Saturday, February 3, 2018
In 1891, Nicholas II made a grand voyage across what was then the Russian Empire on what was called The Tsar’s Train. The potentate ventured from the imperial capital of Saint Petersburg to Vladivostok, on the frozen rim of Siberia, more than 9,000 kilometers away.
The same route, now known as the Trans-Siberia Railroad, exists today, with branch lines that allow journeys to destinations as far as China and Mongolia.
Unlike Tsar Nicholas II, I would begin by voyage in Moscow, where I landed at Domodedovo Airport in October. First pro tip: Dress warmly: the temperature was about -3 degrees! Used to tropical weather, I was chilled, wearing only a thin jacket, winter hat and hand-knit gloves.
Two months before leaving for Russia, I had purchased my tickets, spending US$285 for an 87-hour passage from Moscow to Irkutsk on the Trans-Siberia Railway and $200 for the 22-hour journey from Irkutsk to Ulaanbaatar, the Mongolian capital. Purchase can also be made in Moscow, or via websites such as russianrail.com or expresstorussia.com, which will deliver tickets to your hotel.
Before departing, I stopped at a supermarket. Three days on a train traveling second class meant I had to lay in a supply of food and sundries, such as instant noodles, flip flops for the shower and five cans of beer. (Second pro tip: Russian Rail officers say that you can’t bring more than five cans on the train.
I was at Moscow Yaroslavskaya Station, which forms a rail terminus shared with Kazansky and Leningradsky Stations, about three hours before departure, as suggested. Each car of my train had from six to nine (quite clean) passenger compartments, a toilet/shower room and an officer space.
In my second-class compartment, towels, blankets, mattresses and pillows were neatly stacked. There was ample space for four to sleep, two on upper berths, which folded away during the daytime, and two on lower berths. We left Moscow just before midnight, starting my Siberian adventure.