Trans-Siberian railway to Taiwan: Part 4: Moscow to Beijing & beyond

Moscow to Taiwan


It is a long journey. From our home to Taipei is an estimated 12438 kms (c.7730 miles)

Taipei is nearly 8950 Kms from Moscow to be completed in 2 stages – first to Beijing (7826 kms), second, by air, to Taipei.

One person challenged our decision to travel to Taiwan – & was literally silenced when I said it was by train (I did not mention our return was by air).  
The environmental impact of air travel is a concern – but not one we lay claim to. The human inclination to move about the planet is not recent & concern & management of the means by which we (humanity) travel was not a driver for this journey (but we are happy to receive plaudits regarding our moral superiority)

Moments of Idle Speculation:
During the journey across Siberia there was time for ‘idle speculation’ & these highlighted by text colour – as here… and thus easier to avoid.

The Trans-Siberian route to Beijing follows the classic route to Vladivostock as far as Ulan Ude where it branches off to cross Mongolia.

It also crosses several time-zones, eventually being 5 hours ahead of Russian time. This final zone includes Mongolia, all of China & Taiwan (and as I discovered, even Western Australia)

Departing Yaroslavsky station on time we attempted sleep – and woke to a grey prospect.

We had travelled swiftly, a hurried rattling along sort of speed (at times, quite literally) passing through Nizhny Novgorod – and crossing the Volga River – covering approximately 600 kms before a gloomy daylight developed.

The poor quality of the pictures creates a realistic impression of what becomes the normality for most of the journey through Russia.

As we travelled across Russia and into Siberia (on Day 3), the snow increased – but was never particularly deep. Occasionally there were flurries of white dust and one one occasion there was snow falling – but until Day 5 the weather remained an almost uniform grey.

Kirov: Day 2

Day Two


The train rolls along, juddering occasionally, snow filled landscape, river turning to solid ice.

Very relaxing (apart from my inability to have effective internet connection). Industry seems to be largely timber related.

When travelling through places we tend, not surprisingly, to notice difference and surprising similarities (‘I didn’t expect to see….’). This journey is doing both.

Today the  difference is simply that of the  largely unchanging vastness of the country. This may be very mistaken as what we are seeing is a landscape almost without colour. The sky has been grey-white, the trees are largely colourless, individual massed projections linking the sky and white landscape. The evergreen firs are covered in snow so provide very little contrast.

One day’s journey and after 20 hours (to Perm) we have covered nearly 1500 kms (over 900 miles). Yet we have barely started.

No doubt there are regional differences but the overall sense of a single type of landscape emphasises the the small scale nature of Britain. 



The other element in this is and for me, is not new (given nearly 30 years of travel across post-communist  Europe) – the industrial complexes, product of the centralised soviet system.

In style & appearance they are the same here in Russia, as in other parts of communist controlled Europe. Identikit structures. A standard format – for all types of buildings, for social facilities, health centres, housing. People were also expected to be developed in a standardised manner – each individual was to strive to become, like the buildings, a living example of socialist perfection.

The underlying thought behind this was broadly common to most late C19th societies, encouraged by the engineering achievements of the Industrial Age.

The progressive modern industrialising society – working towards a glorious future. Humanity had reached a ‘high point’ & those who were at the forefront viewed most of the rest as low level primitive beings. The task was to convert. Under the guise of ‘social concern’ much time and effort went into the process (at ‘home’ as well as ‘abroad’) – & which was also hand-in-hand with simple exploitation. 

In the soviet system the belief in the potential of ‘realising human success, achievement & perfection became ossified. The power structures provided complete social control to a central authority with its formalised andformalising structures – and with usually one person. Change & uncertainty (ideas that were developing just as the communist triumphs in Russia were being formalised)  was difficult to even contemplate..

Travelling through societies that had communism imposed, one sees decayed and abandoned industrial buildings of one sort or another – often sitting, forlorn, alone or next to modern developments.

Clearance of the past systems (and its physical structures) is slow. Change takes time.

But these differences are what makes a journey interesting & stimulating – and ‘variation’ is important. The snow blanket covers both the new and the old, the train whizzes along providing only the briefest of glimpses at any particular place – and thus makes difficult the gleaning process upon which judgements may be made.

Am I learning? Is it necessary?… and if so, what is being learned?
Recognising some of those curious differences (and reflecting on them) is, possibly, important for our general well-being (well… it is for mine). Primarily I’m only learning that regarding social, cultural & economic issues  I cannot learn very much.

I am on a line, with a destination – no time, whatever my desire, to concern myself greatly about the context across which the line is placed.

“To that great inconvenience which comes on the one side by immoderate and unseasonable exercise, too much solitariness and idleness on the other, must be opposed as an antidote, a moderate and seasonable use of it, and that both of body and mind, as a most material circumstance, much conducing to this cure and to the general preservation of our health.  

The heavens themselves run continually around, the sun riseth and sets, the moon increaseth and decreaseth, the air is still tossed by the  winds, the waters ebb and flow, to their conservation no doubt, to teach us that we should ever be in action” 
Robert Burton ‘The Anatomy of Melancholy’ 1621

But in the exercise of movement there are benefits to be gained.

Of no great significance – but an interesting curiosity – the manner in which railway level crossings protect the track with raised barriers. Are they significantly better at protection than occurs in the UK. of are they simply a means of avoiding the expense of building a bridge?

Before we reached Moscow (where there is no snow and apparently there is the warmest December for 130 years) ‘Onion-domed’ churches featured. Today (day 2) – nothing but  small scale housing with some large scale new apartments/offices in Kirov.

By having had  time staying in Moscow –  in the centre, next to the Kremlin – and talking to locals in the hotel, restaurant etc  – a sense of a Russian View on issues. By chance we met some Turkish academics by the  Kremlin wall and again in Red Square (by Lenin’s Mausoleum). There was brief exchange about international politics – they were in Moscow  discussing Soviet:Turkish relationships.

Now, we have moved from the stimulation of a capital city & are beginning to experience the Russian Winter.

With the time changes occurring (2 on day 2) it rather speeds up the whole process…… its dark early and there is nothing much to do on a train which seems to have almost no passengers – so having time advance itself regularly has a good feel to it.


Tyumen Oblast Day 3

We slept through our middle-of-the-night stop at Yekaterinburg and entered Siberia during Day 3.

Day 3

DAY THREE Thursday 19th

Tyumen: over 1200miles from Moscow and in Siberia

We rouse ourselves at 08.00 as daylight begins to reveal that the weather is exactly the same as previously – grey on grey enveloped in white.

We are learning what is a Russian Winter.

We also can now confirm that there is another passenger. The occasional cough which we’ve heard has this morning become symphonic – we’ve been provided with a varied composition of several movements, in this case largely percussive in form.

However it is possible that he is Mr Stripey Trousers – a member of staff.

[we were incorrect – the Symphonic Cougher was one of the provodniks who had occupied a spare compartment. However we did discover at a later point that there were others on the train – but at this stage they were well hidden]

Maybe later today we will make an expedition to the front of the train (we are in coach 9 & the restaurant is 12 at the rear. So we may discover on our expedition that there are other life-forms existing between ourselves and the engine.

At 11.23 on 19th December we had our first glimpse of the sun: Gladilovo… apparently not far from the town of Vagina

The one piece of information leads to discovery of further little known facts: the (highly unlikely) possible Saxon origins of Genghis Khan

The railway passes through Yekaterinburg, Tyumen (c.08.30 Moscow + 2 hours), Omsk (16.53 Moscow +3 hours), Novosibirsk (01.25 D4 Moscow + 4,), Krasnoyarsk (12.59 D4 M +4)

This part of the journey is different from most of the rest. The views are more open – and the ground very level. It is known by some as ‘steppe’ and beyond Omsk becomes The Great Vasyugan Mire.

There is a general summary with useful pictures here.

We cross the area in the dark.

In crossing this central area Shoemaker quotes from a local professor, whose words seem prophetic in their intent (and one wonders how concerned he might be today)

“Our country affords shelter to all,” says Professor Kashchenko, “we are here living in a time which in Europe has long since passed away. Central Europe, with respect to its fauna, held a similar position about two thousand years ago, at the time of Julius Caesar, and the central zone of Russia, eight hundred years ago, at the time of Vladimir Monomakh. At present, however, evolution is more rapid, and the time is drawing nigh when the primitive but rich condition of our country, which now seems to the stranger to belong to far distant days, will in fact exist no more. Special attention must be given to this rapid transition from past to present, which is now going on, in order that it may not deprive us of the many advantages of our wild nature, possessing a charm of her own. All her living creatures should be carefully preserved, not only because they are useful, but also because they adorn nature equally with ourselves.”

Excerpt From: Shoemaker, Michael Myers, 1853-1924. “The great Siberian railway from St. Petersburg to Pekin”. Apple Books.

Omutinskiy: Day 3
a rural locality in Tyumen Oblast
Approaching Omsk Day 3
Irtysh River, Omsk


One of those places names known since childhood – just a name on a railway line, like ‘Thirsk’ but very much larger & further away (my specific memory was ‘Omsk, Tomsk & Verkhoyansk’)

“We left Omsk by the post train which ought to have started at 0.30 p.m., according to the time table. It was only four hours late, a mere nothing in Siberia, where time is not money. As we sat waiting at the station the good news was brought us that Mafeking had been relieved. The bearer of these tidings was the Finnish Pastor, who had only an hour before received word by telegram from Finland. The Finns have all along shown great sympathy with the English with regard to the Transvaal war. Pastor Erikson met us with a hearty handshake and a beaming face. A burst of military music close at hand seemed very opportune to our English ears ”

Excerpt From: Annette M. B. Meakin. “A Ribbon of Iron”. Apple Books.

A coaling point for the train – and the 2 Russian staff who are travelling have a duty to ensure the process occurs swiftly and efficiently (its very manual). The cinders and ash are carried out by the carriage attendant and placed in a special bin on the platform.

Great sense of ease and relaxation as we climb aboard from the platform and know that despite having covered over 2500 Kms from Moscow we will be comfortably ‘travelling on’ for another 4 and half days – we simply having nothing to do but observe & read….. And neither are we having to be sociable….. Its a train all to ourselves (almost & at least for another day or so)

We now have a very simple life….. Somewhat cramped but lacking any complexity. Reasonably cooked food is available (though flavouring could be added to enhance the basic quality). Its evening and is very dark outside…. But we have a sense of what is there and our train presently glides along at a reasonable pace. The only major annoyance is the variable internet access – but given that on journeys on trains around even the urbanised areas of Britain there are considerable inconsistencies, the quality of service in some very remote rural distracts through which we pass, is pretty good.

So we eat nuts and raisins, sip whisky and consider carefully what time we should set out on an adventure to the restaurant. That short journey is becoming increasingly interesting – the links between the coaches are gradually filling with snow and the temperature outside means that handling the snow and ice covered metal support  rails inside is inadvisable without hand covering….. Losing a layer of skin is a possibility.


Other notes from later in the day

We have just arrived in a Siberian town ‘Babarinsk’….. the whole journey marked by the simple fact of steady pace over great distance.

Difficult to describe the sheer internal wonder of being able to enjoy the grey landscape (there is no ‘landscape’), the process, which has a sort of eternal feel.

We expected western ‘travellers’…. ‘journey of a lifetime’ stuff

None….. we’ve just discovered 2 Russian passengers and know that there is another person hidden away in his compartment.

This is sheer joy

Bit of preparation (we overdid ours….. as we expected less food) and an ability not to be wanting to do anything except watch and muse…. but curiosity about what goes on at the various (bleakly empty) stations (I see the other trains…. all amazingly long distance internal ‘sleepers’).

It’s like walking across the Fens (which I’ve done a couple of times)….. Jacqui has just agreed

But rather (by a factor of thousands) bigger!

The American writer, Michael Shoemaker (previously quoted), travelled the line in 1902 and wrote

‘the outer world has rather limited notions as to what Russia does for her people’…. but then stated (of the city of Samara) ‘There is more enlightenment, more knowledge, in an American village than in this city of many institutions. Where does the fault lie? What is the reason?

Having just passed through Belarus, spent nearly 2 days in Moscow & now having travelled over 2K Kms beyond the capital, the same thoughts apply…. only made the more complex by the whole intervening actions of the C20th.

Shoemaker finishes his chapter:

‘The night descends as we glide off into the limitless spaces of Eastern Russia, and I look out into the shadows, wondering why things are as they are and wherefore are we born’

The night time journey beyond Omsk remained, as with other days, unobserved. There was no great feeling of ‘missing out’. We knew that travelling at this time of year would create long periods of darkness. We also were fairly certain that the temperatures would be low. It was surprising to have no snow in Moscow (we had prepared – unnecessarily – and disappointingly) but we also felt that the journey would be less crowded with western tourists (we were wrong – there were none – even after meeting other travellers later in the journey).

What a glorious time we were having – undisturbed, sole occupants of a train travelling  from Moscow to Beijing. This experience became more and more valued as the journey continued.

Given that we were experiencing low external temperatures it was interesting to compare our position with ‘home’. In Russia we followed a line broadly relating to the 56th parallel – roughly equivalent to the Isle of Jura (highly appropriate given the ‘necessary supplies’ I had included in our baggage) & central Scotland (specifically the Forth Bridge, Edinburgh).

There were Good Reasons for our delight at being (as we thought) sole passengers on this nearly 8000 km journey. One major aspect being immediately clear during the journey & another understood as the journey entered its 4th and 5th days.

First aspect: sanitation & associated practices
Second aspect: supplies available in the restaurant

Closets, Comfort Stations & Comestibles

(Such matters being always the key issues for modern travellers, on the TranSib the following remains, for the moment, crucial)

Part One:

King Coal

The provodnik in the forward carriage stands ready to receive, as the coal is deposited in the near door

At regular intervals (at least once a day) coal was loaded onto our carriage.

The reason: we were powered by coal – though not driven. The whole route has been electrified for many years: beginning in 1929 & completing in 2002 – fortunately ‘modernist fixations’ had already included electricity by the time the communists took power.

There are vast reserves of coal (high and low quality) along the railway route & they still power the industries (transporting iron ore in one direction – coal in another – steel making at both ends). The line may appear to pass though vast areas of empty space but it is incredibly busy with both passenger and freight traffic.

Our train is heated by coal – as is the ever hot samovar in each carriage.

Storage space is limited – so supplies are regularly provided and the ash is removed.

The operation is skilfully and swiftly managed – provodniks and provodnitsas are required to assist and one of the task of the travelling managers is to oversee the efficient delivery and loading to each carriage.

Of all the activities associated with the journey, the coal delivery stands as the most impressive. We knew that coal supplied our heating – and the walk along the platform to the train in Moscow was filled with the smell of sulphurous fires (all fully fuelled even though there were no passengers).

Memory from childhood tells me the smell was of good quality coal. In witnessing several of the coal deliveries I begin to grasp some of the technical issues that sustain the life of the ‘Express’. There is no hesitancy, each person involved in the process takes up their ‘station’ as the train arrives and the coal delivery wagon, carefully positioned, immediately begins its task. In one station the wagon was supplying 2 trains at the same time. The work, for everyone, is intense – I experience a style of manual working that has largely departed our present lives (though my farming neighbours would understand the importance & intensity of the whole process).

Supplies in Mongolia


We’ve been travelling for 8 days. Such continuity of movement towards our destination (unusual in these modern times for most people who travel to a specific place) creates a degree of reflection on related matters.

It is about ‘lines’… in our case a ‘rail-way-line’. A ‘ribbon of iron’ (Anne Meakins). A gentle term about connection. Bruce Chatwin, who as much as anyone, saw humanity as a species on the move, expressed this in ‘Songlines’ (‘his universal human rationale for the nomadic, self-sufficient lifestyle’)

In sculptural form Richard Long begins with A Line Made by Walking

The railway as a ‘ribbon’, – it does appear as such, stretching across Eurasia. A route used by many for some form of personal gain – and maybe even ‘understanding’.

We chose the line

– are we ‘singing’ our way? (‘yes’ this is a route which has been in the head, heart and mind – its a dream line from childhood and in social culture),

– are we walking the line? – not literally – but as we travel, we pay attention (as best we can) to the route – not repeated as Long did – but with an intentional focus (beyond the casual ‘bucket-list’ purpose), that made the journey something of a ‘mark’ for us.

It is the line, our personal osmotic absorption/reaction, … it is the here and now, the ‘present’…. those are basis of what matters.


‘The Line’ provides time for reading  and though the internet connection is not allowing the blog to develop with pictures it is sufficient for searches.

I am puzzled by terms  encountered by those describing the landscape we are experiencing. 

There appear to be 2 terms frequently used – and depending on the writer they seem to apply to the same landscape. I believe that this is because after crossing the Urals we traverse land which moves from one into the other.

Maybe it would be easier to understand the nature of the land if it was not blanketed in snow.

Steppe & Taiga

A Steppe is defined as a large area of flat unforested grassland in south-eastern Europe or Siberia.


Taiga (a Russian word) is not quite so easily summarised – but it always seems to include forest and to relate to what we are experience during this journey

Much of Day 3 seemed to be closer to ‘steppe’, whereas much of the rest of the journey seemed to be ‘taiga’ (until Mongolia where the land is most decidedly of a very arid ‘steppe’ type).

DAY FOUR: Friday 20th December

“At one end of the cheerful dining car was a Bechstein piano, and opposite to it a bookcase stocked with Russian novels; doubtless it will contain plenty of French and English books in time. On the fourth day we had an agreeable concert. Amongst the performers were a gentleman with a good tenor voice and two lady pianists of no ordinary merit. ”

Excerpt From: Annette M. B. Meakin. “A Ribbon of Iron”. Apple Books.

Not quite our experience!


Daylight is increasing.

Not much point in looking out of the window because I know what will be there…. Grey, snow, birch, pine and cedar. ‘What’s the weather like today’… the same.

The writer Michael Shoemaker had a similar but slower journey. His account was published in 1903 and his judgements provide interesting reading for those who may believe societies cannot suddenly change:

“It was somewhat picturesque in the Urals, and for me the steppes possess a decided fascination, but for most people the monotony would be appalling. For three days past we have jogged along between scraggly birch forests, shutting in the prospect save here and there.

This morning a variation occurs and we have pine forests. You who object to the journey from Richmond to Palm Beach because of its monotony should come here, or rather should never come here, where you would find monotony worse confounded, in a distance greater than from New York to San Francisco.

Personally I have enjoyed the trip, being an old traveller and always greatly interested in new countries; but, so far, I should not care to repeat it for many years, which with any other nation save Russia would mean a vast change, but I fancy a century hence will see little change in Siberia. To my thinking nothing can help this country save an absolute throwing open of her portals, a thing impossible to the Russian Government.”

Excerpt From: Shoemaker, Michael Myers, 1853-1924. “The great Siberian railway from St. Petersburg to Pekin”. Apple Books.


We’ve travelled one thousand kilometres since darkness descended at around 17.00 yesterday. We’ve had 3 stops since Omsk (2712)

Barabinsk (3040)  Novosibirsk (3335) and Mariinsk (3715)….. And nothing much has changed. Though I sense, through the gloom, that the landscape has become undulating.

Near Achinsk: Day 4
Above: Day 4 near Kozulka:

Kozulsky District of Krasnoyarsk Krai, Russia. Population: 7998

Krasnoyarsk Krai (Russian: Красноя́рский край, tr. Krasnoyarsky kray, IPA: [krəsnɐˈjarskʲɪj ˈkraj]) is a federal subject of Russia (a krai), with its administrative center in the city of Krasnoyarsk—the third-largest city in Siberia (after Novosibirsk and Omsk). Comprising half of the Siberian Federal District, Krasnoyarsk Krai is the largest krai in the Russian Federation, the second largest federal subject (after the neighboring Sakha Republic) and the third largest subnational governing body by area in the world, after Sakha and the Australian state of Western Australia. The krai covers an area of 2,339,700 square kilometers (903,400 sq mi), which is nearly one quarter the size of the entire country of Canada (the next-largest country in the world after Russia), constituting roughly 13% of the Russian Federation’s total area and containing a population of 2,828,187, or just under 2% of its population, per the 2010 Census.[8]

The Yenisei River is crossed at Krasnoyarsk.
It rises in Mongolia, contains a flow from lake Baikal & is the 5th largest river system in the world

The lack of any other experience other than that provided from the train would make nonsense of any judgments about the places through which we passed.

In considering the nature and context of railways it further adds to this necessary caution.

All railways have been associated with industrial development – even at the most rural level. In approaching any place via a railway is almost always to arrive through the least attractive area. In the UK routes provide views of C19th industrial housing, storage yards, railway engineering workshops, factories requiring rail links, container yards. In Edinburgh for example, where a different townscape could be viewed, the main line  north manages to settle itself low in what was once the North Loch & so close to the rock bearing the castle that no view occurs. Durham is famous for its townscape view partly because it is so rare.

So – to expect anything different in Russia would be unreasonable. However there are some pointers – occurring  in part through comparison with other large towns such as Birmingham and Manchester. Whilst most rail routes into cities in UK are grim, they are for most ‘western’ countries free of direct industrial pollution. Not so in Russia where chimneys still produce a very obvious unfiltered smoke.

We passed through many large cities during darkness – but with Krasnoyarsk and Irkutsk it was daylight and the ‘smokestacks’ (chimneys) were busy performing their tasks – height creates ‘draw’ and increased furnace temperature plus wider distribution of flue gases and pollutants – sharing their poison with a wide group of recipients.

Closets, Comfort Stations, & Comestibles

Part Two

The Restaurant

We had read that the significance was well beyond that of providing food.

The restaurant car provides a unique social base for your train adventure. Day or night it is a place you can relax with a drink or a coffee and try to communicate with other travellers. 

The above may be the case for many trains – but until Irkutsk we found ourselves, at whatever time of day, dining alone.

The socially uninterrupted nature of the journey through days 1 – 4 was a considerable blessing.


This was an attached extra to the train – and changed at national boundaries.

The Russian car therefore stayed with us for most of the journey – as did the staff.

On our first morning (technically ‘Day 2’) we decided to find out who else may be on the train and made our way along the train to the restaurant at the rear. We neither saw, nor heard, nor found any evidence of  other passengers and arrived at a completely empty dining car.

An empty space with 2 members of staff on duty. One seemed to be the formal waitress and the other….?… probably the cook.

This situation was simply astonishing – it was so different to everything we had researched. I guess that I was quietly desiring that such a situation could be replicated in the other more regularly used services at home (very occasionally that does happen).

There were other Russian staff members who used the restaurant – 2 men who seemed to supervise the progress of the train, check tickets, passports & ensure efficiency of platform management at stations – and this crew also had its own provodnitsa.

We were warned (largely by web based writers) that the food available on the train was likely to be of poor quality.

Reading menus was also mentioned as a major difficulty.

So careful preparations were made with purchase of ‘cup-a-soups’, porridge, noodles & other meals capable of being created by addition of the boiling water from the constantly available supply in the ‘samovar at the end of the carriage.

Breakfast was to be our first culinary adventure – what strange delights awaited us – and would we be able to understand the menu descriptions if any such were provided?

As with other aspects of the journey, it would seem that much has changed in a comparatively short time.

The menu is an indicator of the wider changes noticed.

Fairly recent photos and descriptions have been superseded: trains are now timetabled in local time (not ‘Moscow’ time), new trains and engines have appeared (the ‘talgo’ train is not just special to the Moscow – Berlin operation), the Russian Railways web site is available in English and usable for reservations, engines and carriages have been renovated and no longer is there a ‘kaleidoscopic’ approach to carriage paintwork – all seen exhibited the new brand image.

So – far from being puzzled & confused, we easily ordered food (pointing at the Russian version of the menu)

Omelette, called in the English translation ‘scrambled egg … and quality is fine – much better than reports have suggested (on reading the Russian its clear that what they advertise, in native language: омлет is what we get: ‘omlette’)

Then back to compartment for our own made porridge…. Glutinously grim, grimly glutinous

We become regular visitors to the restaurant – and until Irkutsk, seemingly the only customers.

The menu is extensive

– but what is available is less so.

There are whole sections of the menu (as above) that are irrelevant to this train – but its the style that for once, impresses. Whatever may be the reality, the introduction of new branding, inside and out, is encouraging of the spirit – both for staff and customers (well…. at least these customers). The worst that can be said for the food is that it was somewhat bland. The style – and presentation (in some examples sizzlingly hot cast-iron platters) surprises us and clearly pleases the staff presenting it.

There was also a very decent Kuban wine available to accompany meals. However it was of limited quantity. Thankfully there were no other diners and the supplies, supplemented with very limited numbers of bottles from Spain and France, were sufficient for the whole Russian section of the journey.

The contrast in appearance with a meal being served, at the same time as one of ours, to the grandchildren in Scotland, reflects very positively on the Trans-Sib restaurant (though we lacked the bananas & the flavour of ours was bland)

Apologies to family concerned. They are wonderful parents and make very effort to feed their children healthy nourishing food. Nor do they ever claim to be operating a restaurant on wheels (though the rail company one of them works for does frequently fail to provide breakfast of the quality advertised).

Our regular appearances at the restaurant, combined with the lack of other passengers, led to the development of very friendly relationships with the staff. As in any British pub, we became ‘regulars’ – and benefited from such.

There were two specific incidents. One was surprising – but something of a revelation as to the working conditions of the staff (who stayed with the train until the Mongolian border at the end of day 5).

We arrived for breakfast shortly after the official opening time & to everyone’s surprise I managed to catch one of the staff at their ablutions: the dining car benches, it seemed, were also their overnight sleeping accommodation. There was considerable embarrassment for us all. I retreated rapidly and did not return until well after 10.00 by which time I’d used Google Translate – and went directly behind the bar & into the restaurant kitchen – stating to the 3 ladies assembled there (the Russian provotnitsa had joined the others), at once and without pause:

“мы были слишком рано, примите мои извинения”

There were immediate friendly smiles (not the expected quizzical response) – I’m surprised, was my Russian pronunciation sufficient for no further attempt to be made (was I simply being ‘humoured’?)… were they simply ‘charmed’ at being ‘attended to’?

“We were too early, please accept my apologies”

I retreated to my usual seat – and breakfast was duly served.

Maybe incidents such as these can help build relationships. A friend from York, many years ago said: ‘its always good for morale when people you are working with see you make a mistake’. I guess that my genuine concern expressed through the apology, helped create a positive relationship. Given that later in the journey we had the waitress teaching us Russian, we may assume so. но я такой медленный ученик

[but I’m such slow learner]

The second incident occurred at Naushki, the last station before Mongolian border and at which the Russian restaurant was detached. We had made our final visit to the restaurant car in the kilometres approaching the border.

aving, over the past few days, consumed all the Russian wine (it was a very limited supply) had become aware of a half bottle of Cotes du Rhone & Chianti. These we (the ‘we’ being now supplemented by a German student and 2 other Brits) consumed with our final meal.

Having (over previous days) consumed all the Russian wine (it was a very limited supply) & having become aware of half bottles of Cotes du Rhone & Chianti, we (the ‘we’ being now supplemented by a German student, Katy and 2 other Brits) consumed them with our final meal.

At this point, a fellow dashed (staggered) into the carriage (we realised he was someone we had seen previously – but not recently)…. he had a rolling gait – clearly the result of considerable alcohol consumption – and within what seemed like seconds had departed again, grinning in triumph, clutching a large bottle of French brandy (the only one on the shelves – as I well remember)

My companions followed him…. I went to pay & deliver what we’d agreed was a reasonably generous tip for the staff. How to calculate a 5 day tip?!… difficult to calculate, easily achieved – but what followed was not.

On arrival at the connecting door to the main portion of the train I discovered that it had been sealed. I was now ‘detached’. The restaurant was being removed from the Chinese train.

Fortunately, our friendly relationship with the staff became important – and the waitress and others managed to raise the awareness of the official personnel outside and the passageway was re-opened just before they severed the connection – and I escaped – with much waving of ‘thanks’ and on my part, a considerable sense of relief.


All change – not as a train but in style. The arrival in Mongolia was late night & departure from the border after 01.00.  The restaurant car was attached at Ulaan Baator and by mid morning we were customers. There were changes – a much more friendly family feel. This was in part due to the increase in passengers – many with children. At last the train seemed to have a purpose.

Throughout Russia we had seen evidence of Christmas decoration – but were quite fascinated by the manner in which Mongolia (and later China & Taiwan) had borrowed aspects of the seasonal festival.

The dining car, without seasonal extras, is a well known decorative item on the TranSib – but festival opportunity was not ignored.


The swaying Santa-d Snowman

And the somewhat limited menu provided food with more flavour than that of the Russian restaurant.

Chinese restaurant: A failure

Though we were provided with a good quality free lunch & despite the general bonhomie of staff and the increased numbers of passengers (largely from Mongolia), we took no photos.

We have many taken during the 12 hour  journey from the Mongolian border to Beijing – but not one of the dining car.



Krasnoyarsk did not present a particularly enticing ‘face’ (but as noted elsewhere, neither do many places – eg Paris from Eurostar), entering were large ?redundant? blocks – or being redeveloped?…. as other sites are

What could be seen seemed fairly standard for any large modern city.

… but the day was gloomy and our window increasingly dirty (some blogs have the authors managing to clean them – in once case by one person riding on the back of another…. but thbose attempts were not in winter when water would simply freeze). Temperatures were now around minus 10 degrees and lower at night and the smearing would be likely to make matters worse.

Throughout the journey a variety of individuals and groups were working to ensure that the train was functioning correctly. Here is one technician making his way along the train – and engaging occasionally in the once regular activity of ‘wheel-tapping’. A correct ringing tone indicates all is well.

This almost unnoticed technical examination is another indicator of the complex system that is a ‘railway’. This example may seem old fashioned – but for a train that is covering in one single journey nearly 8000 kms, whatever other sophisticated systems operate (and they do) to ensure the train passes on its ways in safety , the role of a professional technical expertise that is based on detailed knowledge of one single aspect of the train being examined, is extremely important. We travel successfully thanks to such unseen experts

In leaving Krasnoyarsk we travelled for several kilometres through a largely ribbon of industry

Closets, Comfort Stations, & Comestibles

Part Three


The Alternative Restaurant

‘An apple, a pear, a plum or a cherry, any good thing to make us merry…..’

Staff and passengers need to feed. We were warned that food on the train was not of good quality. This may be a reflection of the less significant trains that travel lengthy distances but only part of the route.

Russian staff were fed in their restaurant – but the Chinese provodniks had developed a very efficient process using what seemed to be good ingredients and sharing the food preparation tasks amongst themselves. There was, during the late morning a buzz of movement as the preparations involved using several carriages.

Cooking was easy – the coal heating boiler providing a multi-function purpose

Several carriages ensured that there were several cookers

We considered suggesting to the staff that they set up a small private enterprise – as a restaurant – food delivered to the compartment door. We suspect that our idea might not have been readily understoo

There were some marketing options for such a venture. The official restaurant was at the end of the train – and as the temperature dropped the journey within the train became more hazardous.

These are old style carriages with passage between each carriage of a traditional nature – ie they are essentially linked by an outside bridge. Train movement makes crossing the space difficult – but as we travelled the space became filled with snow – and we were warned it was perilous to hold the metal handbars (one might find oneself immediately glued to the bar by ice – whilst at the same time being rattled around by the platform beneath).

This difficulty could therefore be used to advertise the benefits of the equivalent of home delivery of hot freshly prepared quality food.


The appropriate style for crossing the unpredictable movement of the passageway between carriages is

It is appreciated that not everyone will have the physical capability to enable such a movement.

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