t know what to get so we just pointed at anything that looked edible. I asked Natasha, our female attendant, if any of the food was filled with beef liver (we had a bun that was filled with beef liver and rice and it was delish) and she actually smiled and helped us talk to the babushkas. Sadly, no beef liver.
We got what we could, hopped back on the train, and spread our feast on the little table in our cabin. I proceeded to take a bite out of everything because I needed to know what was inside each dumpling and bun. I should’ve known by then since I had already been in Russia for over a week, but the Russians sure do love their potatoes, cabbage and sweet cheese. Our meal consisted of dumplings with cabbage, dumplings with potatoes, buns with sweet cheese, and other things filled with some variation of those ingredients. We also purchased a meat patty that turned out to be really good. It was a very nice dinner and the best part was… no food poisoning!
The next day we loitered about, read, took pictures, practiced our Russian, napped and spied on our neighbors. We noticed that most of the people on the spalny vagon were non-Russian tourists. There was an older Asian couple who turned out to be Japanese and the wife got off at each and every stop to take pictures like a proper Japanese tourist. Another passenger was traveling by himself and we befriended him that day when greeted us with his unaccented, American English. He was our second American acquaintance since we arrived in Russia and it was nice to chat with someone from home. He turned out to be a cool guy who bow hunts for squirrels (and actually eats them!), can identify each and every plant and insect and can make a garden grow just by looking at it. Our very own Survivorman!
On the final night of our trip there were no babushkas at the last big stop for the evening so we decided to have dinner in the restaurant car with our new American buddy, Robert. We sat down to dinner at 7pm and Robert’s new roommate unexpectedly showed up. We decided to dub this man “Daniel-Craig-On-Steroids” since we never got his name. The dinner with DCOS and Robert turned out to be pretty entertaining because the 7-foot tall DCOS giggled like a teenage girl whenever he tried to explain something to us in English. We gathered that he was originally from Belarus and currently living in Moscow. He has a daughter attending school in NYC and another one doing something that we don’t remember, and he works as a chief manager of a chemical machinery factory in Kirov. He also travels a lot for pleasure and has been to quite a few SEA countries and a couple of places in the states. He was a fun guy to talk to but I really wanted to tickle him with a feather all night just so we could watch this giant of a man squeal like a little girl.
The next morning we were scheduled to arrive in Moscow at 6:00am and I was not looking forward to waking up at 5:00am and starting my day off in a new city that was notorious for being unfriendly to foreigners. Vladimir took it upon himself to wake us up at 4:30am and then proceeded to strip our bed linens around 5:15am. Natasha started cleaning the rest of the train around that time too.
We arrived at the Moscow train station and I have to admit that I was a tad sad to be at the end of our Trans-Siberian adventure. Crossing Siberia via train was something that I had wanted to do my entire life and even though it was very different from anything I had ever imagined, it was a great feeling to finally fulfill a lifelong dream. There were so many things that we saw along the way that are hard to describe with just words or pictures. I guess you have to experience it for yourself.
We got off the train, headed towards the subway and spent the next hour trying to find our fucking hotel and, of course, it was hidden behind a parking lot with no signs on the street. I love Moscow.
For more photos of this leg of our journey, check out our Flickr album.