v v, I took the Trans-Sib in late fall and January, and January was stunning. The snow and the woods were just un-ending. Late fall was ok but I missed the leaves changing color. (I think it was late fall because I can't remember the exact date and I can't remember green trees. I don't remember the month but I would bet that every month has something going for it.)
I don't think there was a towel in my compartment. There is no shower for 2nd Class cars/kupes, so the towel would be a bit less needed. I used a medium sized travel towel and washed up at the common sink every morning. It dried pretty quickly both winter and fall, the air in the train is fairly dry but not bone dry.
I went 2nd Class Hard Sleeper, which is a form of Kupe like Scouse Andy mentions. It is a 4 berth room with nice sized beds and a table that can be set up. 2nd Class Soft Sleeper costs more but is only slightly larger. I don't think hard or soft mean anything about the beds just about the level of space that you get. In kupe you usually have 4 people to start with and then frequently you end up with just 2 or 3 people for the part of the trip from Irkutsk to Moscow.
Deluxe 1st Class in really cool, it has just 2 beds, one up, one down, a table and a little seat PLUS it has en suite sink, shower and if memory serves, a toilet. But I am not sure about the toilet. But I really lusted after that shower on day 4 and day 5! 1st Class is worth the extra money! The share toilet was always clean for the short time we were in China, but shortly after we got to Russia it got kind of bad the first trip and the second trip it was really filthy.
The cafe car was good in China, and not that expensive. In Russian the soups and the borscht were pretty good, the other meals were kind of hit or miss. It seems like each of us found a dish we liked but they ran out of those dishes 2 days out of Moscow. Maybe we were supposed to tip/bribe them more? Not sure.
Tip the provodnik to lock your compartment when you are out shopping for food and beer during the stops. I never lost anything but the people I traveled with said that theft was fairly common if you didn't lock up.
We ate a lot of smoked fish and sausage, and drank a decent amount of beer. I brought about 4 Japanese ramen containers, 2 little red gouda cheeses and 2 dehydrated chile meals I got at a hiking store in Beijing. I cut small bits of sausage or smoked fish into the ramen containers before I hit the samovar/hot water machine. I don't think it was an actual tea samovar, it was just nearly boiling water which was really handy. The chile meals were supposedly enough for 2 people but they were small and cost about $9US each, which seemed larcenous, but I wished I had had more of them after they ran out. The gouda cheeses were a great change of pace.
I brought a 3 piece tea container with a tea leaf mesh container on top so I could pour the hot water over the tea leaves and then fill it so the leaves were steeping. Then I unscrewed and removed the part of the container with the tea leaves in it, leaving a half liter of brewed tea. These tea containers were really popular in China but I haven't seen them/noticed them anywhere else. Tea is huge in China, obviously, and every friendly traveler seems to have a special blend that they think is the perfect tea.
My first time on the Trans-Sib was during the winter and I traveled with a Canadian guy and a Nordic couple that were traveling 1st Class. The Canadian guy and I ran into the "business men" who were traveling from Beijing to the Russian Border. I don't think they all deal drugs, I think they carry stuff that is only marginally illegal, but there were a lot of them. That trip was kind of cool for the people we traveled with. In my kupe there was a woman that ran an orphanage in Ulaan Bataar and a Russian "business man". We also met 6 Russian commercial models, which was very cool! The funny thing is that they boarded wearing their make up and I didn't recognize them later that day when I saw them without the make up. And we met a couple Russian young men who were traveling to Israel to be security guys outside Israeli cafes in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. This was back in the really bad days, and the idea was that these bouncers would be trained to identify potential suicide bombers and they were to do their best (I am not sure if they were armed or not) to keep the terrorists from getting the bombs into the cafes or near the outside seating areas. I don't know if they were pulling our leg, but the other Russians seemed to take them at their word and it was apparently a relatively common way to work for a year or two and save a lot of money. The Russians that didn't like the idea called them a word they translated as "catchers". Which kind of gives you an idea of why they didn't like the job. If you catch a bomber just before the bomb goes off...
I got to help the lady that ran the orphanage carry 24 boxes of fruit from the last stop in China to the train. That was kind of cool. Apparently fruit is super expensive in Mongolia.
The second trip I traveled with a couple from Germany, and we were three in the kupe after a Russian guy left at the border of Russia. That trip I stopped off at Irkutsk, the trip to Lake Baikal took about an hour, but it was well worth it! Very cool stay, the Buryat people are very nice hosts, and they love to talk about Lake Baikal and their own history!
On the Trans-Sib, food was really important, booze nearly as important and books/kindles were right up there as well. We played cards a lot, we took unending photos, almost none of which are worth a hoot, and we drank a LOT of tea.
Edited by Ziv, 31 December 2016 - 05:09 AM.