Rail Food

Contemplating stew in the Mongolian dining car. Note the furnishings.

Dec. 5 – Aboard Train 077 to Novosibirsk

The Beijing-Irkutsk journey taught me not to rely on the dining car.

Given how good the fare had been in China, what was served from Beijing to Erlian was abysmal. Small portions of rice and vegetables, pathetic chicken(ish) balls, damp lettuce in lukewarm soy sauce. It was all free to first and second class passengers, but no real effort was made to impress. A surly waitress shooed us out as soon as we finished. There was warm beer if we wanted it (we didn’t). More fun was the barely drinkable Great Wall red wine. We had two bottles – the first numbed our palates for the second. The best part was that the dining car had no corkscrew, and only two glasses. The ever-practical Swiss got their Army knives out, and we were in business using teacups. Of course, the waitress made them pull the corks for all the other diners too. The Swiss asked for tips, but received none.

The Mongolian dining car was a wonder of carved wood walls and furnishings. The food was decent, but scandalously priced if paying in U.S. dollars – I had not bothered to get Mongolian money since I was just passing through the country.

Noodles and tea. Just don't spill any on the customs declarations!

But I was pleased with the supplies I had brought along. Enough for the distance, not too much to be an encumbrance. So for the journey to Novosibirsk, I have; tea, oatmeal, trail mix, chocolate, instant noodles, salami, Maasdam cheese, and apples. We’ll see how soon the Vodka starts to flow. Wish me luck!

Ready to roll (more or less)

Nov. 29 – Beijing

It smells like snow even though there is none. The bleak, dense, expectant sky reminds me of winter. That’s as literary as I get on what will be a very prosaic post.

I spent today preparing for 2.5 days of continuous rail travel, which will take me from China, through Mongolia, to Siberia. Laundry, of all things, has provided the most excitement. Daniel’s away on business, and in his absence I failed to make the washing machine work. Rather than risk some flooding or electrical mishap, I hand-scrubbed my small pile of laundry. There is no dryer in the apartment, and it is now a race against time to get the clothes dry enough to pack for tomorrow morning’s departure.

A trip to the supermarket yielded the following supplies: instant noodles, oatmeal, rice chips, banana chips, and tea. Also, a travel mug, plastic bowl with cover, spoon and fork. At lunch, I tested the noodles and dishes to ensure no surprises in taste or functionality. The train will have a dining car, but bringing a reliable stash is a good precaution. This leg will be about learning what works and what doesn’t. As I continue westwards, I will adjust my mix based on experience.

Yesterday I bought the Let’s Go travel guide to Russia. I know this could doom me to following the beaten path, but it is important to have basic information at hand. I’ve contacted a hostel in Irkutsk – stay tuned to see how that goes. Anyway, it’s better than showing up with no plan in a place where Friday’s predicted high temperature is -7 degrees Celsius.

One thing I don’t have is Rubles. I failed to get some at a bank in Beijing, but I’m not too worried. I’ve got Yuan and a few Yankee dollars for the train, and Let’s Go says ATMs abound in Irkutsk. As a reference, I also know the exchange rate.

If things go according to schedule, I should be in Irkutsk (and blogging) on Friday. But I’ve pre-written a couple of short travel-related posts to tide over my absence from the wired world, which will appear on Wednesday and Thursday.