Trans-Siberian Railway Part 2: What To Expect On The Train

Trans-Siberian Railway Part 2: What To Expect On The Train

We’ve written out a step-by-step guide with everything you need to know to plan and book your ticket for the Trans-Siberian, but what happens once you’ve completed your booking? You may be wondering what it’s like riding the train across Russia and what to expect once you’re onboard. So below we’re going to answer all your burning questions—from whether you can get wi-fi, to what sort of carriage facilities you’ll have, and more. Let’s dig in to life on the Trans-Siberian railway!

Wi-Fi

We’re going tackle the most important stuff first (ha!): is there Wi-Fi on the Trans-Siberian rail? Nope! In this age of constant connectivity this might be hard to accept, but the trains on the Trans-Siberian railway have yet to add Wi-Fi as an amenity for travellers. If you buy a local SIM when you arrive in Russia (we’ll explain how to do this in our next article) you will find 3G connection at some stations and towns during your journey. Be aware that the connectivity is slow and in general not great, but this turned out to be one of our favourite things about the Trans-Siberian train. It’s so rare these days to have the chance to declutter your mind and disconnect completely, and this train journey kind of forced us to do just that. And in the end we were so glad for it!

Vegan/Vegetarian Food

If you’re a vegan or vegetarian who wants to take the Trans-Siberian you’ll have to do a fair amount of planning beforehand. The dining car offers only a few vegetarian options (potatoes, borsch, oatmeal, eggs) but we weren’t sure if any of these choices were vegan because everything tasted as if it were cooked in butter. This doesn’t mean making the journey has to be difficult though!

Years of travelling as a vegan and a vegetarian has made us all too aware of how much more we need to plan when taking certain trips. We knew beforehand that we’d have access to a samovar 24/7, so we came prepared with a suitcase full of vegan and vegetarian food that we could make with just hot water.  

Here’s a grocery list of food we brought with us from the UK:

  • Instant noodles
  • Instant pasta
  • Instant oatmeal packets (enough for each of us to eat one a day for breakfast)
  • Vegan granola bars (we like the vegan options from Ella, but you can also make your own using amazing recipes like this one: pumpkin seed & almond granola bars).
  • Sweet treats, because there’s something about train travel that makes you want to indulge. We bought vegan fudge and vegan chocolate bars from Doisy & Dam.

Tip: When you board the train ask your carriage attendant for a coffee mug right away. These are the iconic Trans-Siberian railway mugs you’ve probably seen in photos. Your attendant should give you one with a small spoon included. You’re free to use these throughout your journey but not allowed to keep them. We found them useful for making tea, coffee and oatmeal. To save space we also recommend buying one set of cup noodles and the rest of your food in packets. We ate our cup noodles on the first day and washed and reused the cups for the rest of our meals.

Here’s a grocery list of items we purchased in Moscow before boarding the train:

  • A loaf of bread
  • A small packet of cheese
  • Honey
  • One bag of oranges and apples (we actually recommend buying apples instead as oranges go bad a lot faster)
  • Instant coffee
  • Small, non-dairy milk substitute carton
  • One bottle of red wine
  • 2 large bottles of water

Tip: Throughout the train journey you’ll be stopping quite a lot and most stations have small shops that sell basic snacks like crisps, instant meals, water, and beer. However, we never saw vegetarian instant meals anywhere and the crisps were often fish or meat flavoured, so it’s best to play it safe and come prepared if you have the same diet requirements that we do.

When you board, ask your attendant for a mug to use during your train journey!

The Dining Car

As mentioned above, you’ll find very few vegetarian options in the dining car, but if you’re a meat eater you might enjoy the occasional break from instant noodles by buying a meal here. We talk about this some in our Trans-Siberian vlog, but you shouldn’t expect great things from a meal in the dining car. The food is okay (it basically looks and tastes like it was made in the small kitchen of a train), and prices are adequate. You can pay anything from 150₽ for a plate of fried potatoes, to 250₽ for an omelette. Black coffee is 150₽, a cabbage-stuffed bun is 100₽, and so on. Also, something to note is that condiments never come included with whatever you order. So, if you’d like ketchup with your fries or milk with your coffee you’ll have to pay an extra 10₽.

Alcohol

You are not allowed to bring alcohol on the Trans-Siberian rail, but as long as you’re discreet about it carrying it shouldn’t be a problem. We packed a bottle of wine in our suitcase and bought the occasional can of beer (which we’d hide in our pocket) at station stops. We were always careful not to let our carriage attendant, Pavel, see us drinking, so we can’t really say what would happen if he caught us with alcohol in our cabin, but it’s good to be aware of the rules and try to be respectful of them while still enjoying yourself—so no getting rowdy and tipsy on the train, guys!

You can buy wine and beer in the dining car, and it’s a pretty fun experience to watch the sunset while sharing a cold Russian beer. We recommend doing this at least once as views from the dining car can be a little different from what you’ll get in your cabin!

1st Class Carriage

So, what amenities can you expect when you board a 1st class carriage on the Trans-Siberian? You’ll get a private cabin with two berths. These convert from seats to beds at night and you’ll get a sheet, a flannel blanket, a coverlet, and two fluffy pillows included. You’ll also receive a packet with slippers and a toothbrush, two hand towels, and a container with tea and chocolate for the journey.

At the end of your carriage you’ll find two basic bathrooms. There’s a toilet and a sink and they’re always stocked with paper towels and toilet paper. You will have access to a shower, at the cost of 150₽, so you may not want to shower every day but it’s still great to have the option. We didn’t know there’d be shower facilities before boarding, so we came prepared with wet wipes and our own washcloths. The trains seem to be modernizing and adding new perks all the time, which is awesome!

As mentioned in our previous blog post, our 1st class carriage came with a small kitchen area with a microwave, sink, and cold water dispenser. We have heard mixed reports about this, some people haven’t had these facilities, while others have. We can’t emphasise enough the need to go prepared for not having access to these options. Some trains are newer than others and offer more facilities, so you may get all this or you may not!

You’ll meet your provodnik/provodnista as soon as you board the Trans-Siberian.

The provodnik/provodnitsa

The carriage attendant will be one of the most memorable parts of the journey and you should know what to expect from them. Provodnik is the term for a male carriage attendant, and provodnitsa is a female carriage attendant. You’ll meet your attendant from the moment you board the train. They’ll be waiting, fully uniformed, at the door to the train to check your ticket and passport, and direct you to your cabin. This will be a common sight throughout your trip as at every stop it’s part of their job to stand at the door and greet boarding passengers.

Your provodnik/provodnitsa is responsible for keeping the carriage clean and providing you with items you need. They’ll come by with ice-cream and other basic food items for sale, vacuum out your cabin once a day, keep the carriage and bathrooms clean and tidy, along with other small tasks. Tipping your attendant is proper etiquette, so make sure you set aside 500₽-600₽ for that. The slang for tipping is ‘na chai’ which literally means ‘for tea’. You can choose to do this at the start or end of your journey. Some people recommend tipping at the start so you’re guaranteed good service, but we gave our provodnik his na chai on our last evening on the train. One thing you shouldn’t do is leave it until the morning you disembark. The reason for this is that your main carriage attendant may be off somewhere else the morning of your arrival (this is what happened to us), so it’s better to be safe and tip the evening before.

Language

Russian is the language of the Trans-Siberian railway, and we mean this literally. It’s more than likely you’ll end up with a carriage attendant who can’t speak a word of English. Our provodnik spoke very little and our interactions with other attendants and the dining car staff showed us that it’s more common to meet people who speak only Russian. This can make it a cooler experience because you start picking up Russian as you go along, and it also doesn’t feel like the Trans-Siberian caters so much to tourists as to make the experience inauthentic.

Gaurav and I also realized how spoiled we’ve become when it comes to language. Because almost everywhere we travel these days people speak at least some English, we’ve developed the expectation that this will always be the case, which isn’t healthy. The language barrier was something we actually really loved about Russia. It forced us to step out of our shells and find creative ways to communicate. This is something you should also be prepared for when travelling on the Trans-Siberian!

 

Hopefully you now know a bit more about what to expect when you board the Trans-Siberian railway. If there’s a topic we haven’t covered here, or you’d like to know more about one of these pointers, leave us a comment below or drop us an e-mail at thirdculturenomads@gmail.com. We’d be happy to answer your questions!


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