16:22 Yekaterinburg -> Irkutsk
We spent our one night in Yekaterinburg holed up in a granny flat on the fifth floor of a high-rise block on the outskirts of the city. It felt a bit like her grandchildren had clubbed together and turned her home into a hostel, without really asking her permission. But with WiFi and a poster on the wall drawn in felt tip pen stating this was indeed ‘Hostel for Friends’, we didn’t argue.
The evening passed uneventfully and we spent most of it downstairs in the supermarket selecting snacks for our epic train journey the next day. We’d be travelling for two nights and three days through Siberia to the little town of Irkutsk, where we’d be spending our last days in Russia on the shores of Lake Baikal.
We were pros at this by now, stocking up on pot noodles and cup-a-soup which we could “cook” with the Samovar, cheese, salami, bread (cheese and plain variety) crisps, beer, vodka as well a porridge for the mornings and plenty of juice and water. Healthy stuff.
Buoyed by our night with Vasilli, we were surprised to meet our new Kupe friend Illia, who used his limited English to explain that he hadn’t touched alcohol for six years as it didn’t sit well with him. We were spending the next 48 hours with two bottles of vodka and a recovering alcoholic…this should be interesting.
We were travelling on the Rossiya – a classic Trans-Siberian train decorated with white, blue and red bands that travels the full length of the railway from Moscow to Vladivostok, usually frequented by tourists headed to Japan.
It was more comfortable than we’d grown accustomed to with air conditioning, wider beds, TV(!), carpeted floors and clean(ish) toilets. We loved the dining car – traditionally decorated just how you’d imagine a Russian train to look – and spent the evening there playing Scrabble and watching the sun go down.
Despite the fears that come with all long journeys – boredom, being uncomfortable, splitting up – the hours flew, helped along by the spectacular Russian countryside and fourth series of Breaking Bad.
As the train lurched closer to Irkutsk, Illia told us of the beauty of Lake Baikal, a 50 million-year-old natural paradise with hidden coves, hot springs and unique wildlife that only exists in that one place on earth. After four cities in ten days, we couldn’t wait.
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