Hey there and welcome to the BigAppleSchool podcast. My name is Sam.
And today we’re asking what’s the craic about the Trans-Siberian railway. So we’re gonna find out what the heck that is, and we’re gonna define that for you a little bit. And why is it important to tourists, cause it is. How long it takes to travel – I’m gonna quiz Michael a little bit on that.
When and where we travelled on it, or if we travelled on it, you’re gonna find out our experiences. What our expectations were and were they met. Our impressions of the staff, what we thought of the cabin, and the people there et cetera.
What we ate, what we did, and did everything go according to our plan. And what we would do differently if we were going again. So, something to say about all of those things. What places we can’t reach by railway. We’ll talk about that.
So some places we’ve visited that maybe not just as assessible. And others which we can visit by train, cause there’s more than just Trans-Siberian railway, there’s another… So we’ll talk all about all those good stuff and I hope you’ll enjoy it, listening at home or wherever you are. Okay, Michael.
I’m just laid back and ready to kick on.
So what the heck is the Trans-Siberian railway? Can you explain?
Well in my own words it’s the Trans-Siberian railway it’s one of the longest in the whole world. It connects Europe to Asian part of the world. And I think that’s why it’s called Trans-Siberian railway.
Going across Siberia. Well there’s some, I think, it’s confusing with people who aren’t Russian. What Siberia is… I mean, what Russian Far East.. Well, google it if you are not Russian and are not sure, Google the Russian Far East, and Google Siberia.
And look at the actual places, cause generally we think of everything in the Asian part of Russia, generally people think that’s Siberia, but it’s not!
We are in Siberia now, in Novosibirsk. But if go far far east, it’s not really Siberia. But many people regard… Yeah, you can go from Saint Petersburg, sorry, you can go from Moscow.
Really? Not from Saint Petersburg? I thought that the road…
That’s not part of the Trans-Siberian.
But you can go from Moscow all the ay to Vladivostok. It’s pretty much on the doorstep of Japan, and you can go there by train.
Sure, sure. Actually, it’s on this road, especially on the list of what a lot of people wanna do.
Yeah, we were thinking why it is important. So why is it important to tourists? Why do they want to do it?
Bucket list or something…
I think it’s quite interesting.. Okay, well, the road itself, because the road itself speaks for itself. You’re gonna spend almost a week on the train – it’s something unique. Then, talking about being in train.
What happen to you – you can slow your life down, you’re practically on metal wheels, you know. So that feeling of being in this wagon and coaches all 6 days or 7 days -I think….
I’m gonna quiz you on that.
Yeah, I think the feeling is what makes it really special. And of course the views, you know, from the window. If, hopefully, you’re not traveling in the winter.
Or maybe you want to see the winter view.
Just wanna see lots of snow, lots and lots of snow.
I think it’s got a reputation of being something adventurous as well, whether it is or not. I mean, we’ll talk about it later.
I think the adventurous enduring 6 days… Of not being able to move around.
So listen, if you can from an island of Ireland, I mean, I can travel from North to South in about 7-8 hours by car, right? So I mean the idea of being, for a long time being travelling-travelling-travelling-travelling is quite an adventure to me, you know.
And of course you don’t necessarily have to just start in Moscow. You could go on a train from somewhere in Europe. You could go from another... Even western European country, and travel all the way to Moscow. You can travel across a couple of different continents. So it could be a real adventure.
And I mean, you don’t know what to expect, especially if you’re, I mean, as I said, people don’t really know Russia so well, if they’re not born here, if they haven’t lived here. There’s that sense of unknown as well. So yeah, we’ll get down into it. Oh there are a few nice places like lake Baikal.
I mean, great nature, and of course lots of cities on along the ways as well.
But cities are bad. We talked about cities. So, I’m gonna quiz you.
How long does it take to get from one end to the other?
Yeah, if we’re talking about from Moscow to Vladivostok, I think it takes like 6 days?
Okay. Now, maybe I’m not a good quiz master. I’m assuming and I believe I’m right in saying, from memory, that it’s 7 days.
You’re going for … time and I think it’s 7 days. I hope I’m right.
I hope it’s not because of the time difference.
Anyway, it’s 7 in one direction, 8 to the other direction.
What do you mean? Why do you have to go the other direction?
I mean, you have the choice of course, you’ve had the experience, you don’t necessarily have to go back by train.
You can fly back, yeah, it’s gonna be so hard.
Airplanes, yeah. Not stuck. So, okay, you passed the test, you didn’t do too badly.
I mean it’s a dream for me, I wanna do that in the next 2 years.
So you see the appeal of it?
I wanna do that, I wanna do that.
I’ve done the south last year. I went as far as Crimea. I went as far as Crimea last year, so. I went to Crimea, saw everything there and came back to Novosibirsk. I want to complete the circle. I wanna go to Far East, but initially I was thinking about going from here.
But now I think – why not make history, you know? Why not do this trip everybody wanna do, you know? From Moscow to Vladivostok? So I think it’s gonna be from Moscow to Vladivostok. Hopefully.
Which is… You kinda answered my next question, but okay. I’ll talk about it too. Have you travelled on the railway line? When and where? And so I guess you’ve on the Trans-Siberian as far as somewhere in Eastern Russia? Did you go all the way to Moscow?
So you went from Novosibirsk to Moscow?
So you travelled a good bit of it, bot all of it, but a good bit of it.
You can get a train from Moscow to pretty much anywhere, right?
Sure sure sure. Oh probably I don’t even have to do the Moscow-Novosibirsk one again, cause I’ve done it several times. Talking about going from here to Far East.
You could argue! I think that’s technicality! I don’t agree, I think. Can I spook a record, not allows…
I’ll tell you about my experience. Back in 2011 I decided I wanted to see more of Russia. I was really quite interested in learning more about Russia and the culture, and the cities, and seeing as much as possible.
And I thought – how can I do that? I wasn’t living in Russia. And I thought – hey, why don’t I go by train? I can travel and visit some cities.
That is what I thought too.
And well, that’s what I did. It’s not cheap! But I managed to scrape the money together and do that. And I started in St Petersburg!
Wow, wonderful! I’ve never been there before.
And I got.. I stayed there for a few days, I got a little bit of an impression. I’d like to go back and see more of it. I got a little bit of an impression and then I went by fast train, not the most modern one, but it was quite… 2011, it was fast, I think it was 4 hours, but now it’s even quicker.
And I went then to Moscow, and it was great. And of course I got off, I spent a little bit of time in Moscow. And then went on my train the whole way to Vladivostok.
Woah! So you have done it already!
I’ve done it. What else is there to life? I can just lie down now and rest. Rest my weary bones, I’ve achieved it all.
Yeah definitely. It’s half-way. Well that’s wonderful! I mean… So what tips would you give for..?
We’ll come down to that. Hold your horses! Hold your horses!
I’m trying to! Cause I’m just trying to…
Well, I went on this train, and I’m not gonna go into too much yet, cause we’ll get.. But I’ll tell you where I went and where I stopped.
Yeah, tell about your stops, yeah.
I went all the way through. I didn’t stop in Novosibirsk the way I know…
Because you knew you’re gonna live here, so there was no point.
I don’t know why I didn’t, but I chose not to. And I went to…
You didn’t stop at the capital city of Siberia. That’s a crime!
The more you stop, the more expensive it is. So you have to, you know, think of that, because you’ve got hotels, you have to get the train again. And so it can be… So the more you stop, the more complicated it could get.
So I went the whole way from Moscow until I got to Irkutsk. And I decided I wanted to visit Irkutsk a little bit, to see… It’s not a big city.
Yeah, the main reason was there is Lake Baikal. And the most beautiful – I think, the biggest freshwater lake in the world?
Fresh water, the deepest. It’s got 20-25% of freshwater, just in one place. And it’s got unique wild life and some beautiful views. And so I thought – yeah, let’s visit that, I’m game. And by the way I was alone. I had an adventure.
That’s a real adventure, because you need to speak Russian.
I didn’t speak so well, I knew some words and phrases, so it was challenging. We’ll get into that a little bit later. I went to a place called Listvyanka and I found out later, that there are other places that locals would recommend more.
But for tourists, they tend to say Listvyanka. But if you really wanna get a better view and more of an experience, there are other places that locals would tell you that’s far better. But I just… Listvyanka. And from there I stayed in the hotel - I remember it rained a lot. But anyway it didn’t stop me from..
Exploring, seeing the lake. I didn’t go out on it, but I enjoyed the view. And then… I met, actually, two Australian Russians, and they were born and grew up in Australia, but their grandparents Russians! And so I met these two guys- of course they spoke English.
And we met, and we travelled a wee bit back to Irkutsk and spent a little bit of time. I met a few friends, who were Russian students, who kinda supported me a little bit, spoke some English with me.
Sure, sure. Gave you company.
Then I went to a place called Ulan-Ude.
It’s a capital city of Irkutsk, no?
It’s the capital… I think it’s the capital of Buryatia.
Forgive me if I’ve made a mistake in that. Which Buryat people are Russian, but they also kinda have their own…
It’s a republic. Something like that.
And they have kind of unique heritage, they’re not European Russian. They’re more… I wanna say they’re connected with Mongolian heritage, if I’m mistaken, please forgive me.
Yeah, definitely. I mean, that’s just kind of like speculation.
It’s famous for having the biggest Lenin head in the world. There’s this huge statue or monument to Lenin, and it’s just his head, and it’s huge. And I’ve got the picture. I think I asked someone to take a picture for me I guess, but I wasn’t into selfies.
I think I have a picture from the side. And then the final place I went to was Vladivostok. Which I was quite impressed with. It’s beside the sea, which is great for me, I’m born on an island. And I’m used to being near the sea.
And I went out to Russky island on a boat, on a little ferry. And I enjoyed – not so much the island, but I enjoyed the ferry. It was really nice. So that was my…
Back in 2011, so that was my Trans-Siberian…
That was my experience. So, well, what were our impressions. So, well, come back to you – what do you think? You travelled from Novosibirsk to Moscow? Several times?
Yeah, I mean, I really liked it a lot. From the beginning I told you about this aspect, you know, a time to slow yourself down and all that. When I’m in the train, mostly I just eat, pee, sleep, I’m reading probably – that was all. Yeah…
Yeah. Once or twice I got talking to people, but really I’m just relaxing, yeah.
Yeah, one we travelled with my family, together. Last year we actually we saw – the road was from Novosibirsk to Moscow by train. Then from Moscow we went on the road trip, around the places I told you about. Rostov, Krasnodar.
I know that place. I’ve been there once.
Oh wow, this is really nice. Voronezh, before Rostov, and then Krasnodar, then Crimea, then way back we went through Anapa, Novorossiysk, Gelendzhik, then….
Now you’re just trying to impress me. Jump on me.
Oh come on, when you were talking about coming through Trans-Siberian, I was listening jealous, like ‘wow! I need to do that too, you know’. So we all got… So we went the opposite way. You went that way, I went that way.
I mean, I’ve never been that direction. I mean, it’s different. Maybe it’s really strange.
No no, it’s really different because it’s near the Black sea, so we were touring the places near the Black sea. We went to a very interesting city after Sochi, we went to Pyatigorsk, it’s a very very interesting place, because the highest mountains in Russia situated there, Elbrus.
I’ve heard of it. I think it’s the highest in Europe as well.
Not so sure. Let me not speculate. In Russia it is the highest.
At least people can google. We’re not operating Google at the moment. Podcast that’s free from Google. So forgive us. I have sometimes made a mistake, cause I remember talking about Mars. No, but I’ve remembered afterwards that’s not right.
Because I wanted to talk about Mars, and I thought, at the time I thought that it has the same gravity as Earth. And I don’t know why – it’s got about three times less! I made a terrible mistake.
I mean, that makes us humans, you know.
Were your expectations met? I mean, what did you expect?
You know, my expectation was met.. I met people, I had a unique experience, because before I came to Russia I had never travelled by train before, before I came here. Yeah, it was the first time! Actually, it was the second or third day I flew into Russia, I took a train. So…
Yeah, it was really strange, it was really, I mean, unique. But it was in winter, so I saw only snow. Because the idea at first was ‘yeah, let’s go via the train, in three days I’m gonna see half of Russia, cool! I really want that!’.
But it was a kind of mistake, yeah, all the snow. My first experience. But all the time I really knew, I felt the advantage of, you know, going by train: safety, calm, you save some money, cheaper…
I’m not so sure if it is so cheap now, but it was cheaper earlier.
I mean, if you compare it to going to Moscow, yeah, then it’s cheap. It depends, actually. There are lowcosters right now to Moscow, yeah, like Pobeda and the rest of them, which could be really really cheap. Probably cheaper than the train.
But the disadvantage is you can’t carry things more than… I mean, you have to pay extra for kilograms and stuff like that.
It depends on what you want to bring.
I don’t know, I think it would be a great adventure. And more like what you’re talking about – it was more like a relaxed kinda… Not trapped, but you were left in a situation where you’re kind of a limbo, where you don’t have a lot to do, you don’t have a lot of options. It’s not necessarily a bad thing.
But that’s not what I expected. My expectations were not really met. As far as landscape – often, I mean, such a huge country, often the landscape is flat. And I wasn’t really expecting… I don’t know what I expected, but I wasn’t expecting that.
You were expecting something magical.
I mean, there are beautiful places along the way, but you have to remember that to make the places beautiful, there are also places which are just ordinary. And some are so huge, there are some ordinary places to contrast it. I kinda forgot.
I come from Scotland and Northern Ireland or England. Where you’re used to green rolling. You don’t think that the whole world is covered with hills, right? So I think maybe I had wrong expectation, but I learned anyway.
For me, my expectation was met. Once or twice I got talking to people, so it drew me closer. Like the first time when I was coming from Moscow to Novosibirsk I met a friend with a kid. He almost couldn’t speak then, he was so little.
We started chatting, we got a lot of children around. We started playing with him, then the mother wanted to feed him. And he said no mom, I’m not gonna leave this cabin, you need to come. So the mom had to come to my cabin to feed him.
That’s how we got talking with the mom, then how did we do that? We only used gestures and drawing and all that, because she couldn’t say anything in English. I couldn’t say anything in Russian.
But we talked, we joked, we had a good time. We played some games. I had some table games with me, so we played some games and so on. I mean, my first trip gave me… I mean, I drew me closer to Russia and Russian.
Before I got to Novosibirsk in 3 days I could count to 9, I knew a lot of stuff like car houses and stuff like that – they taught me how to say that. So, I mean, I learned as well. I think that was what I was looking for – this cultural mix and all that. So my expectations were met.
As for me, I mean, I made some friends. I was quite shy and still am. I mean, not shy, shy’s the wrong word, just not outgoing. So I’m more of an introvert, I’m more… less outgoing. But I did get to know a few people along the way, whether I liked it or not.
But overall I was glad that I got to know people. And got to know a few different people, and kept in touch for a while, but, you know, it was long time ago, so… and if you never meet again it’s tricky to continue.
But we did… I intended to just sit and read, and maybe taking the adventure of it. Time just stops, and then you can buy noodles.
Yeah yeah yeah, that’s the food, that’s the food on train, yeah!
You can get noodles and other snacks and stuff too.
Mashed potato. You just pour water inside, it’s like a powder, you pour water inside, you know…
We call it smashy, it’s a brand name. But the idea of the train is that there’s samovar or… what would it be called? Like…
Yeah like a kettle or something.
Kinda like a big water boiler, kinda kettle idea. So you’re buying your pot noodle or you get whatever, mashed potato dried, and you have free access to this hot water, and you do what you want.
I mean, you can get your tea and your coffee and everything, but that’s the only thing that you’re really provided, so you bring your own food. But you can buy it at some stops whenever the train stops.
And we do have a buffet on the train.
Yeah! So that was my experience, the first time tin Novosibirsk – and it was really very strange. Right now I kept… I mean, now it’s kinda mystery.
Why did the guy who put me on the train, you know, saw me to the train station, railway station and bought a ticket for me – why didn’t he get some food for me? I had almost nothing with me when I went on train.
He just told me – Michael, you see, this is the buffet, you go there and eat, you know, whatever you want and stuff, you know, 24 hours open. Thank a lot, yeah, sure.
I never bought in a buffet.
And it was a big scandal when I went there and told them ‘guys, I wanna eat rice’, you know. You just think everybody understands English.
It was really very tough. It took a couple of minutes before…
I got a question for you,
You have a different color skin to me. And when you come to Russia, and even now, you’re walking along the street, people know you’re not Russian.
Look at me, it’s not immediately obvious, right? How do people treat you when they first meet you?
Do they talk to you in English straight away?
In Siberia, being black it’s not really very common, so yeah. People are… People pay attention to you. If you leave the short off Siberia, then people really don’t pay attention to you much, cause there are a lot of blacks and stuff like that. So yeah, I mean, people pay attention.
And the reaction could be somehow personal, there’s nothing, you know… So some people are really very shy, some people are really very excited. People try to say any English word they know to you and stuff.
Cause people could stop me and say ‘Извините, подскажите пожалуйста’, you know. They wanna know directions. And sometimes I can help, and sometimes I can’t. But they don’t assume that I’m not Russian, whereas they can’t assume you’re Russian.
There’ve been case when I had to come in actually. So, somebody was asking me something and they looked at me and went ‘Ah, he’s a foreigner’ then they decided to ask some Russian. And I understand the mistake they made, the didn’t know I really know the city very very well, so they asked the other guy.
The guy was like mmm, weeeell, you know. And so I went ‘okay let me tell you, you need to go like this and that’. Oh, thank you! Oh I should’ve known. They get shocked, definitely.
So I guess there are advantages and disadvantages.
Yeah, advantages and disadvantages. But I mean, I’m from South continent. I don’t see all these things any longer, I’ve been here for a long time, I don’t see it, really. And that’s not a problem at all. I understand, you know.
Did everything go according to plan on your journey?
Yeah, I mean, everything was smooth. The last year we went there – we got to Moscow just the time we planned to get there. The subway was open then, so we got there, took the subway straight to the hotel. So everything went as planned, yeah.
As for me, I didn’t miss my train. It’s hard for thing not to go to plan. I think the train always goes pretty much on time.
It might go slowly, slower than you expect, but it pretty much gets on time. So… Just that my expectations were different.
Definitely, yeah, I think you were expecting that at one point the plane is gonna be flying the sky or something like that.
What would you do different if you did it again? When you do it again… For you.
Yeah, as I told you, in two years’ time I think I’ll complete the circle, you know. Going as far as the end.
*sings* I think it’s Elton John.
I would probably bring a couple more books maybe, but I think.. I mean, not to say you shouldn’t read books… You said you had brought like a couple of board games? I think that’s a great idea, cause you can socialize, you can….
That can facilitate socializing, so I think that’s important, because listen, if you’re trapped… You’re on a train, not trapped, but you’re on a train for 7 days – it’s better to socialize. Even if you’re not a sociable person, if you’re not generally outgoing like me, socialize!
Because I found… Initially I kinda resisted that, but when I did start to socialize, time went quicker, it was more interesting. I learned about culture.
You learned something, definitely.
Learned some language. You get to meet people. People are stuck there too. And if you’re friendly, they’re friendly to you, and you can find someone to talk with and to socialize.
Yeah, that’s really important. And it’s gonna be nice to bring something local to you, something that Russians probably haven’t played before – card games and stuff like that.
Let them enjoy your culture. Even if the language varies, they’ll still enjoy it.
It’s a table game, yeah, sure, you can explain, you know, do some gestures. Everything will be fine, explain how to play the game.
Have you even been anywhere where you can’t reach by rail? Somewhere different in Russia?
A place you can’t reach by rail? No, I think practically everywhere I’ve been to I could get there by rail. Probably Pyatigorsk.
No, no, no, we went by car. We were on a road trip. I think Pyatigorsk doesn’t have a railway that connects to all the part of the country.
Well, I’ve been… Now it’s getting a railway or has got the railway line.
I was in… Yakutsk. Northern part, quite Northern.
Very cold place actually.
I was there Autumn, kinda Autumn, late Autumn, so… But I was there. Now I think they’re building a railway line, but at the time I was there… Well I spent like 12-13 days there, which is quite long, because there’s not a lot to do. I mostly spent my time in museums.
There are some interesting scientific museums there, like related to permafrost and mammoths. There’s a diamond. It’s an important place for diamonds. And I visited a village called Tektyur. I think that was Tektyur.
And I think there are a lot of Tektyurs in Yakutsk. But I went to this village with, I think 800 people. And I was like one of maybe only two or three genuine English speakers. And I kinda visit this school when they were all like WOW!
We made it here, where English is really spoken.
It’s so peaceful, so peaceful. I liked it more than Yakutsk city, although it was fine. It wasn’t a place to stay too long, but then I probably wouldn’t have wanted to stay too long in the village. But that was interesting.
I went there in a different year, 2010. That was interesting. I’ve also been… By rail though, I went to Sochi when I lived in Rostov-on-Don.
And I was in… I think by bus I went to Taganrog. Just like Black sea.
Yeah, it’s near Krasnodar I think, yeah.
And somewhere all in that region. And so I’ve travelled a bit.
Yeah you’ve seen almost the whole Russia.
More than a lot of Russians. So I can be grateful for that.
Sochi was nice. It was during the Paralympics. Was it 2014 or 2013?
2013 probably. I’m not so sure.
They’ll know, they have google. But it was good, I enjoyed that, I went with friends. We also went by train. Well, initially I went… Well when I went on Trans-Siberian it was four bunk beds, or I think it’s called a kupe.
But with friends it was more of an open cabin. It was a little bit cheaper and, well, with friends that was okay. Because you didn’t have to worry about sleeping underneath a stranger, maybe, not comfortable. So it was good. I think it was an interesting experience too.
And it was better with friends. But be sociable! It’s my advice.
Yeah, you have to be sociable. And get enough things for yourself!
So would we recommend it? Well I’m saying yes. I would recommend it, but be sociable, be prepared to be sociable. Bring a book if you want, but don’t depend on it. Be doing something else, not just reading all the time. I think a board game or two and that can get you into interesting people.
Cards maybe. And get… And show photos – people love to see photos. You can break barriers with language.
Try to be yourself when you’re talking to your people, you know.
Unless you can be Batman.
Whatever you say, about you or where you come from, is really really appreciated.
So enjoy it, whether you’re Russian or otherwise. Enjoy it. I mean, don’t expect it to be full of excitement, but expect it to be a chilling out session, socializing.
It’s time to socialize, to relax, to, you know, to be in this metal box, you know, for a lot of days.
I mean, there’s a feeling you need to catch when you are in there. So just wait and keep hoping to catch the feeling. Yeah.
*sings* So, that was the craic about Trans-Siberian railways. We talked about what it is, kinda a little bit about where it is. But you can Google. How long it takes. Our experiences in it. What we thought of it, what kind of expectations and reality.
Did it go according to plan? Everywhere else we’ve been and a couple of places travelling by train or otherwise. And would we recommend it? We’ve done all that, guys. And that was the craic about the Trans-Siberian railway.