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: Khabarovsk, we meet again!

The last time we passed through this way was over 3 years ago. The Rossiya was running 90-minutes behind, and our brief stop in the city was chilly and all too foggy. It’s a much clearer day today; temperatures are hovering around the 30C (85F) mark, and this time around we find ourselves on the business end of Khabarovsk station…
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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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Rossiya Diaries: Through the River Valleys of Siberia

Having set our alarms for 22:50 Moscow time, we awake just as we’re pulling into Ulan Ude. It is just shy of 4 in the morning local time and Igor, the Provodnik who’s taken over the night shift from Olga, is baffled to see us up and about. But this isn’t just another station on the Trans-Siberian – it is the junction for the storied Trans-Mongolian route, and we have stepped off the Rossiya to pay our respect. Our efforts pay off almost immediately! Across the platform from our carriage stands a steam locomotive – not another plinthed one this time, but one that’s actually in steam – bookended by a diesel on one end and an electric on the other! What more could we possibly ask for?


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Rossiya Diaries: Baikal, the Sacred Sea

As we slept, our train would have crossed the Yenisei, the largest of the rivers that flows into the Arctic Ocean, and one that marks the border between western and eastern Siberia. Ilyanska is our first stop in the latter, and although not as cold as Omsk, it still has an old world feel to it. Indigenous people can be seen in larger numbers on its platforms, and the women in particular look markedly different. The offerings amongst the platform vendors has increased too, with smoked fish from nearby Lake Baikal being one of the more prominent additions.

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Rossiya Diaries: Taiga, Taiga, burning bright!

I am awakened by the slow rumble of our train passing over a fairly lengthy bridge. Lifting the window blind only a little, so as not to awake the remaining occupants of our cabin, I discern through the condensation that we are rolling into Omsk, our first stop on day 3. The river we just crossed was the Irtysh, the chief tributary of the Ob. Outside, it’s a chilly 6C and the station clock resolutely reads 03:15 AM. The smell of burning coal fills the air. In the distance stands a steam locomotive, plinthed. It’s a bit of a time warp here at Omsk, and also a gentle reminder that we are now well and truly in Siberia.

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Rossiya Diaries: Through the Urals to Yekaterinburg

The massive bridge over the River Kama, one of the longest tributaries of the Volga,  marks our entry into the industrial city of Perm. We’ve gained 2 hours over Moscow and traveled over 1400-km already. During WWII, a lot of military factories were set up in Perm, and it started being referred to as Molotov, after the Russian minister of Molotov Cocktail fame!

We bid dasvidaniya to Lena and Sergei at Perm, and will now have the cabin to ourselves till our next halt, Yekaterinburg. We stock up on breakfast supplies and then return to our private space moments before departure.

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