Trains, Cell Phones, and Wifi

Posted by Pat on July 17, 2010 in Travel |


Somewhere in Siberia

Anyone planning a TransSiberian rail trip should consider going in winter. This past March 2010, my friend and I embarked on the TransSib from Moscow to Vladivostok. What follows are some helpful tips I wish I had found before I left.

We traveled second class and booked ahead for five stops along the route. Not only is the trip more interesting but seven consecutive nights on the train would be a little too much “fun” for this traveler. Being in winter, the train was less crowded but still mostly full for each leg of our journey. Don’t expect to have a compartment for yourself as the train books the births. When one passenger leaves, another takes their place. However, you would hardly know it. There was one night that our two companions left and were replaced by two others and I slept right through it all.

Being two ladies traveling, we shared our car with a variety of people, mostly businessmen. You could easily see they were train pros and the observant person can quickly pick up train etiquette. These cabin mates were polite, quiet, and friendly. Most spoke little English but would point out their disappointment that we were not seeing their beautiful country when green. We in turn pointed out we loved the winter experience.

One other advantage I found was an absence of leaves on the endless expanse of trees. Naked trees enable you to see much more of the villages and countryside. There was a beauty to the scenery only found when there are three feet of snow, vast empty spaces, and miles and miles to go before you sleep.

The TransSib trains are very good. Not only are they well-run by the military but on time even after thousands of miles. Our cabin was swept each day; orders for a delicious lunch taken each morning and later delivered to our compartment; bottled water provided, usually a packet of tea sometimes cookies and once flowers; and we received a package with sheets, towel, and slippers. Samovars of hot water were always available for soups and tea or coffee. Toilets are cleaned often and there was always toilet paper, soap, and towels. One train even had a large flat screen tv in each compartment, which can be a good or bad thing depending on your viewing preferences. I believe it was this train that had the business car where Internet was available. Not sure about Wifi.

The trains are warm, actually too warm. However, I think Russians love heat in general as we found the rooms and public buildings everywhere too warm. This makes for comfortable t-shirt traveling. Upon arrival, the Russian traveler changes into some type of sport pant or sweats and their slippers. You learn to do the same.

Across the aisle draped the cords to peoples’ various electronic devices. Cell phones were charging and computers were running. One train had a plug in each compartment. With most devices capable of using 120-240, all you needed was a two round-plug adapter.

Cell phones were always in use. While on the train i was able to text and send from across Siberia. I seldom had problems. I do use an international SIM card in my phone but I am not sure this would be a requirement for getting reception.

This is the first trip i have taken with my itouch. Thank you Apple for this wonderful device. I wrote my blog in Notes. Then when we stayed for a few days in a city I located a cafe or hotel with Wifi, sometimes free-sometimes not. I would download my mail and send off the blog. Worked great.

In between stops, i would text my location and a brief message via the cell. “Now why do that?” some would ask, maybe even me at one time. For one, I don’t even have cell phone reception at my home in CA and I like to point that out to my community and AT&T whenever I can. Also, how cool is it send or receive a message from Siberia?

Internet is common but it was a little harder to locate Wifi. Luckily you can walk down the street and look for it. There were a few people in the Far East that didn’t know what it was (but then neither did the girl working in McDonalds in Bakersfield CA). However, common sense tells me it will not be long before most every cafe and hotel has it. Okay maybe China will drag it’s big Communist feet some but even there time and Internet marches ahead.

As Wifi spreads and more places climb on board I feel my little itouch has transformed my travel. Even now there are museums that allow me to connect to their online tours and Podcasts Visiting the Hermitage and using their clumsy audio tour, I could not help but feel a twitter (old definition of the word) that one day I will pay a fee, or not, to directly connect or download to this same information via my itouch.

Oh happy day (:-)))

Sent from my iPod

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