This post will be out of order, but I need to give more details about the Trans-Siberian railway experience from Irkutsk to Chelyabinsk.
We bought the tickets at the Irkutsk railway station with Rostislav’s help, who took us to a second floor counter with nobody waiting in like. There are three classes available: Regular seats with no berths, 4-sleeper ‘Kupe’ compartments, and 2-sleeper ‘Luxe’ compartments. Rostislav suggested we go with the middle option, and I am very happy we did.
The train wagons seem to be technology from the sixties or seventies I guess, but built like a tank, and very nicely maintained. There are about eight compartments per wagon, plus a compartment for the wagon service person, and a toilet at both ends. There was also a boiler that dispensed free hot water for tea at one end. The windows were a bit dirty but otherwise the compartments were in good shape. There was even a Persian rug in each compartment that the wagon clerk diligently vacuumed daily.
Each person received a thick mattress to place on the sleeper, a comforter, a pillow, a bed sheet, a small towel, and covers for the pillow and comforter. Additionally, pretty tea mugs were lent out by the clerk free of charge.
The best part of the trip was our fortunate company of the senior couple Vladimir and Vera, who were returning from Irkutsk to their native Petrpavlsk in Kazakhstan. Indeed, the train goes briefly through Kazakhstan on its route, so we have in fact already been to Kazakhstan!
Vladimir is a dental technician, though he has served in the red army as a T-62 tank commander. They did not speak English but we had enough time to communicate everything we wanted by using gestures, and drawing pictures in my notebook.
They also generously shared all the food and Cognac they had with them. Particularly interesting was to try the cedar seeds which we have seen street side vendors sell ever since we arrived in Russia, and so far could not identify. These are eaten here like sun flower seeds are eaten in Hungary. Fortunately this time we were also prepared this time, and also had our own herring conserves and vodka to share. A really good mood ensued for the remainder of the trip. We originally had booked the top two sleepers, but for some reason they asked us to switch such that I sleep in the top bunk and Jerome sleeps below me, and they have the other side for themselves.
There was also one well working power outlet in the wagon, where people took turns charging mobile phones and laptops.
The scenery for most of the approximately 50 hour trip was indeed constant Taiga: This means a dense wild forest consisting primarily of shrubs and Birch trees. In Kazakhstan the scenery changed to savannah-like landscapes and in part cultivated lands. Vladimir said that had we gone east from Irkutsk toward Vladivostok, we would also have seen swamplands.
All in all it was a really comfortable though not particularly scenic trip that I can recommend. One ticket has cost us 7300 Rubles; it is really an inexpensive way to travel such a long distance, with free nightly accommodation thrown in.
Here come some photos. Sorry that they are in random order, it is WordPress’ fault.