Preparation and access to the Trans-Siberian Railway
Before boarding the train, the question arises as to whether one needs to prepare specially. In my experience packing a small “railway backpack” with all the things you need while travelling is very useful. It can be stowed away during the journey. There is nothing more annoying than searching for a something specific in a large suitcase in cramped conditions on the Trans-Siberian. The following things should be part of your Trans-Siberian hand luggage:
- Provisions: A large bottle of water, fruit, sweets, pastries, “5-minute terrines” (very popular in Russia and available in all shapes and forms)
- Comfortable clothes: sandals, sweatpants
- Recreation: books, mp3 player, card games, travel diary/li>
- Toiletries: toilet paper, toothbrush and toothpaste
You should arrive at the station early for your first journey on the Trans-Siberian Railway. One is in a foreign country, everything is a little different and it makes sense to avoid stress at the start. A good half hour is appropriate. In Russia people do not wait on the platform but in waiting rooms. There you will find a huge clock next to which hangs an electronic timetable with the track numbers. When the train arrives the doors to the platform are opened and you can enter. You need not worry that you’ll miss the train. Everyone rushes to the door in a panic as soon as it opens. If you thought wanting to be first in line is a typically German phenomenon, you are quite wrong. People in Russia are far worse. 😉
Once you are on the platform you only have to find your railway car. The numbers are on small signs in the windows. Alternatively, the two car attendants standing in front of each car can assist you. You have to board the car indicated on the ticket. In addition to your ticket, you should have your passport at hand as it is checked before boarding.
On the Train
Once inside the Trans-Siberian train you can stow your luggage and take your seat. Shortly after departure the attendant comes around handing out bed sheets and collecting tickets. It is advisable to replace your street shoes with slippers or something similar and put on some comfortable sweatpants. That’s how the Russians do it. Keep in mind that you are not just travelling from A to B but will be living here for a while.
The train stops several times at smaller stations during the journey so you can get out and stretch your legs. On the platform you find older women selling food, toys and, of course, vodka. The homemade foods are definitely worth trying, especially as they are very cheap. The locals are mad about toys, for some reason, especially stuffed toy animals. I was amazed that anyone could even consider sharing a cramped 3rd Class compartment with a giant teddy bear, but each to his own. You need not worry about being left behind at the stations. The attendant gets off with you and alerts you when the journey is about to continue. As long as you stay within sight and earshot nothing can happen.
There is also no need to worry about missing your destination. The attendant knows exactly who will get off where after collecting the tickets at the start and they tell you. You will be woken in time even if you arrive at night.
If you travel 2nd Class and have a mixed gender compartment, it is customary for the men leave the compartment for a while in the evening so the women can undress undisturbed. In the 3rd Class where everything is open there is no privacy. If you are wearing comfortable sweatpants you can always sleep in them. I was surprised at how well you sleep on the Trans-Siberian Railway. HOWEVER, you should take precautions against snoring fellow passengers 😉