Finding the platform for the train in Moscow wasn't easy. Like all Russian signs, the departure boards were in the cyrillic alphabet and not easy to decipher. Asking various station staff seemed to produce ambiguous responses. After the debacle in Warsaw, we were hugely relieved to eventually find it and celebrated with a beer in the double compartment which was to be home for the next 6 days.
We soon met up with the travellers in the compartments either side of us. Jane & Sue were two English ladies going as far as Mongolia then heading for Hong Kong. (They had brought their own cafetiere with ground coffee which they shared with us every morning - bliss!) Jeremie and Justine were a French couple at the start of their 6 months of travel to south-east Asia. (Jeremie made himself very popular by fixing up a camping shower he'd brought with him in the shower compartment which was much warmer and stronger than the built-in one.)
Jeremie, chief shower-attendant
We departed Moscow in late evening in the dark. I woke the in the early morning light to the wonderful sight of frozen lakes and rivers surrounded by snow. We had thought that we would be too late to see the last of the Russian winter but in the early part of the journey, and later in Mongolia, we were treated to many more spectacular snowscapes.
A wheeltapper checks for cracks
Several times a day, the train would stop at various stations for anything between 10 and 45 mins to take more passengers on board. As long as you didn't stray too far, it was an opportunity to stretch the legs and view the food on offer from local people on the platform. This varied from grilled chicken and dried fish to dumplings and savoury pies.
Life on the train was very relaxing. During the long gaps between stops, we would chat, read, or simply watch the world go by out of the window. Even though there were long spells of silver-birch forest with the occasional lake or river thrown in, we never seemed to get bored with something different always catching your eye.
Meal times were a regular highlight of the day. The food in the restaurant cars was much better than we had been led to believe. The cars changed according to which country we were going through. The food was varied, freshly cooked and relatively inexpensive - certainly a lot cheaper than a bacon butty in First Class on the Caledonian Express.
Pete tackles a borscht (beetroot soup)
The waitress tackles our bar bill
The Mongolian restaurant car definitely gets the prize for being the most ornate
Most of the Russian towns and cities outside of Moscow looked very dour. The roads were often dirt tracks. The wooden houses were often in a poor state of repair. Living conditions looked tough. There were many derelict factories, relics of the Soviet era. In many respects, Russia felt like a third world country with not much sign of optimism for the future.
After many miles of relatively flat landscape, the railway gradually entered the more undulating scenery of the Ural Mountains. More hills than mountains, they never rise much above 500m. and mark the border between European Russia and Asia.
All this wonderful scenery can get too much for a fellow
Many stations had steam engines from the old days on display
You have been warned!
Toast to a honeymoon couple on the train
On Day 5 of the journey from Moscow comes one of the highlights of the trip - Lake Baikal. It is a rift lake and, because of its massive depth, it contains the greatest volume of freshwater anywhere in the world - about 20% of the earth's total supplies.
We first glimpsed the Lake as the railway wound down a steep valley towards its southern end. It was still completely frozen and occasionally figures could be seen far off-shore, fishing through holes in the ice. This was at the beginning of our final day in Russia before crossing over into Mongolia - they'd saved the best until last.