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Poland to Siberia and Kazakhstan by rail - Summer 2016


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#1 Barciur

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Posted 12 March 2017 - 05:11 PM

Well, I must admit, vv's report made me actually finally do the long-delayed travelogue from this journey, as I'm sure some will enjoy!

 

So, I will start with the map of the journey - this is by rail:

 

z2VhldS.png

 

I then flew on the Belarussian airlines from Astana to the capital of Belarus, Minsk, where I took the Russian train Moscow - Warsaw to the capital of Warsaw.

 

On this journey, I was threatned with deportation twice! All the details in the travelogue further on ;)

 

My journey lasted from July 24th until August 3rd.The initial idea was to do a loop - Warsaw to Minsk to St Petersburg to Moscow to Kiev to Warsaw, then it grew to go to Ekaterinburg, at which point I thought hey what the heck, might as well go to Siberia ;) And then, upon realizing that US passports do not need a visa to go to Kazakhstan, I decided to go to Omsk and catch the train to Astana as well. All in all, very interesting experienced.

 

Unlike VV, a lot of the trains I travelled in were the cheapest of the cheapest, so experience may vary. ;) In this travelogue I will attempt to show a lot of pictures but also a decent amount of text, as there are some interesting stories to tell.

 

I hope you all enjoy!

 

So let's start off with my hometown - this is Lublin, in eastern Poland, about 60 miles away  from the border with Ukraine. However, this is not where I'm going. ;)

 

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Inside of the station building. It is relatively small but modern. No screens, but old departure and arrival boards. The middle is a compass of sorts.

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The time was very early - 4:30, and I was catching an intercity train that would travel to Warsaw and further on, but I was only travelling for an hour, about 60 miles to a town called Dęblin, where I would switch to a regional train which would take me to the border with Belarus.

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#2 Barciur

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Posted 12 March 2017 - 05:14 PM

Inside of an old compartment, with 8 seats to a room, lies my backpack. Everything I packed fit into this for my ~2 week trip.

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The corridors look like they do in sleepers.

 

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Upon arrival at a small Dęblin station. This is a town which borders the Mazovian Province and Lublin Province, so regional rail from both Lublin and Warsaw stop there and serve as a hub of sorts for regional traffic (maybe a bit like Trenton?)

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A monument to steam railroad is on display and visible from the platforms and trains.

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And this is my regional train, a modernized but very old EN57 which will take me on a 2.5 hour journey to the border town of Terespol.

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#3 oregon pioneer

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Posted 12 March 2017 - 06:04 PM

Thanks very much for posting. Great reading and nice photos! I'm looking forward to the rest of the story!


Jennifer

 

I'm a "little Old Lady in Tennis Shoes" (LOLITS) from Eastern Oregon. I love to travel by train, though I live way out in the toolies, far from the nearest Amtrak station (Chemult). My station would have been Baker City, but they cancelled the Oregon Pioneer just before I took my first long-distance train trip as an adult. I've taken most trains in the West, but I'm still exploring new routes in the east.


#4 Barciur

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Posted 12 March 2017 - 06:43 PM

The regional rail from Dęblin to Terespol is a 93 mile journey taking closer to 3 hours than 2.5 I previously mentioned. The ticket for this distance was $6.25 This is on the inside:

 

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Some rural platform on the way...

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The journey was rather uneventful. It's just a regional train stopping about 40 times before arriving at the border station of Terespol. Here, I had 2 hours to wait. It was just after 9am. On the platform on the other side of the station, I saw the Belarussian cars, which serve as the shuttle between border towns of Terespol on the Polish side and Brest on the Belarussian side. The trip takes only 20 minutes, border controls takes place at the train stations (on both sides) and the price is €4 (translated into local currency by the railroad currency exchange rate).

 

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Station front:

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#5 Barciur

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Posted 12 March 2017 - 07:41 PM

Having two hours between the trains, I bought my ticket to Brest and went to explore the 5000 population town. Not much to explore, but there was a small bar located close to the station, so I went in there. Two gentlemen were enjoying a beer outside on the patio. I walked in and felt very international with all these clocks ;)

 

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Had an extremely cheap fare and went back to the station. To be honest, I was quite lost about where to go. The only sign was outside the building pointing to the inside... well, that much I knew!

 

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On the other side of the tunnel that I found there was a line. I figured this was the line I had to be in ;) Stood for about 45 minutes in a line to nowhere. After that, Polish border guards came outside and proceeded with passports checks in these doors. This wasn't very professional or setup, just a pair of officers checking paperwork.

 

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Inside this terminal, there was a big glass, with a lot of Chechen people on the other side. As it turns out, they are Russian citizens seeking asylum in the European Union. Poland is turning 95% of them back, so they travel on this train and there is a lot of them on the Belarussian side. Poles are violating international law by not taking them into asylum center, but on the other hand, they are Russian citizens and Belarus is not doing anything for them either. So all countries are really at fault in this mess...

 

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Anyway, the other side is the entrance terminal. From what I learned, people with visas are allowed through first, and once they all cleared customs into Poland, the Chechens get processed and, majority of them, deported. Upon clearing exit checks from Poland and the European Union at the same time

 

Walked out onto the platform and saw a lot of border guards there. The provodinica (car attendant) told us that only front two cars are available. There were 10! As I saw, the Chechens were occupying the remainder of the cars. Walked to the front and entered. The cars are all 3rd class long-distance cars plackartnyi, the same type as I travelled Transsiberian to Omsk - minus the sheets! This is what it looked like inside

 

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It was certainly interesting to travel in such a car on a 20 minute shuttle, but there you go. The train was travelling on normal gauge with a Polish locomotive pulling it. Interestingly enough, despite the fact that the cars were Belarussian and the car attendants were Belarussian, the conductor was Polish, as was the locomotive and that crew. So definitely an interesting cooperation taking place there between two very different worlds on the railroad...



#6 Barciur

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Posted 12 March 2017 - 07:51 PM

Upon arriving at the Brest train station platform, the Chechens stormed the customs area. I was almost crowded out and was very confused and not quite sure how to deal with this. There were 10 passport control booths after a very narrow corridor. A Belarussian agent saw my Polish passport and handed me a migration card to fill out, which I had to do on my knee as I waited in line. Precisely for this reason, I had a pen with me. ;) Once passport control was cleared, I went to the customs agent who asked me "which time?" in Russian. I didn't know what she meant and I shrugged my shoulders and showed her my Polish passport, upon which she said "ah..." and asked me (again, in Russian) to take everything out of my backpack. She thought initially that I was Chechen and asked me which time I am seeking asylum!

 

After this problem was cleared, I went to the outside of the platform. Everything was visibly much more grand and clean than in Poland. This is a known feature of the eastern European stations.

 

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The entrance to the passenger pavilion

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Entrance to the station outside

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The time shifts one hour into Belarus (in the winter it's two), so the time was 2PM. I had a train to Moscow at 5:40PM, so I figured it's time to explore a little bit and hopefully find something to eat. I was very tired, as I had been up since 3am and on the trains since 4:30. I went to walk in the park where I connected manually to a Polish network, as I had been only 1.5 mile away from the state border. It certainly did not feel like being that close! The difference was huge. It's amazing what an artificially imposed border can do to cultures etc. Before 1939, this was a sister town to Terespol on the other side of the river. Now, it's a world away. It was probably even worse during the Soviet days, though, so I can't complain too much!

 

Upon getting back to the train station, I found my train. I was travelling in a 4-bed shared kupe to Moscow on a Belarussian train.

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Upon boarding, there was one other person. The provadnica asked if I needed the sheets and I said yes. Everyone else said no, as they were travelling to Minsk, which was 3 hours away. Moscow was much further away. As I was very tired, I quickly dozed off and only woke up briefly in Minsk. Once Minsk passed, I was asleep all the way into Russia. There is no border control between Russia and Belarus, so no unpleasant awakenings occured.... Welcome to Moscow!

 

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#7 Barciur

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Posted 12 March 2017 - 08:04 PM

Here's my train sitting at a platform. Moscow has 9 stations if I am not mistaken - this is Moskva Belorusskaya (Moscow, Belarussian station).

 

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The departure and arrival boards are very nice and have some English on them ;)

 

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Exiting the Belorusskaya station, I found the place outside of it very overwhelming.

 

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From there, I walked to the Red Square, which is a good 1.5 mile walk. I found Moscow to be overwhelming at first but I got used to it and would love to go back. As in vv's travelogue, I found beautiful subway stations and would love to explore them more at some point later. The next day, I ventured to the biggest tank museum in the world, located 60 km outside of Moscow. I decided to go the partizan route rather than by taking an easy and more expensive way of just getting a paid tour with a bus. I used the regional train in Russia, which was a VERY interesting experience... More about that soon! :)



#8 Bob Dylan

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Posted 13 March 2017 - 12:40 AM

Most interesting, thanks for sharing!

And we look forward to the next chapters of your adventure!😎
 
"There's Something About a Train! It's Magic!"-- 1970s Amtrak Ad
 
".. I ride on a Mail Train Baby, can't buy a thrill.."--I said that!
 
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Yet there isn't a train I wouldn't take,No matter where its going!.." -Edna St. Vincent Millay

#9 caravanman

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Posted 13 March 2017 - 05:42 AM

Looking forward to your next instalment!

 

I am encouraged now to try and ride more trains like these, instead of flying off to USA or India for my train "fixes". :D

 

Ed.



#10 v v

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Posted 13 March 2017 - 08:57 AM

Just arrived in Taiwan, saw your report and made it first thing to read. You are so organised I take my hat off to you, great reading, thanks.


Edited by v v, 13 March 2017 - 08:57 AM.


#11 Barciur

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Posted 13 March 2017 - 11:43 AM

Thank you for very flattering compliments. I don't consider myself to be as organized, but nonetheless, great to hear kind words from everybody! :) Your travelogue is wonderful as well, vv. :)

 

Day 3, July 26

The plan was to go to the train station and catch a regional train to a town called Kubinka, where the largest tank museum in the world is located. I have arrived at 10:30 at Belorussky station and entered the suburban section. Absolutely no English is spoken there, nor is anything written in English. I did find the schedule in Russian and read that the next train leaves in 4 hours... Whoops! There is a morning wave of trains and the last one just passed. I will try tomorrow then. So the day was spent wiating in a 2 hour line to see Lenin and just walking around Moscow and exploring the wonderful Gorky Park. Great and tiring day.

 

Day 4, July 27

This time, I woke up earlier and made it to the train station in time. Bought my ticket through and machine (all in Russian) and went to the platforms. The enrance to the suburban platforms is gated, so I had a little trouble with scanning the ticket, but it worked. While on the platform, I had to wait about 25 minutes, during which time random passengers asked me about the train. I politely told them that I do not know as I am a tourist and don't speak Russian well enough and they left me alone ;)

 

The train finally arrived and inside it was rather old and not air conditioned...

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But the story of what was going on in that train was something else. I had never seen anything like this. Upon departure of the train, somebody boarded, laid out socks and other weird small-time merchandise on each seat. then walked through the carriage and took it back. Then, they went to the next car, and another person came on and they had their own microphone and a speaker with them (!) advertising some lotions, body oils and whatnot. Next, a person with a guitar, their own microphone and a speaker came on, sang a song and collected money into a hat. There were about 5-6 people there. It was really weird. I am a little surprised that the otherwise very elegant and Russian Railways allow such a thing. But alas, that's the way of life on the commuter trains I suppose ;)

 

After an hour long journey, I deboarded at a very tiny station in a little town. I was very lost. This is what the station building looked like

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I walked around a little bit but wasn't sure where to go, so I went back to the platform and tried to retrace my steps. I saw three black cars next to the stairs to the platforms and walked up. I saw a marking that looked like it could be a taxi. In my best Russian I asked about the tank museum. The guy asked me to go to the other cab and told me how much it would be. 200 rubles, no problem. There is no other way to get there from the town, as it requires taking a cab. Well, there is a way, one can go along the tracks, but I figured I wouldn't tempt fate being a foreigner. ;)

 

The tank museum was fantastic, although not in the best shape. It used to be only available with a special permission from the Ministry of Defence, because it is a military base. Now it is much easier. IT just costs 5x as much if you're a foreigner, although the price of $25 for such a museum is still not bad, even if a Russian pays only $5 ;)

 

They have plenty of American tanks in there as well, such as the Hellcat

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Unfortunately, no English information boards :(

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After spending about two hours in the museum, it was time to go back. It is in the middle of nowhere and the only way to get back was to call a cab. Luckily, I spotted a father and a son at the exit and I asked if they are going to the station. I asked if it would be OK to go with them. It was fine, we had a short conversation about where we're from and where we're going etc. We split the cab fare (it's only 200 RUB so $3.40, but still it was nice to save even half of that, why not ;) ) and I got to the station. It seems that every platform in Russia has at least some English markings

 

FYZaJNW.jpg


Edited by Barciur, 13 March 2017 - 11:48 AM.


#12 Barciur

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Posted 13 March 2017 - 11:46 AM

On the way back, a modernized regional train arrived.

 

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The seats were also much more comfortable

 

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 The view of the Kubinka bus station, adjacent to the train stop.

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What is interesting is the amount of people they hire to run these trains. I saw four conductors and four security guards on a regional train. Can you imagine four conductors on a SEPTA RR or NJ Transit? Crazy! But I guess that's how they keep unemployment low.

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On the rather uneventful way back, same ritual occured. As we got into Moscow metro area, people started coming on, singing, selling stuff etc. I didn't buy anything ;)

From the window, I saw some political posters. The communist stuff is alive and well in Moscow still it seems.

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Upon arrival, I spent some time in the city and the next day would be my departure to Omsk, my first time on the transsiberian! Could not wait, was very excited. I bought the cheapest train, no air conditioning and the third, lowest class - 56 open car berths. This was going to be a very interesting 42 hour trip!


Edited by Barciur, 13 March 2017 - 11:49 AM.


#13 Train2104

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Posted 13 March 2017 - 12:27 PM

Some NJT/SEPTA/LIRR/MNR trains have well over 4 conductors/collectors...some as many as 6.



#14 v v

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Posted 13 March 2017 - 01:07 PM

Fantastic, great descriptions and the photo of what was outside the small station so evocative and made me laugh out loud. Can't wait for the next instalment.



#15 Barciur

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Posted 13 March 2017 - 01:22 PM

Some NJT/SEPTA/LIRR/MNR trains have well over 4 conductors/collectors...some as many as 6.

Never quite realized that, I've only seen SEPTA with 2 conductors, but I only travel on the Thorndale line and the Airport line.



#16 Barciur

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Posted 16 March 2017 - 09:33 PM

Day 5, July 28

So there it was - the day arrived for me to embark on the mini-Transsiberian odyssey ;) I have made my way on foot to a subway station and then to Moskva Kazanskaya. Arrived and found the security to be tight, lots of police officers, bag scanners etc., just like in the subway. I didn't have to put my bag through anything, however, as I only had a small backpack. :)

 

The Kazanskaya station seems partially covered, but partially not?

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Main station hall outside, looking towards the platforms which have a head-ending here.

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Electronic departure board, my train is 82 to Ulan-Ude. :)

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Walking towards the train, seems like it is never ending....

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And I boarded, and this will be my home for the next 42 hours. A 3rd class, lower seat alongside the corridor...

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#17 Barciur

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Posted 16 March 2017 - 09:43 PM

The first feelings were very ambiguous. One: Wow. this is actually it! I am here. This is happening! On the other hand, I thought - ok, this is a very tiny area, it is HOT, there is no air conditioning. It was 90F outside (32C), it was crazy. So I didn't know what to think and I just decided that I wanted this so I am going to enjoy it. :) And enjoy it I did...

 

The luggage holders underneath the seats are definitely a fantastic idea and save so much space.

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And here we go....

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The train left after 1PM and after I started to see the familiar things that I have seen in the Ukrainian trains. The provodnik, or car attendant, was selling cheap supermarket pizzas, water, etc. We arrived at our first stop, Vekovka, only a couple hours later.

 

The usual babushka market commenced!

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However, majority of the things being sold here were not food etc., but rather typical yard sale stuff - old china, souvenirs, all kinds of weird things, that I really was not interested in.



#18 Barciur

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Posted 16 March 2017 - 10:00 PM

I spent most of my first day on the train people watching and reading a book on my kindle. A person on the upstairs bunk was probably in his 20's (like I am) and we struck up a conversation. He spoke no English, and I spoke some Russian, so we got along ;) I told him about my travels, how the process of getting a visa to Russia was etc. Talked about the pricing, life in the West, life in Russia. All in all, very fun and good. He made sure to say goodbye as the train came into Kazań late at night.

 

The experience of plackarta - or 3rd class - was definitely very interesting. I think on the cheapest train in the lowest class is where the real people watching can happen. Most people were very open to everybody, talked to a number of people and when they heard I was from Poland they were curious and that was always the subject of a discussion. Most people had their own food, in fact, most people had a separate bag with their own food, which included canned meat, bread, instant noodles, other instant soups etc., which were all possible to prepare with the samovar.

 

It was extremely hot, and I mean extremely hot in the car. Sweat was definitely dripping down, but after a few hours it did not bother me one bit. I came into a very weird state of being, where there was no care in the world for anything - just me, my bed, my book and my window. It was perfect.

 

The one issue with the corridor-parallel seats is that there are two seats and a table in the middle which fold down to make a bed. So, if a person occupying the upper bunk would like to use the table, I cannot lie down. This wasn't the a problem most of the time, although sometimes it caused minor annoyances.

 

After a few hours, I asked the provodnik if there is a restaurant car. He said "yes, but prices are also restaurant" ;) and he offered me his menu of pizza and other cheap fare that they were selling. I politely thanked him and went to the restaurant car later.

 

It took me about three minutes to get through 10 cars into the restaurant car. It was nearly empty, not many people were there. However, the staff were very friendly, even if they spoke zero English. They had a menu in English, though, which was useful.

 

The way the restaurant car looked was somewhat futuristic

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The meal - Austrian schnitzel and a Siberian Korona beer - was fabulous. Prices were moderate, what you'd expect at a cheaper-mid-price Moscow restaurant.

 

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And so the train carried on. The restaurant car had air conditioning, so coming back into the non-AC'd cars was a shock, but it went away after 15 minutes or so and everything was fine again. As the night set, most people got ready for bed. However, the train still stops, and a major stop in Kazań takes place about 1 in the morning (12 hours after departure), so there is a lot of movement inside the cars. This is the disadvantage of the third class - everything is in the open so you are bound to be woken up by people detraining, boarding in the middle of the night and those who go to the bathroom, sometimes with the light from somebody's cell phone, somebody out of the 56 people in the car coughing, sneezing etc. But this is no problem, this is what the train life is all about. :)

 

After my friend said good bye in Kazan, I was left along and finally fell asleep after some hours. A full day on the train awaited me. This was to be my first time sleeping on the same train two days in a row!



#19 oregon pioneer

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Posted 17 March 2017 - 03:06 PM

Sounds wonderful! I do wish that Amtrak had samovars for hot water. That is one of the (few) drawbacks of Amtrak for me. I love my tea, and always wish there was a source of boiling water in any car I am in.


Jennifer

 

I'm a "little Old Lady in Tennis Shoes" (LOLITS) from Eastern Oregon. I love to travel by train, though I live way out in the toolies, far from the nearest Amtrak station (Chemult). My station would have been Baker City, but they cancelled the Oregon Pioneer just before I took my first long-distance train trip as an adult. I've taken most trains in the West, but I'm still exploring new routes in the east.


#20 Barciur

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Posted 22 March 2017 - 11:39 PM

Day 6, July 29

Full day on the train. I woke up at around 8am (don't ask what time!) and there was a gentleman sitting on the bunk opposite the corridor staring at me. I asked if his seat was upstairs and he just nodded. So I got up, rolled up my sheets and folded up the table to create two seats from my one bed. That is the biggest disadvantage of this seat that I had downstairs. Nevertheless, after some time, he went to the upper bunk and I was able to lay again. Most of the day I spent laying in bed, reading a book and staring out the window. The most exciting part of this day was Druzininho station stop - in the middle of nowhere, it seems, a 40 minute stop. Engine was changed and I had a chance to get off and explore the station in a really, absolute middle of nowhere, close to Siberia.

 

Here are some of the pictures approaching:

 

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Here's our train on the curve. Sorry for the bad picture, that's the only one I was able to take!

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Apart from the very nice views, there are also very typical industrial, Soviet-style views

 

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