If there is one thing never missing on the Trans-Siberian Railway, that’s companionship. Actually, I already read and heard about how meeting new travel companions is the real experience on these trains, more than passing over thousands of kilometres through endless landscapes, travelling on the world’s longest railway service.
What I planned isn’t the classic Trans-Siberian route Moscow-Vladivostok. My journey will stop at two thirds of the whole length, in Ulan Ude, but I will have a couple of breaks along the way. The first one is Novosibirsk, which is considered Siberia’s capital city. The second break will be in Irkutsk, the “Siberian Paris”, not far from one of the most amazing natural wonders in the world, lake Baikal.
Train 118 takes about 50 hours to reach Novosibirsk from Moscow. After we left since half an hour, I see everyone taking out any kind of food from plastic bags and packets. I have just a bottle of water and a couple of lousy frittelle with jam. Maybe I really look that pitiful, or maybe just because I’m the only foreigner in the couch, but I am soon surrounded by offerings and cares.
The next day a conversation with my travel companions starts, in an hybrid Italian-English-Russian language. It only allows some sense thanks two a couple of guys who actually speak a few words in English. With the deepening of the relationship comes more food, and refusal is not an option. Sandwiches, salami, cheese, potatoes, pickles, cofee, tea, sweets… I do not have much to offer in exchange but my story, so I start talking about myself, with the some help by the two English speaking guys. Not sure how those people understood all the information I gave, but they were especially impressed by the fact I was travelling alone. At some point my name was bouncing all over the couch: either I really impressed them, or they were handling me like some funny freak.
Train 078 from Novosibirsk to Irkutsk “only” takes 28 hours, but the environment is still the same. This time I am ready: I do not want to rely once more on others, so I prepared food to share before boarding the train. But between one train and the other, as I said, I take a break, a couple of days to visit Novosibirsk and Tomsk.
Novosibirsk didn’t even exist, 100 years ago, and owes its foundation to the railway. It’s a place without history, still with some charming corners, but definitely not an unforgettable spot.
Tomsk, on the other side, is a whole different story. I really felt for this town, for its centre full of siberian style wooden houses, for its lively atmosphere, for it folk, so warm and welcoming, in such a way I would describe as unmatched all over the country.
My last fare on the Trans-Siberian Railway gets me in one night from Irkutsk to Ulan Ude, through dramatic landscapes with endless fields broken by woods, mountains, lakes, small villages, but also rotten railway stations and power stations, which somehow add to the decadent charm of the sights. But before arriving, I will spend six days on the lake Baikal, which I will tell you about in my next article. So long!