Aboard the Transsiberian to Irkutsk

Fifty eight hours can feel like eternity, especially if you spend it on a train.

However for me, time flew by rather quickly, especially if you make some new Russian friends. The fact that they understood a couple of words of English, made communication that much easier. We shared some food, shots of alcohol and when I woke up the next morning two of them had left at Novosibirsk, but not without leaving a pack of cookies behind as a present.

The remaining cabin mate wasn’t that talkative so I spent most of the time, sorting through photos, playing games and watching half a season of Arrow on my iPad. But there is only so much you can do on a tablet, for even that to get boring. I was craving some human interaction, so I decided to check out the onboard restaurant. It was dark already so I was betting on other travellers socialising there. My theory paid off as the moment I entered the restaurant I could hear a group of people speaking English. I didn’t approach them straight away, instead opting to order a bottle of Coke and sat behind them. I was slightly nervous as I’m not used to approaching complete strangers. Once I saw an opportunity I stood up and introduced myself: “I happen to overhear you speaking English” I managed to get out of me nervously. The three of them, one girl and two guys looked at me: “Come join us” one of the guys answered with an Australian accent. The fear subsided, so I sat down and joined in on their conversation, beer and card games. Caroline started talking about her huge stash of instant noodles, which she had bought wholesale in London and that she was still living off it after two weeks of travelling. She was very proud of her instant noodles plan, because the longer she travelled and used up her instant noodles, the more space she will gain in her backpack over time. She also told us about the overprotective Russian “babushka” in her cabin, who declared herself as Caroline’s guardian angel, by feeding her food and equipping her with extra scarves and warm clothes so that she won’t freeze to death once we arrived in Siberia.

Talking about freezing, once we finally left the train in Irkutsk, we were greeted by a brisk -18C. To add fire to the situation, it was pretty windy to boot, which made everything feel twice as cold.

I said goodbye to the other travellers and even got a wave from my quiet Russian cabin mate, who I found out was heading to Vladivostok. I chose the closest hostel to the station, so I didn’t had to walk that far, but once I made it to the door, I could feel my fingers and toes longing for some warmth.

I pressed the buzzer – someone answered in Russian – I replied in English – the door opened.

“Hi, I have a reservation” I said when the girl opened the door. I could hear lots of people talking in the background in Russian. The girl looked confused: “We don’t have any beds left” she answered. A shiver went down my spine at the thought of going back outside. But after double checking things, they found their mistake and a bed for me to sleep on for the night.

Once I dropped off all my stuff, I sat down at the kitchen table and started checking my messages. The Russian group was getting ready for dinner and it didn’t take long for them to crowd around me. When I looked up I found a plate of sausages and potatoes in front of me. “For you” a Buryat girl said to me. I thanked them and started eating silently, until one of the guys started asking me some questions in the little amount of English he could muster. I replied in a mix of English and Russian, which they found quite amusing. After a while we managed to communicate via a mix of English, Russian, hand gestures and Google Translate. It didn’t take too long for us to exchange little gifts and stories from my trip and showed them the pictures I took on the way as well as photos of my family and where I was from.

It was getting late and the eldest of the group went to sleep, so that only the younger ones were left. Even them were packing up so I decided to head to bed too.

The next morning I got up quite early, woken up by the shuffling sound of the Russians eating and packing up. I managed to get hold of the guy, who started talking to me yesterday, before they left. “We are leaving” he said. “We left some food in the kitchen!” he added. “Spasiba” I replied before they left the hostel and shut the door. I realised that it was only me and the receptionist left in the hostel. I took the plate of food they left on the kitchen counter and tucked into the sausages and potatoes, feeling happy that I once again met such great people in Russia.