Magistrale Diaries: Naushki, and the International Border

We’re already at Ulan-Ude when I awake. It seems we had the time zones all mixed up – Moscow+5 it shall be for the rest of our trip. We had it right 3 years ago though, alighting here at 4 in the morning local time, just to pay our respects to the junction where the Trans Mongolian bifurcates from the Trans Siberian.

Its barely daybreak as we step outside, and the station thermometer displays a chilly 12C or 54F. As the first rays of light peak out from behind, Ulan-Ude is slowly coming to life. We have a 45-minute halt here, where our locomotive is changed – electric giving way to diesel – and more than half of our original train formation is cut off. We will be seven carriages long upon departure, and ours will bring up the rear.IMG_8059 Continue reading “Magistrale Diaries: Naushki, and the International Border”

Magistrale Diaries: Baikal Magic

There’s a distinct chill in the morning air as Train 78 races east towards Irkutsk. The terrain is as flat as can be, but given that we’re scheduled to arrive there at the unearthly hour of 06:09, we get to watch a gorgeous sunrise on our way in. Arrival into Irkutsk-Passazhirsky is eventually 3-minutes early, its beautiful station building basking in brilliant morning light.IMG_7870

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Magistrale Diaries: Tayshet, and the end of the line

Sasha and Anya were at it for a while last night – drunk and very much out of control – eventually reined in by the occupants of our neighboring cabin, who asked them to STFU. So despite my best efforts, it wasn’t until 2 am that I finally got some sleep. I awake just as we’re easing out of Vikhorevka, which, like Ust-kut, features a more traditional-style building, and a steam locomotive plinthed on its main platform. Quite unlike the last couple of days, its blue skies and plenty of sunshine, on this, the final morning of our journey on Train 75.IMG_7715

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Magistrale Diaries: The Sacred Sea and then some

Around 3ish, we’re awoken by activity at the long station stop of Novaya Chara, most of it attributed to the gent who’s just joined our cabin here. If I stay up some more, there’s a slight chance I’ll get to see one of the most bizarre sights in all of Siberia – sand dunes. But I pass. Its a little past 7 when I awake for a second time, and there’s thick fog outside. With the sun unlikely to make an appearance anytime soon, it has all the makings of an overcast day, and I’m hoping to god it stays that way.

Taksimo is our first long halt for the day, and we gain another hour here, moving a timezone closer to Moscow. We also get an additional carriage at the rear, and an electric locomotive up front – the route west of here being under wires. The station building at Taksimo is contemporary in its design, and like a lot of the major ones we’ve seen along the way, fairly well equipped too. I take advantage of the 45-minute long halt here to withdraw some cash from the station ATM. Returning to our carriage, we make ourselves some tea, and head back out on to the platform to sip it al fresco, Indian Railway-style.P1010689

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Magistrale Diaries: Tynda, the BAM Capital

We bade farewell to Mike at Ulak, turning in well past midnight, and sleep was fitful at best. But there’s only a few hours remaining till Tynda is reached, so we decide to soak it all in. Our drawn curtains reveal the incredibly lush catchment area of the Lena River, and another glorious morning in the making…IMG_7395

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Magistrale Diaries: Stalin’s Dream

It did get chilly at night, and we’re thankful for that. I didn’t quite need the blanket that Michael, one of our cabin mates, handed me as a late gesture, but at least I slept comfortably. We have no idea how today will turn out, but regardless, a decent nights rest is assured.

Sleeping in is not an option though, as the morning light, punctuated by patches of low fog, is far too pretty to ignore…IMG_7093 Continue reading “Magistrale Diaries: Stalin’s Dream”

Magistrale Diaries: The warmth of Komsomolsk

The clock advances to 06:27 and on cue, train 667 comes to a halt. On the wide main platform outside, dozens of people are waiting for family and friends to alight – its quite the reception party. Past the station building, passengers make their way through a sprawling plaza towards the parking area, to city buses and rickety old trams. We are the first arrival for the day, and Komsomolsk-na-Amure is slowly coming to life.P1010511 Continue reading “Magistrale Diaries: The warmth of Komsomolsk”

Rossiya Diaries: To Conquer the East

It’s quite foggy and fairly nippy by the time we reach the Azimut Hotel, and we’re heralded in the right direction (the hotel’s older wing is being renovated) by a young Chinese couple, who also happen to be staying there. In the lobby, Asians outnumber locals, and barring a group of very young Russian gymnasts, you could be forgiven for thinking you were in Beijing or Harbin, as the case may be.

The hotel, a short 10-min walk from Vladivostok’s main train station, is located in a residential area, built into the side of a bluff overlooking Amursky Bay. A good choice for anyone arriving in the city by rail, sea or air, at $125 a night for a double room, it is also excellent value for money. That rate includes a huge spread for breakfast and some of the fastest free WiFi I have ever used!

From our bay-facing balcony, we watch as another great day comes to an end. The hotel’s own restaurant is well appointed and reasonable too, and the combination of a chilled Asahi and Beef Stroganoff couldn’t taste any better.

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Rossiya Diaries: Khabarovsk, and the push South to the Pacific

We awake, all groggy-eyed and hungover, as the Rossiya trundles across a long bridge. Beneath us flows the River Amur, and the rail bridge, no less than 2.6-km of it, is the longest one in Russia. It carries a roadway above it too, and features prominently on the 5000 RUB note!


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Rossiya Diaries: Rain, Tea and Conversations in the Russian Far East

A couple of hours before we awoke this morning, we had stopped at a place called Mogocha. A town inhabited by 12,000 hardy souls, who endure one of the harshest winters on the planet. Think -62C (-80F)! While the very thought of living in that climate sickens us, we turn our attention on Yerofei Pavlovich, our first stop on day 6, and one that marks our entry into the Amurskaya region of the Russian Far East. Even though we’ve officially exited Siberia, the forest is still dominated by Taiga, and this morning it’s set to the backdrop of low lying hills. The Rossiya, meanwhile, is now running 2 hours late, delayed further by ongoing track work.

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