I’m really sorry, but the realities of Siberian internet mean that I’m struggling to keep this blog up to date. The problem is that there is no internet available until we get to a large town. The Russians have decided, entirely unreasonably in my view, not to install mobile phone masts and coverage in areas where nobody lives. This means that I can only post in periods of about 3 minutes when the train goes through towns and this isn’t enough time on a 3G connection to upload the blog posts and I have to be physically present to do it. The problem is only going to get worse during the next few days when we pass through Lake Baykal and the most remote parts of Russia near Manchuria and Khabarovsk where there is virtually no mobile phone coverage at all. This blog is fun to read if it is up to date, but less so after the event.
What I can do is queue up pictures and comment on my Facebook and Twitter accounts and these then post quickly and automatically anytime they sense a connection. Therefore, if you want up to the minute details of how the journey is going please watch my progress on these pages since it is conceivable that I may not be able to update this blog until Vladivostok in 6 days time.
At the moment we’re stopped near Lake Baykal waiting to be uncoupled from the Trans-Siberian train. Our journey to Lake Baykal tomorrow will be on the disused Baykal Line that skirts the lake but is not used by modern commercial traffic. We will be joined to a Diesel Locomotive at some point in the next hour, then taken around the Lake overnight to Port Baykal. Tomorrow after exploring the frozen lake we will return on the same highly scenic route but this time pulled by a steam Locomotive. While we’re stopped, I seem to have a good internet connection so I’ll rattle this post out while I can.
The weather has been mild by their standards – around -1 to -5C during the day but dropping rapidly to -20C when the sun goes down. Siberia is actually quite a sunny place. It doesn’t snow all the time and it’s not a damp climate but a very dry one, but it gets very, very cold. We’re expecting temperatures in this range tomorrow, but we’ll be spending all day standing on ice so I’ve told everybody to wear two pairs of socks. Vodka is one possible solution, but what tends to happen after a shot of iced vodka is that initially you feel warm and lovely inside, then you feel colder but don’t really care and then the cold (which has been relentlessly working in the meantime on your dilated blood vessels) kills you. This is not a good scenario.
The Russian people are in general very welcoming, although slightly bemused by our presence in the middle of Siberia in Winter. They express hospitality by plying you with vast amounts of food and alcohol, so it seems likely that I’m going to have some explaining to do at my next Weight Watchers meeting when I get home. Hopefully, the considerable amount of walking that I’ve been doing will combine with the cold weather to neutralise all that, but I’m not convinced. It’s quite difficult to visit Russia without spending the time walking around half-crocked and feeling like the Michelin Man. The other thing that takes some getting used to is that they don’t smile. We, in the West are used to smiles and friendly greetings from strangers and people that we meet or interact with in day to day situations. Smile at a random Russian and they will simply ignore it and look at you as if you might possibly be a dangerous lunatic. It’s not that they are unfriendly, its that they simply don’t indulge in this behaviour. I’m used to it now, but it took a few days. Russians also seem to have a greater general awareness of high culture than many of us in the West. Ask an average Westerner what they thought about Prokofiev’s 3rd and they might think you were asking about the result of as football game; ask a Russian and there seems to be a good chance that they’ll know that he didn’t play for Liverpool. This seems to be true for youngsters as well.
Finally (we are due to move any moment and I will promptly lose signal) I’ve been really impressed by the punctuality of the trains here. On time, to the minute after several thousand miles and through some of the harshest terrain the world. In the Soviet past, this might have been down to the fact that if it was late they shot you, but these days, they just seem to be amazingly efficient. So, hats off to Russian Railways – I’m impressed.
Moving now – Gotta post this quick and go. Bye