Trans-Siberian Railway: Vladivostok to Ulan-Ude

The trip took nearly 68 hours, during which time I left the train only once, for about two minutes in between stops somewhere deep in Siberia. It is negative 13 degrees Celsius here in Siberia, but quite bearable because there is no wind. I went outside wearing shorts and a t-shirt and felt fine. Relax, Mom; I went back inside for pants and a jacket.

Our train car featured 54 sleeping berths in nine open-style (i.e. no doors) cabins: six people sleeping per section. Our train was nearly full for the entire three days, with at most maybe three berths across the entire car empty at any one time. Fortunatley one of our six berths remained empty the whole time. There was a Dutch guy named Jelle and three Russians. My favorite was an older woman from Vladivostok named "Zoya," who reminded me of my girlfriend's mother but 20 years older and with a mouth full of gold teeth. She played crossword puzzles and said little for three days. The final two were middle-aged Russian women: one shaped like a bear ("Anya") and the other ("Goo-zale-ya") with the laziest eye imaginable. Neighboring cabins were full of Russian soldiers ($50 monthly salary: "Russian Army is bull-SHIT!") and various Russians, Arabs, and I think Armenians, mostly families. I was the only American.

The train was uncomfortable but the scenery was beautiful. It was difficult to sleep in such tight quarters, and unfortunately I received one of the high bunks (three high, three low) so if either Gold Teeth, The Bear, or Lazy Eye wanted to take a nap during the day, I'd be banished up top, where you cannot sit up because there is room enough to only lay down. During the day, it is an unspoken rule that bottom bunks are used as communal sitting areas, so the bottom bunk has its downside too, especially if you're sharing a cabin with smelly drunks or angry senior citizens (of which, I've found, there are many, especially toward Americans).

Siberia is unbeliavable in its accidental beauty, dilapidation at its finest: villages of wooden shacks that appear unliveable until you notice one with fresh smoke coming from the chimney, and a Soviet-era military vehicle parked in the front yard; abandoned buildings and train cars, many of the latter so old they are made entirely of wood; the sun setting and rising behind a seemingly endless stretch of what I think are birch trees, thousands and thousands of miles of trees, nature seemingly unaffected by the many lumber yards you'll see along the way.

There is really no way to do it justice. Siberia is absolutely beautiful, and it is an amazing feat of courage and determination that anyone calls it home. It is categorically wild and untameable.