The train ride from Moscow to Irkutsk took 86 hours. I was going 2nd class (Kupe) in train number 44, thus I was sleeping in a 4 bed compartment. The train itself is pretty old school. It is going very slow and you can hear the characteristic “tuk tuk ” sound. The train is heated with coal and you can get hot water which is heated in an coal oven. There are a few 50 Volt power sockets in the hallway which work fine for recharging batteries. There are no showers, only a toilet and a sink, so good for my fellow travelers that I decided to make a stop in Irkutsk (instead of going all the way to Vladivostok at once). The view out of the train window was mostly a lot of forest and untouched grassland and once in a while a little passing village.
During different section of my train ride I was sharing my compartment with all kind of different people. The first night I spent with two old Russian ladies doing traveling around Russia. I also had some short time companions, an English professor coming from a conference and a student who just passed an exam and headed home. Both knew English very well so I could actually have some conversation with them. The last night a Russian boxing team, coming from the siberian championship, was joining me in my compartment. One of them supposedly won the championship. This champion told me he lives in a small Siberian village which was connected to the power grid only in 2005. Instead of going to the supermarket he is actually hunting his meat. When these guys hunt, they drain the blood of the animal after killing it, and drink it. They had some reindeer blood with them and offered me some. Tastes quite spicy, so I guess they also put spices in it. I was able to communicate with the boxing team, who didn’t know any English, with the help of a really nice Russian tour guide who was translating for me. She was guiding an Australian travel group who were on the same coach. Most of them were elderly, but they were fun to play poker with.
In Irkutsk I stayed at the Admiral hostel. Irkutsk gave me much more of Russian feeling than Moscow. There are many old wooden buildings, and just everything is more Russian. Interestingly over 50 percent of the cars have their steering wheel on the right side, because they are imported from Japan. The farther east in Russia the more cars are from Japan.
About an hour bus ride from Irkutsk is Lake Baykal, the village there called Listvyanka. They say that if you swim in the lake you become a hundred years old. The water is really cold though, so I didn’t plan to really go swimming there. However on the bus to the lake I met two Scottish girls, who jumped into the lake, so I had no other choice than to jump myself.
The stop in Irkutsk was definitely worth it, and really necessary to freshen up for the next train ride to Vladivostok, which started on sunday, September 19th.