The next day when we woke up, we were determined not to miss the train again. Missing this one would be big – it was our first overnight on a train and the start of a carefully planned itinerary, with all hotels and trains booked right through to Ulaan Ude. And for three of us, it was the first ever overnight in a train coupe. So, even though the train wasn’t until 19:40, given the events of Friday, we were still a bit worried. And because we had taken a taxi to Suzdal, we hadn’t been able to see how the busses worked to get back to Vladimir. The guidebook said that the bus station was out of town, but that sometimes the buses came into town, which wasn’t much help. We also had no idea how often the buses went to Vladimir. We had to be out of our apartment at 12 anyway, so we decided just to get on the road.
And so, with the help of an old babushka with a rolling bag full of herbs who had a daughter in Germany and so spoke a few words of German, we managed to take a city bus to the bus terminal (Ivo was psyched to have a useful language). It cost the adults 16 rubles each (€0.43 total).
From there we found that buses went regularly to Vladimir and booked a ticket on the one two departures away where we could actually get seats instead of standing tickets (for a grand total of 210 rubles/€2.84). The buses were like half-sized school busses, or old airport shuttle buses, with about 20 seats and some room for luggage. We weren’t sure what we were supposed to do with the kids – they didn’t have to get tickets and so shouldn’t have gotten seats, but they sat anyway since Russians tend to always let kids sit – still not sure how that was supposed to have worked. We were feeling guilty enough though, that we (read Ivo) also got up to let another kid who got on the bus later sit down.
When we got to the train station, we had five hours to kill. But we didn’t really feel like trekking up the hill to Vladimir’s main sight (another white church). One of the things about travelling with kids is that they don’t care about seeing all the things. They just come right out and say that churches are boring, which to be fair, is often true, especially after the first few in a country, no matter how noteworthy they are supposed to be. Unfortunately, even when the churches are interesting kids can be so sure that they’re boring that they won’t look or listen, as we would find out later.
Anyway, there was nothing else remotely of interest in the dingy area around the station, so K and I sat and read with the bags.
L and Ivo went looking for a supermarket to stock up for the train trip and food for dinner, since there was nothing besides snack food in small stores in the station. He managed to find both, and we had quite delicious pizza (with dill on it, of course) for dinner (and some for lunch the next day).
Finally, our train came, right on time at 19:48. We were still in the Moscow time zone, but that would soon change, at least for us. For the trains it never changes – they’re always on Moscow time, which means knowing how many hours you’re ahead as you start chugging east through the time zones or missing trains.
We found our car, showed our passports to the car attendant who checked each of them carefully against her list, found our compartment and started exploring our new home. We were travelling second class, which meant we had a four-bed compartment, perfect for our little family. There are two lower beds and two upper beds, which are vinyl covered padded benches, with a table between the lower beds and ladders to get to the top bunks. The top bunks can be stashed away during the day. The kids were quite enthralled with the compartment and scrambled all around the car, up and down the ladders and over and across the top bunks. We figured out where the bags went – some in a compartment that you had to lift the lower bed to get at, and some in just a space under the bed.
The train attendant came by and handed us our four sets of crisp white linens so we put on the sheets, pillow cases and duvet covers and stashed the towels in the little nets above the beds. And then, after ablutions, we got to sleep, our first night being rocked back and forth by the train as it rumbles at a steady 50 km/h across the steppes. We all slept pretty well.
In the morning we spent our first entire day on the train. We made coffee and tea with water from the samovar that’s resident in every train car and found the bad part of our insulated Klean Kanteens – they work too well! It took forever for tea to cool enough to drink it.
Not my coffee though, since it has its own cup. My coffee is one of the little luxuries that I carry – I have a whole set up for it, with a hand grinder, an Aeropress and an enamel mug. I also have an immersion heater, though of course that wasn’t necessary on the train. My mother even brought me some of my favourite beans – Kicking Horse’s Kick Ass blend. It may seem excessive, but we’ve determined in our travels that it actually saves a lot of time and aggravation if I can get coffee before we try to do anything else for the day. And yes, I could just drink instant, and do in emergencies, but, well, it’s soooo much nicer to wake up with good coffee.
For the rest of the day, we sat and read and watched the landscape go by as we tried not to melt. Our compartment faced south, and so even with the shade down and an anaemic fan, it was sweltering.
We also celebrated 12 years since that fateful first meeting in St. Petersburg. Ivo had learned his lesson a little from my birthday and had bought half a cake in Vladimir that we ate to celebrate.
In the background you see some cold water – at first we didn’t buy any, thinking it would be expensive and we could get by with what we had, but as it got hotter and hotter, we bought some, and its coldness was worth all of the under €4 that it cost (for both of them).
We saw some nice settlements along the river as the day finally started to cool down, and some houses for the well-to-do scattered along the river bank.
And towards evening, we crossed from Europe into Asia, waiting patiently as the km poles counted (the guidebook lists sights and we could look for the pillar that marks the border.
We got into Yekaterinaberg at 9 pm local time, now 2 hours ahead of Moscow, for just under 24 hours on the train. We had plans to see just a few things there, but I was destined to be disappointed by the kids’ boredom with all the sights.