Having boarded one of the world’s longest train journeys so many times, there isn’t much that Intrepid’s Denis Sobnakov doesn’t know about the fantastic Trans-Siberian Railway. But this is one adventure that is as much about the people you meet as it is about the distance travelled…
“Every train journey between Russia, Mongolia and China has to take Trans-Siberian tracks. Considering that it is about 10,000 km and we travel almost a half of it, it’s no wonder there are a lot interesting happenings along the way.
Train travel is more than just a mean of transport. There is the meeting of cabin mates, playing card games in many different languages, enjoying the chance to sit back and watch the world rattle by and of course eating train food.
I always recommend that our groups bring along instant noodles, tea and cookies, but the rest we can get either from the dining car, or from the babushkas when we stop. One of the distinctive experiences of the Trans-Siberian is getting to meet the elderly women who sell food on the railway platforms. In Russian we call them babushka, and for the locals they are as much a part of the journey as the train itself.
The women usually meet a train at the platform, ready and waiting to open their small bags and show their edible treats to travellers. From your train window you can purchase whatever they have cooked at home that day, like stuffed pancakes or pirozhki (dumplings filled with onion, egg, meat, cabbage etc). Their food is always fresh and, most importantly, very tasty!
It’s always interesting to see how travellers can make friends with the babushkas so quickly. One of our group recently tried to buy dumplings and though he and the amiable babushka couldn’t speak each other’s language, they managed to communicate extremely well. The stop was only 30 minutes, but in that time babushka Zina had told Marc a lot about her life and her children. They ended up exchanging contacts, so that when Marc returned home he could send Zina a copy of the lovely photo he had taken.
I’m very lucky to travel on this great train route so often and especially fortunate to meet so many interesting people along the way. I have met many wonderful babushkas and I love being able to introduce them to my Intrepid groups. We always try to look out for the most talkative, because spending time chatting and buying delicious home-cooked food from the babushkas is a genuine real life experience with local people of Russia.”
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