Moscow at last

The last couple of legs on the Transsiberian were not quite as exciting as the earlier ones. On the third one, we had had the benefit of the Rossya, train number one, far more comfortable and even luxurious than the other trains.

Now from Novosibirsk to Ekaterinburg, it was back on the older stock which is comfortable but rather worn. It must be said that the ride quality throughout the line is amazingly good, and means one can sleep very well. There is none of the grinding noise of some European sleepers which, of course, do go rather faster.But somehow, even though the Transsiberian is primarily a freight railway and therefore maintained as such, the passenger trains still give a very good ride.

A warning about Novosibirsk and its railway museums. There are two and the Lonely Planet guide book was completely wrong to suggest that one of them had 250 locomotives and was right next to the station. We spent an hour looking for a building near the station – which is an amazing building itself – capable of housing such a huge number of engines and eventually were led to a tiny museum in one room in a Russian Railways office. It was free but had very few displays . Most consisted of photographs of various groups of workers or individual pics of stationmasters and the like, a few random items such as old computers and telephones, and a model railway.

The real railway museum, with literally hundreds of coaches and engines, is a 30km ride outside town in a marshrushka (for just 80p), the little minibuses that provide most of the urban transport along some pretty dreary industrial roads. The museum itself is worth it, though as all the stock is outside and it was minus god knows what when we visited it, we did not stay long because irritatingly all but a couple of the carriages were closed to visitors- and it was the interiors that I had most wanted to see.

Then we had one of those Russian experiences, queueing up for 20 minutes at the ticket office of the local suburban train station, hoping to get back to Novosibirsk only to be told we were at the wrong desk, and then went to the right one only to be told that the next train was in two hours. So it was back to the marshrushka, though this time it dropped us off at a Metro station and we sampled the efficient 1970s Novosibirsk metro.

The next leg was around 36 hours to Ekateriburg, the only place that proved to be a real disappointment. I was interested to visit the site where the Romanovs met their fate,but it was not worth it. There is a hideous church on the site, a testimony to the beatification of the last tsar who frankly was a rather dim obdurate man with an obsession with detail and a total belief that absolute monarchy was the divine way though he did support the construction of the Transsiberian.

While the family was, indeed, killed in a brutal way, tens of millions of Russians perished in the various tragedies of the twentieth century – the Great War, Stalin’s terror, the second world war – that devoting so much to one family seems misplaced. I had hoped, though, that there would be a museum or some interesting memorial but apart from posters with their photographs, and the ghastly church, there was none to be found.

So at last it was off to Moscow, again on the Rossya, for a 26 hour journey that like all the others was remarkably smooth. After six days of trains rides, the Rossya was indeed very welcome but it crossed the Urals at night and the European part of Russia, more built up was more familiar and consequently less interesting. Moscow is a grand and wonderful city, and a day spent at the Kremlin and the city centre is not nearly enough. There is no snow in Moscow, which is a relief after two weeks of tramping around towns through snow in various conditions of cleanliness – the colder the better actually.

In my forthcoming piece for Rail magazine, I will be summing up the experience on the Transsiberian, the dos and donts and the pluses and minuses of travelling in November going east to west, rather than the more conventional way.  To sum up , though, it has been fascinating throughout and I would recommend it as a once in a lifetime experience.


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