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Trans-Siberian Travels – Irkutsk to Perm by Train for My 32nd Birthday

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There are some people who take the entirety of the Trans-Siberian from end to end in one week long adventure. Personally, I would suffer far too much from fear of missing out if I bypassed too many towns without stopping. Instead, we took our journey in steps and this leg was the longest one. Travelling from Irkutsk to Perm by train took two nights and one whole birthday. Come and see what we did to occupy ourselves on a train for 58 hours from Irkutsk to Perm by train for my 32nd birthday.

Karl with his backpack poses next to the Provoditsa of our Trans-Siberian Train
The most hilarious Provodnitsy we met during our travels. She was totally delighted at our stupidity.

Fancy your own Trans-Siberian travels? Check out our full guide; how to plan a Trans-Siberian adventure including our top tips for the Trans-Siberian

Train Stats

Route – Irkutsk to Perm

Train Number099Э

Time Aboard – 58hr 47min

Distance – 3051km / 1896 miles

Class – 2nd Class Sleeper

Why Travel to Perm?

When considering our stops along the Trans-Siberian, Perm caught our attention for two reasons. Firstly, it is a university town, so I thought there would be some nice cafes or bars to visit. Secondly, it was the perfect base for visiting Gulag 36 (read about our trip to the harsh work camp) and the beautiful Kungur Ice Caves (read about our trip to the ice caves including the diamond grotto and the great lake).

Inside Irkutsk Railway Station, Russia

On Board the Train from Irkutsk to Perm

For most of this time we shared with a gentleman who could’ve done with a shower and there are no showers on board. He had a constant supply of sage tea on the go, supplied by the Provodnitsy or Provodnitsa (conductor) at the end of the carriage.Houses covered in snow from the window of a Trans-Siberian Train

Most of the trip, we trundled through snow-laden forest. passing through small towns, and larger industrial areas every so often.

Spending my Birthday Travelling from Irkutsk to Perm by Train

Waking up on day two, I had a little thrill of excitement. Today was my 32nd birthday. No big birthday plans for me (unless you count this entire trip). The highlight of our day was to be the trip to the dining car. The sky had cleared and shone a bright azure, all set ablaze by the low winter sun streaming through the windows.Birthday cards on a table on a Trans-Siberian Train

The Trans-Siberian Dining Car

I have heard mixed reviews about this restaurant on wheels but we were going to try it at some point and it seemed it was now or never. Plus, there was a bottle of Champansky with my name on it.

The dining car reminded me of a 1950’s diner. It had lots of retro charm. There was a reasonable menu of hot and cold dishes along with lots of snacks. The woman in charge of taking orders was a lovely mix of brusque and friendly. It was the straightforward way we were treated a lot in Russia. Slight puzzlement at our presence, a desire to make us feel welcome and a shared laughter at our failure to communicate.

The dining car on a Trans-Siberian Train

The dining car on a Trans-Siberian Train

We opted for pancakes with “caviar” and a ham and cucumber “sandwich”. Yes, I did need the quotation marks.

The pancakes were stuffed with fish eggs of the bright orange variety that you may be used to from sushi restaurants. I was more than happy with that as I am a huge fan of fish eggs but it would have been a little disappointing if you were expecting any other filling. I thought it went rather splendidly with the sweet, bubbly Champansky.

However, Mr Fluskey was less impressed with his choice. One dry piece of dense bread, two thin chunks of meat and two slices of cucumber….and all for around £5.00. This wasn’t a fancy open sandwich, more of a sad-wich.

After half a bottle each of bubbly, we were chatting, giggling and feeling rather fantastic. It was three hours later before we had even realised. I guess I was secretly hoping that we would be joined by some new friends but we had the car to ourselves for nearly the whole time. The only other passengers that appeared were a very angry man and his female travel companion. He spent most of his trip to the dining car shouting at her. No birthday spirit there!

Fish egg pancakes and a ham sandwich on a table on a Trans-Siberian Train

Rosie drinks Champansky in the dining car of a Russian trans-Siberian train

Entertainment On Board the Trans-Siberian

Before leaving the UK, I loaded up my iPad mini with plenty of trip appropriate entertainment. In theory, I was going to blog about the journey as we went but it seemed I wanted someone else to entertain me. Over our 50 odd hours, we worked our way through a fair amount of;

  • Dr Zhivago – The ITV Series. This was rather good.
  • Horrible Histories – An episode all about the Russian revolution.
  • An audiobook about Siberia – it was pretty dull and Mr Fluskey slept through most of it.
  • Joanna Lumley‘s Trans-Siberian Adventure – Bought from iTunes. This was lovely but it was a little heartbreaking to see the stretch of the journey that we missed.

The Cold of the Outside

Stopping for a long time at a station in the town of Tomsk, I thought I would pop out to try and get some shots of the train. I was also curious to find out what the metal clanging that came from the train every few stations. The cold was a real shock.

Yes, it had been awfully cold along the way, but this literally gave me a shock! About 30 seconds after I jumped down from the train, the headphone stuck into my right ear popped and gave me a small electric shock. As I pulled it out of my ear canal, I realised that the wire, normally so malleable, had frozen stiff and was now a solid, wiggly stick.

No wonder, a sign further along the platform showed the outside temperature as -33°C.

An electronic display shows -33°C at at station above a Trans-Siberian Train

On our second day, I saw that the condensation running down the window, heavy with our nighttime breath, had frozen at the base of the window! The curtains had frozen to the window and it was incredibly satisfying to crack them away from the sill.

In between the carriages, the walkways were open to the outside world. Ice coated the floor and doors. We took to wearing gloves as we passed through the trains to ensure we didn’t leave strips of frozen skin on the metal handles.

Metal…!? whose idea was that?

Oh, and that clanging? All along the train, workers hacked at the ice under the carriages. This is essential to keep the train running but what a hard job on those sub-zero platforms.

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Final Thoughts About Travelling from Irkutsk to Perm by Train

Total Time So Far – 78hr 56min

Total Distance So Far – 5859 km / 3640 miles

Travelling from Irkutsk to Perm by train was a long stretch but it was astonishing just how quickly time flew on this journey. Knowing we didn’t have to jump off at any time soon meant we could really relax. For more info about Perm, check out https://realrussia.co.uk/Info/Destinations/Perm

A red and white striped chimney bellowing smoke

Rosie xx


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