If there is one country where buying a train ticket
or a reservation is not easy and very slow, it is definitely Russia.
Besides the date, departure and arrival stations, the clerk has to type
into the computer a lot of details such as name (written in cyrillic
letters on the visa), passport number and visa number, all this separated
by spaces and symbols, as there is no such software with simply a box
for each entry. Only one window serves foreigners, with its own opening
times and staffed by a clerk who does not necessarily speak english.
Fortunately, I speak a little russian, which came in very handy. In
Moscow, with the help of a russian friend, I bought a ticket Moscow-Beijing
then I bought reservations for the sleeper trains for each leg of the
trip, as I went along. This turned out to be a little unusual. In Krasnoyarsk,
I got a nice example of the sort of things russians must cope with everyday.
I wanted to buy a reservation for the sleeper to Irkutsk.
At the station, I could not find this "mezhdunarodna kassa",
the international window so I asked at the information window. The lady
took my ticket and when I told her I wanted a reservation to Irkutsk,
she replied "nyet, nye mozhno" (no, not possible) and gave
me the ticket back. I insisted, and she told me to go to the "kassa",
i.e. the normal window, where I had to queue for a little while. Naturally,
this normal window does not serve foreigners and they redirected me
to a totally different building, in town. Once there, I queued at the
only window that was open. There were only a few persons in front of
me but it took 10 minutes for each of them (if things were the same
in China, I would probably still be in Beijing or Xi'an as you read
this). On top of this, there was a power cut which lasted a good half
hour and of course everything stopped, russians took a seat and patiently
waited. When the electricity came back, queuing resumed and when my
turn came, the lady redirected me to the next window, the "mezhdunarodna
kassa" which was closed. As it the working times were not posted,
I asked what time it opens : "syeychas" (immediately). After
another 10 minutes, a grumpy lady arrived and again, after looking at
my ticket : "nyet, nye mozhno" (no, not possible). I insisted,
she insisted, I insisted, she called someone on the phone, and eventually,
started typing on the computer, entering the details from my visa and
my passport. In the end I got my reservation but it took in total one
and a half hour.
In Irkutsk, the lady spoke english, and things went
very smoothly. However, in Ulan-Ude, the computer kept replying "0
- NYET" after she had typed everything. She had to call someone
over, they looked into the manual, checked the spaces and the characters
on the screen, phoned someone else, and eventually I was told to return
next day. The problem was that the train had not yet left from its departure
station. I came back in company of a local Buryat lady met in the bus,
on the way back from a buddhist temple (the Buryats people live in this
part of Russia and they are related ethnically to the Mongols). The
lady at the window also recognised me and things went without problem.
see the photos from Russia