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Train

“Are we there already?”, aka riding a bullet train (shinkansen) in Japan

Tokyo is a busy city

We’ve been in Japan for a few days now and we’ve posted a few pictures on Instagram about the hustle and the bustle of this insanely busy city.

There are literally more people walking than cars – this is a complete u-turn compared to the scooter heavy streets of South East Asia.

Tokyo has an extremely functional public transportation system. It makes the city calm even with this many people. There are literally more people walking than cars – this is a complete u-turn compared to the scooter heavy streets of South East Asia.

Bullet trains

Speaking of Public transportation, we’ve been on one of the famous shinkansens (or bullettrains). They are rather pricy but tourists can buy 1/2/3 week passes – a bit like interrail.

Bullettrain in Japan
The bullettrain in Japan is arriving at Shin-Shirakawa station, heading for Tokyo

The trains are hella cool. We took the first train from Tokyo and even though they have 22 platforms, with trains arriving every 10 minutes (on each(!) platform) they are not late.

On time

The trains arrive 3 minutes before departure. Everyone is lined up outside in marked areas for people going on the 1st departure and 2nd departure respectively. When the train comes – everyone enters and the train is moving within minutes. At the smaller stations it’s not even a minute.

After departure the people in the line for 2nd departure move into the line for 1st departure and the loop repeats itself.

As an example we’re going from Shin-Shirakawa to Kyoto and with the bullet train it’s about 3 hours (+ half an hour getting to/from the station) for a total of about 4 hours door-to-door. With car, on the premium expressways, it’s 8 hours!!!

I mean, even a plane couldn’t do the roughly 600km’s in a straight line faster than that!

Once inside

Once inside, you’ll see that the trains are spacious, the seats lean way back, there’ll be a nice lady with a trolley selling snacks and even though I clocked it at almost 300 km/h, it’s dead quiet. Even the people are quiet – in fact, the Japanese are not loud people under any circumstances!

I’ve been on a train in Myanmar going 45km/h’s and the sound was deafening. It felt like the whole train would fall apart any minute. Trains are not just trains!

Futhermore, they’re even talking about magnet trains coming soon, with speeds up towards 800 km/h. It’s absolutely bonkers and it blows my mind how they do it when the trains in the rest of the world are struggling at maybe 130km/h

I’m writing this as I’m sitting comfortably, leaned back, using high-speed free WiFi on the train.

Conclusion

There’s a reason bullet trains are so famous. They are amazing and I’m thoroughly impressed with them

The last leg of the train ride. Irkutsk -> Ulan-Bataar

The last leg of the train ride was very different from the other two legs.

Ulanbataar - Moscow
Ulanbataar – Moscow

First of all it was now the trans-mongolian railroad with final destination in ulan-baatar. This meant that there were practically no russians aboard but only mongolians. And they weren’t just travellers  but traders stacking huge amount of goods. One lady had goods in pretty much every compartment, stretching over several carriages!

Some of her packages
Some of her packages

Second of all we didn’t go to the restaurant van, we didn’t drink vodka (okay I didn’t, Nikolaj had a little bit) and we shared compartment with a british couple. Unfortunately I don’t have any pictures! But I do have a picture of the train from a platform which isnt’t really a platform but just the tracks:)

Crossing the tracks and not having an actual platform is no problem!
Crossing the tracks and not having an actual platform is no problem!

We spent the whole trip playing cards (Uno and Durak), watching out the window and getting our passports checked at the border. The view of lake Baikal from the train was spectacular though!

Some pics from the train
Some pics from the train
Some pics from the train
Some pics from the train
Some pics from the train
Some pics from the train
Some pics from the train
Some pics from the train
Some pics from the train
Some pics from the train
Some pics from the train
Some pics from the train
Some pics from the train
Some pics from the train
Some pics from the train
Some pics from the train
Some pics from the train
Some pics from the train
Some pics from the train
Some pics from the train
Some pics from the train
Some pics from the train
Some pics from the train
Some pics from the train

The second leg of the train ride: Yekaterinburg -> Irkutsk

Getting into the train we stocked up on snacks and supplies as we were about to endure / enjoy a 54h trainride from Yekaterinburg to Irkutsk. This time crossing a large chunk of Siberia.

Eager to see who we were going to share our 4 bed compartment with I rushed into the train to see a 13 year old daughter, Katja, and her mother, Olga, sitting very nicely, having cleaned up the one bottom bunk for us. We had the two top bunks but could use the one bottom bunk for sitting during the day. In the beginning I had hoped for the bottom bunk for easy in out access but as time passed I realised that top bunk was better as it gave much more flexibility as to when you could go to sleep. Just climb up anytime a day and take a nap. With the bottom bunk you would have to kick whoever was sitting there away first.

At the first station we got out to see who was around and we quickly spotted a non russian looking group of guys standing around – and quite as suspected they weren’t. They were german. Stefan, Matti and Michael

As we didnt speak russian we attracted alot of attention when we spoke – mostly positive, in fact without being too sure, i think it was only positive. Two russian kids (Pasha and Ilya) also said “good day” (in english, mind you) to us and we politely said “dobry den” (good day) back to them. The germans had a different experience. They said that people didnt seem to like them when they said they were german… so during the trainride with us they decided that they would henceforth be known as dutch people as they get a much better response. Apparently the russians still dont really like germans.

So the scene was set for some all out good russian/german times. In my secret mind I had hoped a little bit for a crazy russian guy that drinks too much to share a bottle of vodka with and all that but as it turns out – having a quiet roommate is very nice – then you can go to the restaurant van for partying. The 3 germans were not so lucky – they had a drunk russian in their room. He did nothing but sleep eat and drink – he didnt shower and smelled like a combination of horse poop and sweat. It was bad.

The first night though we played alot of cards with the 3 germans and 2 guys from uzbekistan and drank beer and vodka and all was good. The uzbekistanis (!?) tought us a game of Durag (means fool) that apparently everybody plays. Kinda like everybody in denmark plays “røvhul”. We did this in the germans kupe although apparently you are not allowed to. The door was open and we did this for 6 hours wihtout anyone minding so how could we know it wasnt ok!? 🙂 This was just another case of russian: “it is illegal…….. but ok!” Also, the russian was up in his bed sleeping the whole time while we had this party. He only woke up once to say “VODA!” (which means water) which we quickly gave him and then he kept on sleeping. As it turns out – he was a frequent visitor of the restaurant van.

The loser of durag had to wear the fools hat (the bathing had from our banya visit in moscow) and here Nikolaj is wearing it while the german Matti looks angry (russian people always look angry in pictures):

Matti looking angry and Nikolaj wearing the durag hat
Matti looking angry and Nikolaj wearing the durag hat

The second day after we got up we talked a little to the germans and played some uno with our roommates. The little girl spoke good german so i could explain her the rules of uno without too much hassle. It was great. Later in the day we went to the restaurant van as we figured it wasnt a good idea to drink in either the germans or our room this time (by the way i say room – it really is a “kupe” but who cares :))

We met a bunch of russians meeting our prejudices about russians. 3 rowdy looking types were sitting at two tables while a fourth was sleeping at the table. They each had a bottle of vodka and a shotglas -and of course food – because as you might remember: If you drink in russia without food then you are just an alcoholic. One might argue that 3 people with a bottle of vodka EACH are getting there… but “when in Rome…”. So we ordered a bottle of vodka – this time for 1400 rubles, on the last train it was 700 rubles but apparently they were all out of those (the menu said 700 but “niet”). One of the russians put in a few hundred rubles and joined us in our quest for killing all the vodka in the world.

He was very unhappy that we didnt order food so we did and then we started drinking. The guy that was sleeping woke up and joined us. All was good. The bottle was quickly gone. One of the guys stuck with us and we stuck with him although we were warned that he was “russiya mafia”. He told us he was Ukrainian. He also told us (by mimicking) that he had been to jail for 10 years, showed us some scars and some full body tattoos. We snapped some pictures and here are two of them:

Crazy Ukrainian mobster
Crazy Ukrainian mobster
Looking angry as thats how you do it
Looking angry as thats how you do it

After we got back in the restaurant van though he started being very aggresive in wanting to buy our stuff. He pointed at our watches and sunglasses and wanted to buy them for money and for his own sunglasses but we refused a couple of times. He also really wanted to play durag for money and we said niet niet niet. In the end it got a little too much and we pretended to go back to sleep. The waitress had to help us in the end and told him to let us go – which we then did. We never saw him again. But from then on out two police were sitting in the restaurant van all the time – maybe that’s why he stayed away.

We could definately feel a transition of people since we entered siberia – it was all a little more rugged.

When the van closed we bought 4 beers “to go” although you cant legally drink them anywhere and went to one of those hallways between the train carriages and started drinking. The conductor came out and saw us drink but as we had caught her smoke (which is also not ok) she didnt really mind. We had a common understanding that things were okay 🙂 Two russians came out and we talked to them – one of them was a policeman and he was very proud that he had not smoked for 9 years.

After that we went to bed and slept like babies. Especially me. I had gotten used to the train life that I just keep on sleeping. I had fallen into a trance where all you do is sleep – maybe 12 hours everyday. It was great and very relaxing except for the fact that I was always tired! Everytime there was a little break in stuff to do I took a little break in the top bunk (remember how i mentioned how that gives you flexibility).

Well, when I woke up the third day it was also our last and the two russian boys, ilya and pasha joined us for uno which they seemed to enjoy very much. I learned the colours of Uno: red, blue, green, red in russian and they learned them in english. We also played with Katja, while Olga (the mother) was watching.

Here they are:

From the left: Pasha, Ilya, Katja, Olga
From the left: Pasha, Ilya, Katja, Olga

Safely arriving to Irkutsk we said goodbye to a surprinsingly large number of russians that seemed to know us: The roommates, the nextdoor neighbours, a random guy that knew us, the two russian kids, their father, their mother, the germans, the conductor, the uzbekistans next door, the policeman from the hallway, his brother, two fishermen from the restaurant van and a few others. We felt kinda included and I was actually a little sad to be leaving “already” 🙂

We found our way to our hostel in about 10 mins – we do russian trams like pros now – and got in:

The outside of the hostel... not very easy to find :)
The outside of the hostel… not very easy to find 🙂

Inside, our next door host Olga (as the hostel was booked we stayed at a homestay next door) came to pick us up and after some quick food we went to bed.

The cat of intense staring!
The cat of intense staring!

Today (the morning the next day) we will go see Irkutsk and maybe take a day trip to listvyanka. Tomorrow we’ll meet up for a full day tour to lake baikal with one of the germans we met in moscow (hopefully if all works out) but I’m getting ahead of myself – we’ll get to that!

For now: Toodles and have fun everybody!