Train to Almaty: 1st night

Emīls made some notes while on this train, some of which I got to read recently. As it is a lot easier to remember this way, the following story will be based on his notes with my additions.

July 9:

We got on the Kazakhstan train in the evening. Also here it is not possible to open the window and it is bad as there’s some kind of not nice smell in the kupe. Though in some minutes we have got used to it and don’t notice it anymore. The good thing – the train has conditioner. The bad thing – the conditioner works only when the train is moving fast enough. But as it is moving the best part of all the time, we feel ok.

Our kupe is not very big, but – the more, the merrier – so usually we are more than just 4 in here. And for supper (and most of the following meals) we have proved that all 7 of us can sit on the lower bunks (quite squeezed, but still ok). There’s a carpet on the floor and some soft backrest on the wall. The berths are very soft. Later we will know that these berths were the softest of all the trains we took. The window has curtains which can cover the lower half of the window and also a shutter that can cover all. Unlike the previous upper berths, where a bump on your forehead would be a normal thing after waking up (very small space between the berth and the ceiling), here it is possible to sit normally. Each berth has a small not very bright light – bad for reading but good enough for searching something. Each berth has a little shelf and a hook. 2 bags can fit under the lower berth (1 of them inside the box and the other – outside) and if that is not enough, there is big space for something above the corridor with a width of kupe itself, usable from the kupe side of course.

Shelf Lights Bags under bed Space over corridor

We have Latvian porridges for supper – either oatmeal or buckwheat, which are ready just some minutes after you add hot water and stir. To my mind – a good and easy way to eat. We are quite tired during the day in Moscow and go to sleep soon after the supper.

Hot water machine


We arrived in Moscow around 12:00. Weather was nice – it was cloudy, not hot, and it was not raining.
First we went to train station to get information about possibility to buy ticket Almaty-Urumqi. We were told that we should try central railroad booking office. After that we went with metro to Cosmonautics museum. Riding with metro was very fast and easy way to get to destination.
We spent about 2 hours in museum. We saw space suit that belonged to third guy on the Moon as well as stuffed Belka and Strelka – real or Chinese fake – don’t know ;). Also there was 1:1 model of living quarter of Mir space station. Also lot of other models and parts of various man made space objects.

Moscow metro Museum of Cosmonautics Top of museum of Cosmonautics Lunokhod - Moon rover Buran - Russian shuttle

After museum we went back to metro to ride to central railroad ticket booking office. Bureaucracy was great, we were sent from one responsible person to another. At least they realized that they can only try to reserve tickets, but not to order them. Computer showed information that there were no seats available. It meant for us only one thing – we will need to buy tickets in Almaty railway station.
Outside station we had quick lunch, some ordered kebabs, some took salads or other food. After that again to metro to go to museum of Matryoshka. It was quite a walk from metro to museum, carrying baggage full of heavy food. Some time after passing by monument of Pushkin, we spotted a street named “шведский тупик” which means “Swedish deadend” and of course, took a photo of Anders under the streetname. Sadly we arrived late at the museum and managed just to take a quick look into souvenir shop full of various sized matryoshkas. Museum was closing (open till 18:00).

Lunch Swedish dead-end Matryoshkas

Next stop – Red Square. Little bit of walking and there we were. Just settled down in the lawn near some flowers across the memorial of unknown warrior for a rest and enjoyment of view, when Russian militia came and sent us and others like us away. Then we divided in two groups – one who watch over the baggage while other walk around and explore Red Square. The roadway of Red Square was not red. And Kremlin was closed (closed on Thursdays). Saint Basil’s Cathedral had just taken last tourist group, we missed it. We walked around the Kremlin wall to quest how large area Kremlin takes up. And then the second group took the tour similar to first one. Although we didn’t manage to see these two objects from inside, it still seemed that we have seen much in this one day without any stress or haste.
Rested in another lawn we took a metro to our station where we stepped into a train that will take us to Almaty.

Kremlin star St. Basil's Cathedral Walk around Kremlin Rest near Kremlin Train to Almaty

Train Jurmala – our journey has started

So our adventures have begun. We left Riga train terminal at 18:10 with bunch of people that came to say goodbye. First minutes flied so fast that I didn’t even notice that my town which is 35km from Riga, is already behind. In some 3 hours we started to think that the journey will be very long and we have no idea what we will do all the time. Though I didn’t feel bored at any moment. We chatted, drank tea and Brengulju beer. In a while we stopped by the border. Time went very slowly, but we had very nice neighbors who gave much of good advice during those times.
Latvian border guards looked in our passports and soon went away. In some half an hour train went further to Russian border. The guards there checked the used bed linens which were kept in a hole under the floor and wanted some of us to open their bags. After that a dog came into train. Luckily he had been fed enough and didn’t want to check the taste of our sausages. :) Then we washed and went to sleep.

The Beginning Neighbours and gadgets Everything's OK

The first impression of the train “Jurmala” was not very good but in a while it became better. We had platzcard tickets because it was too expensive to pay 100LVL just for 1 night ride. Our seats/sleeping places were quite soft and we also put mattresses on them when we went to sleep. I was a bit surprised that there are actually 6 places in one “compartment” – 2 (lower and upper) at one side of the window, 2 at the other side of the window and 2 next to the opposite window. In day there is a table, in night you can fold that to the bed. In day the 2nd “floor” is folded near ceiling. That is why when I looked train pictures on Internet before, it seemed like there are only seats, not sleeping places. However, those seats were really hard in our train, not like the 4 “normal” places which are opposite side. The bed linen were included in the price as well as small not-very-soft towels. The hot water was free of charge and it was hot all the time. 2 cups of tea were free, 0.5 liter bottle of water was free, coffee cost 1LVL. Although it was written that we can get board games and get pack of free cookies, the carriage attendant told that last time they gave free cookies was 3 years ago. And we did not get any board games – they did not have them.

Sleep Morning Other sleeping places

Route, times, attractions

We are about to leave in some 4 hours. Everyone has packed (I suppose) except me, but that is ok.
My best friend gave me link about riots in Urumqi today and I decided that maybe someone wants to know what we are planning to visit in each city.
As well as – it doesn’t seem so obvious but the map in 1st page, when you click on it, contains all the train stations where it stops as well as times when the train will be in that station.
Here is another link to that map: The MAP.

We will be visiting 7 (or 8 ) cities (click for the objects that we might be visiting):
Moscow (Russia)
Almaty (Kazakhstan)
Urumqi (China) – yes, we plan to visit the places where riots take place, but don’t worry, we will think twice.
Xi’an (China)
Beijing (China)
Shanghai (China)
Hangzhou (China) – no map yet
Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) – Anders will visit this on his own after being a bit more time in China.

So, follow us on twitter, look into map at right side (below Twitter block), and you should know where are we right in that moment.

Looking over options in details. 1st.

The dates when we have to buy our train tickets come closer and closer (it’s 25th or 26th of May), so it’s the last time to decide which train we will take.

There were 3 main options:

1st option.
We have to be in Shanghai on 21st of July at latest. Train from Urumqi to Shanghai goes daily and takes 3 days (departs evening, arrives midday). -> We have to be in Urumqi on 19th at latest, which is Sunday. Train from Almaty to Urumqi goes 2 days a week and arrives either on Monday or on Wednesday. Monday, 20th is too late for us, so 15th, Wednesday would be fine. In this case we have to depart from Almaty on 13th of July (evening).
Train from Moscow to Almaty goes every 2nd day. In order for us to be in Almaty on 13th, we have to take train which departs from Moscow on 9th July evening. So, departing from Riga on 8th evening, which means 2 not 1 extra days of vacation (not sure whether possible for all of us).
Looking from start – if we are in Urumqi on 15th, we can go to Xian with train 1086 (Urumqi – Jinan) and be there on 17th, visit Terracotta Army (takes 3h + getting to/from = 5h) and see city. Then leave in the evening to either Shanghai or Beijing.

Shanghai first
This means, we are in Shanghai on 18th round 2pm and can spend there 4,5 days till evening of 22nd. Then go to Beijing, arrive there 23rd before noon and spend there 3 days before departing home on 26th.

Beijing first
This means, we are in Beijing on 18th round 10am and can spend there 3days, 2 nights till evening of 20th. Then go to Shanghai, arrive there 21st before noon and spend there 4,5days before departing home on 25th night.

In short:
Riga-Moscow(Rizskaja)(004р) – daily, 18:10-12:16, 17:06h (departs 1st day, arrives 2nd)
Moscow(Pavlieckaja)-Almaty(007ц) – every 2nd, 22:50-07:14, 78:24h (departs 1st day, arrives 5th)
Almaty-Urumqi(014ц) – Mon,Sat, 23:58-08:58, 31:00h (departs 1st day, arrives 3rd)
Urumqi-Shanghai(T54) – daily, 17:20-14:31, 45:11h (departs 1st day, arrives 3rd)
Urumqi-Xian(to Jinan,1086), 21:48-07:29, 33:41h (departs 1st day, arrives 3rd)

Sites: (+ google translate automatic language detection)’an

The Introduction

I’m not used to write in English, so maybe there will be lots of mistakes here. Though I think that I should write this one in some international language, because the information of such tours are interesting to those who plan to do something similar. Last time we thought that the writing will be easier in Latvian and we will translate afterwards. But you can surely guess how it turned out. No post was translated as we had no time or were too lazy. So, let’s start in English from the beginning.

This blog will be about me and my friends who are going to watch the Total Solar Eclipse of 2009 in Shanghai. We will go there by train starting in Riga, Latvia, which is the city where we live, work or study. And by plane back. The Eclipse takes place in 22nd of July, 2009 and will be visible from India, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh China and Japan isles. The wikipage is here and the NASA official page is here. There are lots of maps in the latter.

Yet there are 3 possible routes – through Mongolia, through Kazakhstan and through China around Mongolia. We are not sure of timetables for Almaty-China train Zhibek Zholy as there are unclear information in websites, so I have asked some people from to find out it at Almaty railway station. They haven’t responded with timetables yet though.

Meanwhile we are trying to spare money as the journey is not so cheap and we are not millionaires also. Actually it would be much cheaper to go by plane both directions. But – what’s the fun flying by plane. I mean, we will do it when we will be 80.

That’s for now. I hope to give details in later posts. :)