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Poland to Siberia and Kazakhstan by rail - Summer 2016


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#21 Barciur

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Posted 22 March 2017 - 11:43 PM

Arrived at our stop!

 

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No babushkas on the platform, because thie platforms are somewhat small and there are two stores basically trackside....

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Those two stores selling PRODUCTS ;) operate on Moscow time, even though local time is two hours ahead. I suppose their only customers are train passengers. I looked around, but bought nothing.

 

A look in the other direction...

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Here's my train. It is impressively long!

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#22 Barciur

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Posted 22 March 2017 - 11:50 PM

On the way to the other side I noticed that a new train arrived. Now the platform was getting crowded!

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Here is the post office car...

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Continued walking in the opposite direction on the overhead pass. The train station building is perhaps the most impressive of the buildings in the whole area.

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And one more look into the distance of wilderness of nowhere... and off we go, back to the train

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After the train left, another 2 hours and we were in our biggest city yet, Ekaterinburg. This was 1816 km (1121 miles) from Moscow. Another 896 kilometers (557 miles) awaited me before I would get off the next morning in Omsk. This is fascinating, because if I was on AMTRAK or on a domestic train in Poland, I would be crossing a very large distance - DC to Boston is not even that long! But here, I felt like I am almost there. Strange is this world... And I can't imagine what people like vv felt six days in - one more day, we're almost there! Amazing.

 

So in the evening, I again went to the restaurant car, got asked by the staff where I was going etc. Had a short conversation. The passenger in the upper bunk was having his supper before he would shortly leave the train. Finally, after a few hours of just gesturing he... offered me a tomato! I politely declined ;) And after about an hour he left the train. Another girl came on for a few hours but just slept and left me alone. What happened next, I did not know, as I fell asleep and only briefly woke up a few times as passengers detrained and new ones got on. The car was pretty full throughout my entire journey.

 

In the morning, at 5:15 Moscow Time (8:15 local time) I would be arriving in Omsk, Russia's 7th largest city....



#23 v v

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Posted 23 March 2017 - 12:30 AM

It all sounds so familiar Barciur, train travel in Russia is something special but made up of apparent nothings. Great atmosphere, really enjoying reading of your experiences.



#24 oregon pioneer

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Posted 23 March 2017 - 12:46 PM

Fascinating. I had to pull up a map and look at where you were.


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.


#25 Bob Dylan

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Posted 23 March 2017 - 02:24 PM

As usual great trip report and pics! Thanks for sharing!😎
 
"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!
 
"..My heart is warm with the friends I make,and better friends I'll not be knowing,
Yet there isn't a train I wouldn't take,No matter where its going!.." -Edna St. Vincent Millay

#26 caravanman

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Posted 23 March 2017 - 06:37 PM

Excuse my naivety, but I am wondering what "products" the two trackside stores were selling, I am thinking something different, because you included a wink...?

 

Very nice trip report.

 

Ed.


Edited by caravanman, 23 March 2017 - 06:38 PM.


#27 Barciur

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Posted Yesterday, 10:14 PM

"Products" is just Russia for... well, products. But it also means "convenience store". In Polish (and English, I guess as well ;) ) products just means this. So it was kind of a weird thing to see plastered all over the walls, until I learned what that word also means. Sorry for the deceiving wink, was not meant to indicate anything more specific. Just a general store - you can buy bread, water, drinks, alcohol, tea, instant soups etc. for the train ride. :)

 

Day 7, July 30

 

Finally, the day of departing arrived! A little nervous, but looking forward to getting off and seeing some Siberia for myself. Being an avid bicycling fan, I liked the fact that they had a bike parking at the train station ;)

 

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As usual, the train stations have the very immediate surroundings of flowers etc....

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... nicely masking what's just behind the gates. An eastern mess!

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So just went on a long walk across the city. The walk lasted about 6-7 hours, in the mean time I got food and just killed a day. Had no particular plans or wasn't meeting anybody, just a day to wait for my train to Kazakhstan. Here are a few pictures

 

The Victory Park. The Russians glorify their war heros and show patriotism to a similar extent as do the Americans

 

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Omsk is situated alongside a river, so a nice boulevard next to it makes for a nice walk.

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#28 Barciur

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Posted Yesterday, 10:15 PM

Omsk can have its ugly, Soviet-style side.

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And sometimes not seem any different than any other large, Soviet-built city.

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However, it does have its very unique, old town with very nice views and buildings...

 

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As well as churche

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And ultimately, the river adds to a lot of the charm.

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#29 Barciur

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Posted Yesterday, 10:19 PM

Having spent the day in Omsk and having braved the rain, I was on my way back to the train station. My train to Astana was departing 6:25 PM Moscow time, which would be 9:25 PM locally.

 

The sun was setting...

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The Omsk train station in its glory. Why do they choose such ugly colors, though, I will never quite understand.

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Inside, a large electronic board shows departures and arrivals. My train is number 145, a local from Omsk to Karagandy in Kazakhstan.

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Plenty of signs at the station are in English.

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What is very typical of train stations in Russia or Ukraine is that there is no free seating areas. Plenty of people stand wherever they can find, but in order to enter a seating area, one must pay. Fees are nominal, but the whole concept is amusing.

 

Finally, the train boarding is announced. The train is a local train. I am the only non-Russian or Kazakh on the train. It is a Kazakh train, it's old and it shows.

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#30 Barciur

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Posted Yesterday, 10:33 PM

Again, I was in the 3rd, cheapeast accomodation on my way to the Kazakhstan's new capital, Astana. At this point, I was two hours away from border control, which proved to be a big hassle and a big scare. And i was fully expecting it. So I travelled to Russia and Belarus on a Polish passport, but as Polish citizens require a visa to Kazakhstan and USA citizens do not, I would show my US passport to Kazakhstan. A Russian visa for US citizens, however, costs $190, as opposed to EU citizens costing around $40. So, everything went smoothly for the Russians, the Kazakhs came on and the scare began. Everything was going smoothly, the Kazakh border guard was smiling, although speaking only Russian. Everything changed when he asked: Where is your Russian visa? To which I replied: second passport. Then he couldn't believe it. He said it is not possible to have two passports, he asked to see it, looked through every page. Then he called somebody on his phone, talked to them, explained the situation, handed me back my passport and walked away. At this point I had no stamp in the passport, which is equivalent to not having entered the country. I was a little nervous but trying to remain calm, as this was exactly what I thought would happen.

 

About 30 minutes later, a senior officer came. They talked, then he asked to see my passport again and tried to calmly explain to me that he needs it to give me a stamp, stamped the passport and a migration card which registered me for a stay in Kazakhstan (otherwise, stays over 5 days require a visit to the migration police) and that was that. Phew!!

 

Now it was about 2AM local time and having been a bit of a sensation and a topic of discussion among fellow passengers, I could finally go to sleep and relax.

 

Upon waking up I saw the steppe. A whole lot of nothing and the steppe, the dessert etc. The train ride took 14 hours, despite the fact that the distance in straight line between these cities is just 270 miles!

 

However, as we approached the city, I felt as if I am... in Central Asia. Well, I guess I am! ;)

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The train sitting on the platform.

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Opposite, there was a train headed to Almaty, the biggest city and former capital of Kazakhstan. The fast train takes 12 hours and costs $100, the slow train costs $30 and takes 20 hours. There are plenty of flights that cost $30 and take an hour....

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Outside the train station, there is a monumenr to the railroad.

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The outside of the train station is very modern and almost futuristic, compared to Omsk and what I had seen in Russia.

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#31 Barciur

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Posted Yesterday, 10:35 PM

Astana is a city of contrasts. It had only 250k populatoin before 1998, but it was built up by oil money to be somewhat of a Kazakh Dubai and now has a population of over 700k.

 

Some of the older parts look like this...

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While newer parts do really look a bit like Dubai.

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#32 Barciur

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Posted Yesterday, 10:42 PM

I spent one night there and just did the same as Omsk - walked about 10-12 miles each day and explored the city.

 

In order to save time, I betrayed the train and cheated my way back - I flew Belarrusian airlines to Minsk. It is a 4 hour flight and it cost $200, which is quite a lot, but it felt like a flight in the 90's and before - plenty of leg room, very nice meal, baggage included etc.

 

Astana's airport seems a bit futuristic as well.

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After a day full of walking and the sun, I was tired, but I arrived at the airport at around mignith and had to wait there for four hours. Due to this, I fell asleep almost immediately and napped for 3 hours on the plane. This was not enough and I was to be dead tired in Minsk...

 

Arrived in Minsk, no problems, got cleared through customs, just raised an eyebrow by the border guard as I was entering Belarus the second time on a double-entry transit visa. This would cause me some issues on the way out of Belarus, the second of my near-deportation stories. ;) But more on that later.

 

I knew that there is a new way to get to the city - a train that runs five times a day. I had decided to try it, even though I had to wait an hour to catch it.

 

A shuttle bus runs about 900 meters to the train station. I entered it alone. After a few minutes, two ladies entered it and started asking me questions in Russian: Is this the bus to the train? Does the train go to Minsk? Where do you buy the tickets? This was my first time in the city and I barely speak Russian, but I answered all of their questions without a problem. Ah, to be a rail fan! ;-)

 

Here is the train. It is a railbus manufactured by Polish company from Bydgoszcz, PESA.

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Some of the views reminded me views that I saw in Saving Private Ryan... a movie depicting the 1940's America!

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Minsk Passazhyrsky, the main railway station in Minsk. It was about 8am, I had a 11:59PM train to catch, I had hardly any sleep and I knew there is no way I will survive without sleeping.

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So, I went to a hotel next to the train station. Looked as Soviet as it gets. First question: Po angliyskiy vy gavariche? Nyet. So once again, I had to fare in Russian, which was OK. I ordered a room and was told it would cost 23 USD and would be ready at noon. I figured I could manage four hours, so I decided to go and explore the city.


Edited by Barciur, Yesterday, 10:45 PM.


#33 Barciur

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Posted Yesterday, 10:44 PM

I must admit, I did not like Astana very much and felt alienated there. So, Minsk seemed like the capital of Europe and I felt fantastic in there - I felt as if I was home, which I would never have guessed I could feel like that about Belarus!

 

Some pictures from my walk.

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At 11am I turned around and walked back. After a 4 hour walk, I was ready for bed. I got my room, took a shower and at around 1:30 PM fell asleep. Woke up at 6:30 PM and decided to do another walk and have dinner.

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Where the old meets the new...

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And the futuristic-looking train station in Minsk.

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#34 Barciur

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Posted Yesterday, 10:58 PM

Went back to my hotel, took a shower and checked out at 11PM. The train would arrive at 11:36. Here it is on the departures board, number 9, Moscow - Warsaw.

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This is the expensive Russian sleeper from Warsaw to Moscow. It cost €68 from Minsk to Warsaw. I could have done this route for €10 with a change of trains in Brest, but I chose not to for the purpose of taking the Siemens sleeping cars that I have experienced on the route from Paris to Warsaw a month earlier.

 

The train on the platform.

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Inside, once again, same type of compartments as I saw on the Paris-Moscow sleeper.

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And here is where the fun began. I could not sleep, as I had just slept during the day. The compartment was full, so I basically had to. Finally, at around 3am I fell asleep, but this was about the time we arrived in Brest, where the passport control and changing of the wheels would take place. There would be a 2.5 hours time between our arrival in Brest and departure. Long break. Belarussian border control came on, checked everything and, yes, again trouble... The lady walked away with my passport and came back with a guy. She pointed a finger at me then he asked her "him?" she nodded and he asks, in Russian: Are you the Polish?. I say yes. He said: "you don't have a visa". As he is holding my passport with a visa page open at 4 in the morning.

 

Turns out, they the problem is that I was not a typical tourist. Since there is no border control between Russia and Belarus, there is no stamping by the Belarussians on exit. What is expected on the Moscow train is that one gets a stamp on the Belarussian transit visa and no stamp on the Russian visa, then one gets a Belarussian visa stamp on the way out at Brest. So we arrive with just one stamp. However, I left Russia and entered Belarus by plane, so I received an extra stamp at Minsk, which was my second entry. The guards were convinced, however, that this was a third entry and told me I am here illegally. Finally, I convinced them and they saw that the stamp said "MINSK" which proved that I entered by air. Everything was fine....

 

Off we went to the regauging facility, which took over an hour and a half, returned to Brest, got our passports back and off we went West.

 

The river Bug. Border between the former Soviet Union and the current European Union. Where two very different worlds meet, yet where there was never a border here before 1945 and the current border divides what used to be one town... Terespol and Brest. What a weird world we live in.

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At Terespol, the Polish border guards come on. The other passengers in the compartment are Russians and are grilled, visas checked and fingerprinted. I am the only Polish citizen, no questions asked, scanned passport, no stamp and that's it.

 

Even sneaked a picture of the Polish border guard ;)

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Edited by Barciur, Yesterday, 11:01 PM.


#35 Barciur

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Posted Yesterday, 11:00 PM

Final train destination is....

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Another two hours and here we are, in Warsaw!

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The Warsaw Central Station main hall also got a bit of rehaul and is now somewhat futuristic as well ;)

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And at this point I just had to catch a 2.5 hour train to Lublin and the trip would be over. Had a wonderful 11 days travelling on the trains, through state borders and enjoying everything. I wish I was able to do it without flying, but there just was not enough time to do it. Some day, I will do a train of the same caliber as vv is doing right now. For now, this will have to do and I can't wait for future adventures in that part of the world!

 

Thanks for very positive replies and I hope you enjoyed this travelogue!



#36 railbuck

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Posted Yesterday, 11:35 PM

Thanks for very positive replies and I hope you enjoyed this travelogue!

 

Excellent report, thanks for sharing!



#37 caravanman

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Posted Today, 05:32 AM

Thanks for a great trip report. I like the "onion dome" church architecture, it always looks very exotic to my UK eyes.

Most cars look fairly modern in your shots, I imagined seeing a few more old Lada style cars?

 

I admire folk with language skills, I have none, and am a little shy too. If you could only speak English, do you think it would have made the trip different? Managing border crossings and hotel and your flight to Minsk harder?

 

I imagine it is interactions with locals that one would miss, most travel transactions are fairly straightforward after all.

 

I like the way you wander around exploring new places, I tend do do similar myself, rather than heading for the tourist hot spots.

Don't think I would risk a photo of a border guard, but I guess you were back on home territory at that stage!

 

Ed.






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