Trans-Siberian Railway meets Artillery Lane

Back in December of 2013, photographer Valentina Eleanora Costa of Halo Communication got in touch with me about using some of my Trans-Siberian Railway images as backdrops to her latest project. The result? An amazing scarf campaign for Artillery Lane with projected Siberian images.

I'm thrilled to finally share the final product! See the whole campaign here.


Trans-Mongolian Railway | Irkutsk ---> Ulaanbaatar

The best and the worst part about Russia was leaving it. The best part about it was that I no longer felt like I was in trouble. Russia has a way of making you feel like you are about to be sent to your room (or worse) all the time. There is a definite Big Brother feel with omnipresent voices that reverberate over city speakers. Everything is difficult and friendliness is not their forté. Obtaining a visa is hard (and expensive) enough, but then you are also required to register your visa upon arrival. If you stay at an established hotel, the hotel will do it for you, but if you are a budget backpacker, you will find that not all hostels will do this for you and if they do, they charge you a fee. Also, this process is completely different according to whom you talk. Some say if you stay in one city more than 3 days, then you must register, (in each city you visit!) but if you hop around and don't stay more than 3 days in each city, then you are OK. You will also read that there are heavy fines if you don't register your visa when leaving the country. AHHH! At this point, you are just itching for a straight answer that you soon realize, you will never get.

SO... we registered our visa's in two places (Olkhon Island & Irkutsk) just in case, which entailed passing over your passports, the registration fee (which varies according to who's doing it), and the next day you receive a piece of paper confirming your registration that you are to keep. The whole thing seems so unofficial. Needless to say, we were ready to cross the border (hoping without incident) into Mongolia.

But let's get to the worst part...

First of all, remember our lovely air-conditioned cabins from our Trans-Siberian adventure? They are all but a distant dream. We learn that the higher the train number, the worse the trains get. We took train 2 from Moscow to Irktusk. We are now taking train 362 to Ulaanbaatar. The proof is in the pictures...1Another major difference between the Trans-Siberian train and this one is that while the first leg was primarily all Russians, this car had none! It was all foreigners. We board and there is a group of jovial Portuguese all traveling together. We congregate in the hallway, take a shot of vodka, and toast to the trip. Our other two roommates are a British and Swiss guy. It's an international affair. We boarded at 10pm so we went to sleep shortly thereafter for night 1 of 2.2We knew we would hit the Russia/Mongolia border the next day in the afternoon and we also knew from a couple who crossed days before us that we were to expect about a 6 hour stint at the border. 456789So comes the worst part...

We get to the border and what should take maybe an hour, takes the 6 hours we expected. After we get to the station and play disconnect and connect cars for awhile, we find our car all by itself on the tracks. Officials then board the train, look at our passports and visa's to make sure we haven't overstayed, etc. and then leave. Then we are told we have 3 hours before the next phase. (Why? For what?!?!) We can get off the train and meander around, but there is really nothing to do and nothing happening. 3101112It's a total stand still. After the 3 hours pass, we have to all re-board and they come to collect our passports (why couldn't they have done this when they first looked at them?) at which point they don't even look at the registration papers that we stressed out over. I use them as a fan, which was the most use I could make out of them. Then customs control boards the train and they search our cabins. Then we wait again for our passports to come back with stamps. Meanwhile our lonely car is hooked up to a Mongolian engine and we finally leave the station 6 hours from when we got there.13When we get to the Mongolian side, we go through similar procedures which only take maybe an hour at most.

I am already liking Mongolia better. 14We have another hour to wait while they hook up more cars to the train and by the time we leave it's around 9pm local time. Did I mention that as soon as you cross the border, you no longer are on Moscow train time (even though you are traveling 5 hours ahead of Moscow), but local Mongolian time (which is an hour behind local Irkutsk time so we lost an hour) so by this point, your sense of time is totally useless. It's like math class and I was always bad at math. All I knew was it was dark and we had to get up at 5am the next morning so it was time for bed.

We were woken up the next morning at 5am to prepare for our 6am arrival into Ulaanbaatar. We were tired but the sunrise was beautiful. Now this is what I'm taking about...161718I think we are done with trains for awhile.

Trans-Siberian Railway | Moscow ---> Irkutsk

1The Trans-Siberian Railway has long been on both of our bucket lists for a long time. We traveled 5,189 km over the course of 3 nights and crossed 5 time zones which gave us serious train lag.

2We decided to split our course to Mongolia into 2 parts. Moscow to Irkutsk (see map above), then Irkutsk to Ulaanbaator. This route would have us taking 2 different trains. The train to Irkutsk actually continues east to Vladivostok. For more information about the Trans-Siberian Railway system, this is a good resource.

We booked tickets for 2nd class with a 4 person cabin, so we were eager to see who our roommates might be. We both already knew we were assigned top bunk beds and we had no idea what to expect. Here goes nothing!

We board the train and find our roommates are already getting situated. A Russian mother and son who are very quiet, polite, and don't speak any English. They are with us the entire ride. We meet a German couple on our car and we both indulge in the difficulties we've both encountered in Russia. Their roommates are drunk a few hours in, stumbling around and we feel lucky to be sharing our space with the mother and son. So let's talk facilities...

Rick was worried early on that he would fall out of the bunk. When we arrive, we see that his railing is broken. Luckily, I brought rope and tape and he rigs a system to keep that railing intact! See our bunks and his lovely rope work below... (PS- the beds were actually quite comfortable. Probably better than our last 2 hostels. You get suited with clean sheets, a blanket, a pillow, and a face towel.)

4 5 637Each train has two bathrooms and on the other end is a samovar for all your boiling water needs. Most people are constantly drinking tea and we brought instant oatmeal and noodles for the ride. As you can see, there is a digital display with the temperature and time. Let's talk about the time. As we were passing through time zones, we were wondering when the time would adjust. The next morning, it still had not adjusted. We found a schedule on the train that listed all the stops along the way and we also found out that all train times in Russia are in Moscow time. So here we thought we'd get into Irkutsk at 4pm as our tickets said, but apparently, that was in Moscow time, which meant we were actually getting into Irkutsk at the local time of 9pm.


And here are our roommates who basically never left this position.

We aren't even sure if they ever ate a meal because they remained at window side with only a bag of candy.8And now for the dining car! We always romanticized the dining car... sitting endlessly, sipping coffee, overlooking the landscape. Well... besides getting ripped off on two cups of coffee and inhaling the smoke of the old women who work the car, it was a nice experience. 9 1012One night for dessert we had blini's with caviar and butter. Rick topped it off with the worst beer he said he's ever had, meanwhile one of the dining car ladies rocked a card game on her computer.11 13So let's talk train stops and stations. While we discovered the timetable for all the stops the train makes (in Moscow time) it also lists how many minutes you stop at each station. Some stops were only 2 minutes, while others were over twenty. This was important to know so if you got off the train, you made sure you boarded with good time.

I had read all these accounts on the internet of people selling local food on the platforms to which we found bogus! There were kiosks to buy small things like water, ice cream, snacks, etc. but these local vendors were all but a dream. The other interesting thing, or non interesting thing depending on how you look at it, was all the stations pretty much looked alike. All the images below were from various stations. Also, each station had an ominous voice (usually a harsh sounding Russian woman) over loud speaker which had the ability to make you feel as if you were doing something wrong without understanding a word they were saying. 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29So what did we do for 3 nights besides not shower?

We drank a lot of tea and gazed out the window.

30 31 32 33 And what did we see out the window?

We passed by many villages, all of similar decay. We were amazed that these structures and the people living in them could survive the brutal winters. There were also derelict buildings a dime a dozen along with other buildings of Soviet times.34 35 36 37 38 39 4041 42Who lives in these towns? (Please note these were all shot from a moving train!)43 44 45 46 47 4849The landscape did not change all that much until maybe the end when the land really opened up from the dense forest to give way to some really beautiful flowers.50 51 52 53 5455 56 57 58 59 60 61

So we survived the first leg of our Trans-Siberian journey!

Monday we leave Irkutsk for a 2 night train trip to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. Gobi here we come!