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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 November, 2003, 17:32 GMT
Exploring Russia diary: Railway rules
With the start of campaigning for the parliamentary elections, the BBC's Steve Rosenberg has embarked on a trip across Russia to find out more about life in a country which has undergone rapid change in the last 15 years.

Exploring Russia diary :: 10 November, Yekaterinburg

"Worshipful passengers!" reads the electronic sign in English, sort of, at the front of the compartment. "You are being serviced by personnel of the eastern direction!"

In our carriage we are being "serviced" by a guard called Ludmilla. She is very polite - but then again, there is a big sign on the train wall which says that she has to be.

And according to the same sign, Ludmilla is also obliged to answer all the passengers' questions.

There are rules for Trans Siberian passengers too.

You are not allowed to bring your own bed linen on board - or, your own TV set. Glad I left mine back in Moscow.

After more than a day on the train, Moscow is a distant memory.

Endless birch forests sweep past the window, interspersed with tiny wooden shacks and the occasional small industrial town. Everything is covered in a blanket of pure white snow.

Train stops have been few and far between. We did stop - for 20 minutes - in Vladimir. A lady on the platform there tried to sell me a dart board and a pair of plastic children's skis.

On we chugged to the town of Perm in the Ural mountains.

When I jumped off the train, a jolly policewoman called Nina told me it was a national holiday - the Day of Russian Policemen.

Nina said she'd be celebrating with a few drinks. With a smile as wide as a Siberian river, she said she'd arrest me and keep me there to join in the fun. I thanked her - but declined the offer.

Praise for Putin

Waiting for the train was a 50-year-old microbiologist called Galina, sporting a large fluffy fur hat.

She told me she had no intention of voting in next month's parliamentary elections. In Russia, she said, the people in power would always do whatever they wanted to - her vote wouldn't change anything.

And what did Galina think of the Yukos affair? Was she concerned that the Kremlin was taking on big business?

Not really. "Those oligarchs don't care about our country," she told me. "They've already made their fortunes.

"But President Putin's a true Russian, he cares about all the people. I think he's a strong leader."

Back onto the train. Out of the window, darkening skies, more trees.

In the restaurant car it's show time, My Fair Lady in Russian on video, and then we reach the gateway to Siberia at Yekaterinburg. We're now 1,778 kilometres east of Moscow.

1. Leave Moscow: 9 November
2. Yekaterinburg: 10 November
3. Omsk: 11-13 November
4. Novosibirsk: 14-15 November
5. Krasnoyarsk: 16 November
6. Irkutsk: 16-19 November
7. Vladivostok: 20-24 November

Your comments:

I went on the Trans-Siberian in 2000 and have been yearning to repeat the journey ever since. My friend Richard and I were struck by the genuine hospitality shown to us by our Russian cabin mates on the train. They shared their food, offered us guided tours, places to stay, anything they could offer. Siberia is a fascinating and beautiful place. A strange mixture of young forward thinking people and older communist bureaucrats. I hope that by the time Richard and I return it won't have changed too much.
Kiri Bloom, UK

I travelled the TransSiberian Express in 1984, when it was still communist. It was a fascinating experience, with very little of the modern Russia you see today. The people were welcoming and friendly, although at times a bit overwhelming; and there was still a flavour of hard line policing - I saw drunks being rounded up on the empty evening streets of Irkutsk! The best bit for me was the walks around Lake Baikal - I swear I heard wolves - and the train journey as it looped around the lake - still frozen on May 8, listening to jazz in a 1950s wooden coach - it was a timewarp. I feel sad that the old style Russia - wooden houses, horse-drawn carts - will inevitably disappear but I hope that the people will always remain friendly, intelligent and above all patient with their changing nation. Here's to Mother Russia!
Alex Thurley-Ratcliff, UK

A fantastic way to get to know the people of this vast country!
Francis O'Shea, Canada
I have travelled on a number of occasions on the trains of Russia. Moscow to Petrozavodsk, St Petersburg to Petrozavodsk and St Petersburg to Moscow. I love it! It is particularly nice that there are fold-down beds in each compartment. And it is a fantastic way to get to know the people of this vast country! It is a country of long journeys like Canada and there is something of the mysterious and exciting about getting onto a train at midnight to travel to a place one has never been in Russia!! I will be returning there soon.
Francis O'Shea, Canada

Its a great project that the BBC is doing. Thank you guys for trying to show the real Russia, which is different from Moscow. I lived in Russia until my late teenage years, and the best thing about living there was the people, who amid their poor finances seemed optimistic.
Dmitriy P, USA/Russia

It must be in some respects a great relief for Russian locals to talk to complete strangers on trains and platforms about issues that are semi-taboo in their own locales. What strikes me is what range of opinions locals have and just how powerless they feel about the reality of ever changing politics and governance of their own countries, not too dissimilar to how many Americans feel when talking about the political state of their country.
L.J. Harding, HK

Great idea! Congratulations to the Beeb and to Steve Rosenberg! This real-time story has captured the imagination of this reader, at least, and I am sure others too. Keep up the good work.
Dorin Motz, USA

Hope your mattresses are cleaner than the ones on the Odessa-Simferopol night train. We slept on bare bunks to avoid bugs, probably engendering some sort of legend about odd Western folk. The guard also took some avoiding - he was drunk and fancied a grope. But otherwise it was great fun - enjoy your morning tchai from Ludmila and the trackside barbecues in the middle of nowhere.
Marianne, Brussels

My boyfriend is Russian and studied in Novosibirsk. This September I went to visit his friends and family there. I wish Steve a pleasant stay in Novosibirsk. It is not a very beautiful town, but it has the 'Russian vibe'. I recommend Steve to visit "Akademgorodok", a small town, some 50 kilometres of Novosibirsk and full of students
H. van Iperen, Netherlands

Crossing Russia is still an adventure
Rafael Moreno, Spain
It's astonishing to know that crossing Russia is still an adventure. Make sure you're prepared for freezing mornings and be patient with the never ending stops in the middle of nowhere
Rafael Moreno, Spain

I see an interesting set of bulletins coming up. I'm a university student in the States and am planning to study in Russia next year, so this is very interesting especially to me. Keep up the good work.
Fernando S. Gouveia, USA

The Trans Siberian's always been a dream of mine. I doubt I'll ever get the chance, so I'll have to travel it through Steve's columns.
S. Kennefick, Canada

I lived for a year in Russia, and wish Steve all the best in his journey through the heart of the REAL Russia, where life can be hard, hearts warm and distances ... unimaginable. Would make a great book.
D. Gwyn Bennett-Williams, Wales, UK

A good beginning, please keep it up. I lived in Russia for six years in the early nineties and it is nice to read something which depicts the Russian people as they really are. Looking forward to the next bulletin.
Paul Edwards, Finland

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