Trans-Siberian Trip Part 5: Russian Trains and Bored in Omsk

Omsk

Our second city in Siberia was Omsk. The night between our previous stop in Tyumen and Omsk was so short compared to the rest of the trains that we were ok to occupy the upper berth🙂 And our stay in Omsk was also pretty short as our next train was at 3 pm local time. Even just from the scarce amount of photographs we took in this city you can say that it was not that very exciting there. Who knows, it might have been due to being tired after spending already 2 nights on the train without a proper home and bed… But then we went to a Russian banya first thing in the morning when we arrived and that was supposed to bring us back to life in theory. It did grant us the feeling of being human again for sure🙂, however the city itself did not have the capacity to motivate us for a more extensive and a deeper visit.

Tyumen – Omsk

distance: plus 572 km

total distance from St Petersburg covered so far: 3932 km

local time: Moscow time + 3 hours

train: train Moscow – Neryungri (never ever before have I heard this geographical name!); takes you to Omsk from Tyumen in just 6 hours 34 minutes

Omsk

Since Omsk was not a very entertaining a city, I think I’m going to stop for a while and explain to you what a Russian train is. The trains that took us from St Petersburg to Moscow and then to Samara were rather posh compared to the rest of the trains circulating on the vast territory of Russia. But from that very first ‘real’ train that took us from Samara to Zlatoust on, we were using the hard-core coaches called platzkart, the cheapest option to discover Russia.

Travelling on a Russian train means sharing – be it space (especially in platzkart with at least 5 other people in your open compartment, but also in the closed compartment, called kupe, with 3 other people), toilets (which can get quite nasty by the end of the day, it’s true), food (there’s always that babushka treating you to her cookies) or stories. It’s also true that some people just hate these coaches with shared compartments where you bang your head on people’s legs (in or without socks) protruding from the upper berths, sleep in ear plugs and try not to touch anything. Sometimes all this can get a little bit too much, but now that I’ve spent quite a lot of time on Russian trains I can tell you that this is a real experience on its own which you shouldn’t miss if you want to understand the life of and in the society in Russia. And as for me, I prefer trains to, say, airplanes, cause they are much more human-scale and you don’t miss out on the distance you cover, particularly with the slower ‘babushka’ trains which make stops in those God forgotten places. And I do prefer platzkart because they are much less claustrophobic than kupe, where you can get ‘trapped’ with a smelly neighbour… And one more thing – the farther you get from Moscow (but even if your train is bound Moscow too) you seem to start forgetting what air conditioning means. After all, it’s such a recent invention, isn’t it?🙂 However out of all the trains that we’ve had there was only one which had neither AC nor a window to open, so we were virtually boiling in there. The rest of the trains had a fortochka (the upper part of the window that you can open) so it was quite bearable.

Tuymen

Each open compartment in a platzkart coach has 6 berths, 4 of which are considered more comfortable and thus preferable and two lateral berths are somewhat less so (pictured above). The least comfortable spots are those immediately after the toilets on both sides of the coach (there will be enough of opening and closing of the door to drive you mad, not mentioning all the other things). As I bought the tickets well in advance, I could secure the lower berths for us the ‘owners’ of which are usually automatically the ‘owners’ of the table. If you are travelling for quite a long distance you can get a set of sheets and a towel, and there’s always boiling water for free which you can use for tea or your kasha. The trains that travel all through Russia can get pretty ‘busy’ as people use them to get from one station to another which means your neighbour might hop off somewhere in the middle of nowhere and in the middle of the night and you will wake up with another neighbour. But there are those who travel from the A to Z destination of the train and you can easily spot them, they create almost their home out of the platzkart🙂

There are trains that make 30 minutes stops in improbable places in the heat of the night while allow just 2-3 minutes for those station where people do actually get on and off. But there are now also trains that make almost no stops in between large cities. But anyway they usually take days to get from one city to another so get prepared! By the way, we paid 16,300 RUB for the trip from St Petersburg to Ulan-Ude but if we didn’t make all those stops, it would have been just about 6,000 RUB with one change in Moscow. And a direct train Moscow-Vladivostok called Rossiya will cost you about 10,000 RUB in platzkart and take 144 hours off of your life one way!

Krasnoyarsk

{early morning, somewhere between Omsk and Krasnoyarsk…}

Russian train tips:

tip #1 which not all Russians are aware of, all trains in Russia except for the local short-distance trains called elektrichka (elektropoezd) run according to the Moscow time. Yep, even those in Vladivostok will depart and arrive on Moscow time. The stations will indicate Moscow time even on their facade clocks. And the tickets will show Moscow time, not the local time. So if you’re moving to the East keep in mind that the trains will depart and arrive a couple of hours later than what your ticket shows🙂

tip #2, when choosing the number of your place in platzkart avoid that which is either too close to 1 or to the last number in the coach (both will be close to the toilet), the same applies to the compartments, kupe.

tip #3, you need a passport when boarding the train. No other document / copy will do! If you ordered your tickets online and printed them out, come up with them and your passport to the train attendant standing outside your coach. If this is a passing train (e.g. doesn’t leave from your departure point) be aware of sometimes a very limited time of the stop!

tip #4, take flip-flops, earplugs, an eye mask (to block the lights from the stations), enough toilet paper (might unexpectedly finish) and wet wipes which you can also use for a quick refreshing ‘shower’ for your tired dusty legs and other parts, particularly when travelling in summer. Take a flask, some tea bags and at least a spoon – remember that boiling water is free on board of the Russian trains! And if you want it to be super authentic, borrow a traditional glass in a metal case from the train attendant, like this one:

Tuymen

tip #5, take a book about travels with you (I had mine about the Papazovs sailing the Atlantic ocean in a lifeboat), load your player up with music and think about other entertainment (see photo below) cause there will be no Internet in between large stations.

tip #6, there’s usually a very limited amount of plugs on the Russian trains and not all of them are 220 V. Take an external charger for you ever-dying smartphone or you will be forced to stand by the plug while your phone battery is charging!

tip #7, take only those food items which wouldn’t perish soon (or eat them immediately!). A good idea would be some instant porridge, instant mashed potatoes or instant noodles (see next tip), but also apples, rusks, buns and cookies.

tip #8, choose you travel time: summer is best in terms of weather (although trains might get super stuffy too) and in terms of neighbors. Summer is the time when mothers take their kids to babushka’s country houses, children go on school trips with their teachers, students travel back home, all in all a safer time I would say.

tip #9, take it easy, be polite and friendly, but do not forget about your personal belongings. I would keep my handbag close by when I sleep and if I’m travelling alone I take it with me to the toilet.

tip #10, when stopping in some city for just several hours, you can always leave your things at the station in the automatic lockers or with the lady who officially guards the things stocked in a large room usually somewhere on the -1 floor (while the technologies normally fail, the lady won’t; the service is 24 / 7 unless the station is super tiny). We did both and paid about 150-300 RUB for a day for 1-2 bags (if you need to take the bags out of the lockers in the middle of the day, you will have to pay again). So take a smaller backpack or a bag where you can fit all the things you would need for a day in the city. And don’t lose the token / receipt to recuperate the bags!

I could have added more tips but then it will take another post. So let’s return to Omsk and our first impressions after we get off the train, went to banya (we were the first customers!) and headed off towards the Irtysh river embankment (see first picture with crazy locals who walk on a slanting ground) via this picturesque district around the railway station…

Omsk

…close to which we had our oatmeal porridge with mors (berry juice) for breakfast in a cafe called Béchamel, surrounded by all sorts of open-air shops and counters. I could feel we were definitely moving eastwards… but also back in time, it felt like 90s!

Omsk

It is believed that Omsk (called so after the Om river) was founded just some 13 years later than St Petersburg, in 1716, in an attempt to defend the Russian borders from the southern steppes. It’s celebrating its birthday this year, so we witnessed some last-minute preparations so traditional for Russia: the continuation of the Lenina street on the other side of the Om river with the highest concentration of old merchant houses was all under construction, for example. We walked along that street up to the local theater and then turned back. The city looked pretty void, as if it was abandoned by its citizen gone somewhere else to celebrate its birthday🙂. By the way, Omsk seem to preserve all those Soviet names of its streets, among which you can find a street named after Broz Tito.

Omsk

Omsk highlights:

long walk along the Irtysh river embankment – together with the wind and the sporty Omsk people

a boat trip along the river – we skipped that but that is usually a nice thing to do in a city on a river

old houses, there’s even an entire street lined with them

Omsk History Museum – shame on us but we only bought some old-school postcards there but didn’t go inside

they also say that there are numerous parks in the city to which fact Omsk owed its unofficial Soviet name ‘Garden City‘ (it’s now rather called ‘City-Stump’ because of the massive cutting down of trees)

there’s also the museum of Dostoyevsky cause he was exiled to a prisoner camp in Omsk for 4 years

Omsk in a few words: Indeed in just few words, Omsk is a provincial city (however big it might be) and calls for quite a lazy stroll.

We walked a bit more in the city, bought some food for the lunch and dinner, then hopped on the bus to the railway station, took our things out from the lockers and headed for our train … which would take us to the next stop: Krasnoyarsk.

This post goes to my On Russia and Travel series.

G.

2 responses to this post.

  1. очень познавательно! читать интересно!

    Reply

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