Russian Language Blog

Tomsk Trip – or Traveling Siberia by Train Posted by on May 25, 2009 in Culture, Traditions

This is a video I shot on the «Иркутск – Минск» [‘Irkutsk – Minsk’] train «где-то между Омском и Тюменью» [somewhere between Omsk and Tyumen’] in Western Siberia. On Sunday morning on the train I got bored and decided to play with my phone for a while and found out that it can film videos! I did not know that before. (After all, I’m a girl and my phone is pink so an abundance of different functions was not a priority when I purchased it). At first I decided to film the Siberian woods for as long as possible and to stop once a village approached. I filmed Russian trees and huge meadows for twenty minutes and then my hand got too tired to go on and I was forced to stop my experiment. I won’t post that tedious video; this video is much more interesting. I would’ve wanted to put music to it – «немножко Чайковского подошло бы очень хорошо» [a little bit of Tchaikovsky would’ve fitted very well] – but I’m afraid I’m not technical enough to do that…

After all, no other way of transportation in Russia feels as unique and genuine as the train. When in Russia you should take the time and make the opportunity to travel at least for a couple of hours by train – it is definitely worth it. Not everyone makes it all the way to Siberia, but if you do then you’re in for a real treat: no other railroad in Russia is as legendary and loved by tourists around the world as the «Транссиб» which is short for «Транссибирская жедезнодорожная магистраль» [Trans-Siberian Railway] («БАМ» which is short for «Байкало-Амурская магистраль» [Baikal Amur Mainline] might be more legendary within Russia and among Russians, but it is surely not loved by foreign tourists – for obvious reasons). But – and more than a few of you might find this hard to believe at first – for most Russians traveling by train is not romantic. Traveling by train is cheap and available to most as the Russian railroad serves all the cities that used to have their own airports during the Soviet Union but don’t anymore because their populations can’t afford to fly. That’s why you’ll always find less foreign tourists and more Russians on the trains actually trying to get to their «дядя Серёжа в Тайге» [uncle Seryozha in Tayga] or «бабушка Вика в Хабаровске» [grandmother Vika in Khabarovsk] or, why not, «троюродной брат Тимур с молодой женой Валей и новым малышом в Новосибирске» [second cousin Timur with his young wife Valya and their new baby in Novosibirsk]. Especially if you decide to go cheap and buy a third class ticket – «плацкарта» as it is called in Russia. If you travel this way you’ll get to share a square about the size of an average bathroom with six more people. If you pay twice as much (more or less depending on the train and the distance you’re going) for a bed in a «купе» [compartment (on a train)] then you’ll share the space with four other people. If you’re really wearing your spender pants – or just find privacy too valuable a thing to sacrifice even for hours and hours of long conversations over tea and vodka with the locals – you can travel «люкс» and share the compartment with only one other person. This other person might be Russian so excluding tea and vodka is never a possibility.

Usually I travel «в плацкарте» – for obvious reasons (students have never been known to be rich) – but for going to Tomsk and back this year I decided treat myself to a ticket «в купе». I don’t know if it was worth the extra rubles I paid for a little less noise and a little more comfort, but at least I can’t complain about my compartment company. In Russia there are a lot of trains going here and there and back again and north and east and west and south and so you’ll never actually – unless you’re taking the long road – on a train from the beginning to the end, but in between two stations. Both to Tomsk and back from Tomsk this year I traveled on the train that goes between Irkutsk and Minsk every two days: between Yekaterinburg (which is still known by its Soviet name when you buy train tickets – «Свердловск» [Sverdlovsk]) and Novosibirsk. This journey takes about twenty hours. Once you get to Novosibirsk you have two ways of continuing north-east to Tomsk: either take «электричка» [the commute train] or «автобус» [the bus]. Both of them cost about the same and take around five hours to get to Tomsk. On my way to Tomsk I chose the commute train but on the way back I was persuaded by Russians to try the bus. Never again! The road between Tomsk and Novosibirsk is in terrible condition and the buses are victims and witnesses of this truth. I thought many times that I was going to die right there and then. But I didn’t. Слава Богу! [Thank God!]

The conference in Tomsk went very well; just like last year it was a pleasure to see so many foreign students gathering to discuss science together in Russian. According to statistics, students from 39 countries and 42 Russian universities participated in this year’s «Всероссийский Смотр научных и творческих работ иностранных студентов». My «доклад» [report; lecture; talk; paper] on the first translation of Dostoevsky’s “Siberian Notebook” into Swedish received third place in the conference, but that’s not what I’m most proud of. In connection with the conference they published «альманах» [literary miscellany] with poetry, essays and prose together with photos and paintings by foreign students. In it they dedicated almost a 100 pages to publishing my novel in Russian – «Во всех комнатах твоих» [“In All Your Rooms”]. At first these news shocked me. Just the idea of such a thing seemed shocking to me! But now I’m starting to get used to this new fact of my life – that I’m a published writer. In Russian. In Siberia. That’ll be something worth to tell the grandkids about, don’t think?

Tags: , , , , ,
Keep learning Russian with us!

Build vocabulary, practice pronunciation, and more with Transparent Language Online. Available anytime, anywhere, on any device.

Try it Free Find it at your Library
Share this:
Pin it


  1. Roberta:

    Thanks for today’s column. I’m about to leave for St. Petersburg, where I’ll study Russian for eight weeks, then ride the train to Moscow for a week. And now I have the term купе for when I order my train tickets. I look forward to the conversation, tea and vodka, which, by then, I hope, I can follow, if my travel companions speak slowly and simply.

  2. natasha:

    Wow, Josefina, congratulations!!!! Translating Dostoevsky into Swedish AND publishing in Russian – вызывает уважение! Так держать!

  3. petr:

    Just a typo, Trans-Siberian railway should be жеЛезнодорожная.