The Trans Mongolian : Getting on the train

Moscow, 27th February 2007 – Yaroslawsky station
And then you are standing there and think : What could be the train to Beijing?

This wasn’t the most fun day of the trip, but I think I’ve found my train, thanks to someone writing Beijing/Peking in Cyrillic on a piece of paper. Now that I am here in the evening, the evening trains are actually displayed on the time table, they weren’t earlier today, which caused some of the panic.

(Can you guess which train I am supposed to take from the names on the this time table?)

The train station is packed with people with huge amounts of luggage and I wonder how all of that is going to fit in the train. Some of them have obviously been looking too deep into vodka already, and I haven’t seen a single tourist yet. It is still early, but something tells me that this is not the time of the year for tourists in Moscow.

I feel awkward and a bit lost, and I know that Moscow, the language problems and the train ride are going to be the toughest part of my trip. To be honest, I hope that I’ve already had the toughest part of my trip. The idea of sharing a 4 persons train cabin with 3 of those drunken men sitting opposite me scares the willies out of me. They are annoying several people around me now, and I dive even deeper in my book trying to hide from them.

I am thinking – if someone came to me at this very moment and offered me a flight back to London, would I do it? I am very close to saying yes to that offer, but the offer doesn’t come. I am tired, worried and stressed, and I try to keep New York in mind; it’s what I am travelling towards.

The drunken Russians get too close now; I pack my stuff and move away from there. I park myself in front of the time table. How I long for someone speaking English. And while thinking that, another backpacker steps into the station. As I am the only obvious non local here, he walks towards me and asks me if I know where the train to Vladivostok is going from. I can’t tell you how much better his English made me feel, I felt no longer completely lost on this huge station. We have a look at the timetable together and decide that it most go from track 3, as that word seems to look a bit like Vladivostok. He asked me were I was going, we wish each other a safe trip and off he went.

A few moments later I walk out as well, it’s still cold in Moscow. When I get to platform 2 my train has just arrived. The platform is crowded with people and while I am searching for wagon number 6 I hear the first English speaking people. It’s as if a huge burden is lifted from my shoulders already. I find my bed, throw my bags on it and sit down. Three huge Russian men step inside as well and put their bags on the remaining beds. If I could have pressed the ImprobaBILLity drive right there at that very moment – to be beamed away from this train, this city and this holiday, just into space – I would have done it.

They start talking to me but I don’t understand them. They want to see my ticket and I show it to them. For a short moment I think they are trying to take my place from me, but one of them asks me to come with him and shows me the way to another compartment. It was me, I had made a mistake (which wasn’t that surprising seeing the state I was in), and had entered the wrong cabin. I say “Spassiba” (thank you) to him, he gives me a big and friendly smile, and I decide right there that I should stop being this ridiculously nervous and worried about everything.

This new cabin is empty. I sit down, and 2 minutes later the Englishman who would serve me Yorkshire tea in bed the next morning steps inside. From that moment, hearing him speak English, I knew everything was going to be just fine. When the train leaves a few minutes later, we realize that we are only 2 persons sharing this compartment, and we consider our selves lucky. He decides to take the high bed on the left. I take the lower bed on the right. We fill the small table in the middle with our stock of candy, cookies, and chocolate, sharing this space with someone for 6 days is sharing everything you have. We’ve both read that it is a good idea to butter up the compartment manager, so we bring him some of our chocolate which he gladly accepts. This would work wonders, we would find out later.

I caught my Trans Mongolian train, I am sharing my compartment with a charming and friendly and talkative Brit, and I am going to sleep in a wobbling bed while crossing the first hundreds of kilometres of snow white Russia. Tomorrow is a brand new day.

Sleep tight, I know I certainly will.

6 thoughts to “The Trans Mongolian : Getting on the train”

  1. Well that towel is a complete different story, but in the end I did manage to get on that train with a towel yes :-) Not that there was a shower or anything.

  2. Who cares about showers? Do I have to quote? Alright: “What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is is clearly a man to be reckoned with.”

  3. It seems to me you have to take the train leaving at 21:35 from platform 2. ????? means Peking or Beijing.

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