Trans-Mongolian journal: Perm – Omsk, food on the train and some reflections

Train 030HA between Perm and Omsk.

September 4th – September 5th, 2017

First class in Trans-Siberian train 030HA.
First class in Trans-Siberian train 030HA.

The train number 030HA, departing from Perm and going to Omsk, arrived about 25 minutes before departure, and we were welcomed by a smiling attendant. She showed us our first class compartment and every single feature of it. All of them. She also showed us every single item in the catalogue of items for purchase. Every one. This train was a lot older than the one we were on for Moscow – Perm. The beds were covered in red leather, and the compartment had a vague smell of tobacco. The walls were of classic oak-colored wood. Even if the train was older than the first one, I liked it better simply because of its charming features. This compartment didn’t have windows that could be opened, so we prayed that the air-conditioning would be effective. Again, it seemed like we were almost alone in our wagon. My guess is that we are approaching off-season and therefore don’t have as many co-travellers, at least not in first class.

The air-conditioning turned out not to work very well, and the temperature quickly started rising. The radiator on the floor was spewing out heat as fast as we were spewing out sweat. We called for the carriage attendant with the button on the wall, and she came knocking on the door. Using Google Translate to translate “We would like it to be colder” into Russian, she understood, and the air conditioning was cranked up. It was suddenly possible to sleep, and so we did.

The train ride between Perm and Omsk took about 20 hours, meaning that we spent a lot of time sleeping. The sleep surely wasn’t as good as on the first train between Moscow and Perm, as this one was a lot more jumpy and noisy. I guess the newer trains have a sort of stabilization system that make each of the bumps smoother. The earplugs we brought helped silence out a lot of the noise, though.

The terrain outside the train window was now a lot more open compared to what we saw of the terrain between Moscow and Perm. I found it fascinating to just sit and watch the world go by, and time passed very quickly this way. There were quite a few tiny Russian villages along the way, and it was fun just looking at various buildings, cars and people we passed. The Siberian nature we’d seen so far was pretty similar to the nature we’re used to in Norway, with a lot of birch forest.

Macaroni and sausage as third course in Trans-Siberian railway restaurant.
Macaroni and sausage as third course in Trans-Siberian railway restaurant.
Smoked deer meat and bear sausage in train 030HA. The bear was surprisingly good.
Smoked deer meat and bear sausage in train 030HA. The bear was surprisingly good.

One of the things I wanted to do on this trip was to eat something in the restaurant wagon on each of the trains. We tried a “business lunch”, which is a typical Russian three-course lunch, often involving soup, salad and some meat. This time, it was a beetroot salad with a piece of bread, chili soup (which they were out of) and finally some macaroni with a pale sausage. Not exactly a culinary highlight, but filling and inexpensive. The business lunch came with lukewarm black tea as well.

As I understand it, the restaurant wagons in Russian trains are run by private corporations, and not RZD themselves. The quality of the food and service, in addition to whether or not the food is expensive, can therefore vary greatly from train to train. We later ate a platter of deer meat and bear sausage, which was very good and inexpensive. It was supposed to come with moose meat as well, but they were all out of it, unfortunately.

Kiosk at Ishim station. You have ten minutes!
Kiosk at Ishim station. You have ten minutes!

We stopped for about 10 minutes at Ishim train station. There was a kiosk there, selling the usual snacks, food and drinks. Since we didn’t have much time and we were already pretty well stocked up, we went back to the train after having a look.

I reflected a bit about what you should do to get the absolute most out of a Trans-Siberian or Trans-Mongolian railway trip, and came to the conclusion that only taking trains doing daylight would be ideal, if possible.

Train tracks at Ishim station.
Train tracks at Ishim station.

It would of course mean that you would have to have more days available, and that you would have to do far more stops, perhaps at very exotic villages along the way. I’m not sure if visiting tiny places would be very worthwhile without speaking any Russian.

If we’re doing a Trans-Siberian railway trip again, we will probably do it all in one take, without breaking the journey along the way. Being 6-7 days on a train may sound insane to some people, but it sounds great to me!

 

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