On the Trans-Siberian Railway with likeminded digital nomads!
Sep. 12th to Sep. 24th, 2017
Excited chatter filled the loft as 30 nomads from 12 different countries all met each other for the first time. Laughter and excitement echoed across the room as each person took their turn to receive their nomad train branded travel kit complete with slippers and travel mug and not to mention the most important thing - a Yota sim card preloaded with 35gb of data (we are digital nomads after all). After a short introduction of what to expect from the trip and a few icebreaker activities we went for our first of many dinners as a huge nomad family. Beers were drunk, great food was eaten and once everyone was satisfied and fulfilled we said the best type of good bye – one when you know for sure that we would be seeing each other the next day at Kazansky railway station where we would be departing on an epic 15 day adventure across Russia.
The train was not just a train. The train became our Universe each time we got in. An interactive museum of modern Russian culture, Russian-language school, a restaurant and infinite talks with tea and sweets in kupes, a place for board and role games, a pop-up coworking and even a filming studio. We suggested a format of open space – each nomad was invited to conduct any event he or she wanted. So, we also got a beginners workshop on how to take photos, a discussion about nomad nation, and even a hackathon on train and travel issues. There were a few people who worried about long hours we had to spend in the train, however, their worries went away after the first part of the trip – it was never boring or tiresome. Each train had a shower that you could have visited for $2, there were enough stops where you could check your e-mail, walk a bit and buy some strange local food and souvenirs (e.g. huge cut-glass chandelier or painted vase, also huge – yes, the size matters in Russia ). Food prepared by the restaurant was delicious, diverse and definitely became Russian experience by itself. Most train stewards turned out to be friendly and helpful, though not speaking English at all. 24-hour train trips without coverage became a unique opportunity to connect with people, contemplate nature outside or just spend some time in silence.
Still not fully accustomed to train life - no showers or a stable internet connection, the first stopover in Yaketerinburg came just at the right time. Nomads happily headed for their hotels. Some even gave up a taxi for a walk through the unexpectedly warm Ural capital. Within 10 minutes after the arrival we were already discussing when to meet for dinner, how to get to the experimental dance performance and what time to start working the day after. We found ourselves in a city during the first day of Ural Biennial, with coworking in the main museum, and people dancing on the banks of Iset river during the night: Beautiful memories of a city of creativity and art. Our first city break as a nomad family saw us creating beautiful memories in a city renowned for its creativity and art. As we got to know each other better we stayed up late having heart to heart conversations and excitement at that feeling of knowing more was to come on that amazing journey we were apart of. The next morning saw us clearing our email inboxes, repacking our over prepared backpacks with more substantial food provisions for the train and preparing for another 24 hours of serene train travel across the Russian wilderness.
"Home is anywhere where I am peaceful and can work quietly. Where I can be with light-minded people like nomads.The whole world is my home."
"I like this kind of trains. When you just sit and you do some stuff by yourself. You sleep, you read. I don't know..talk with someone...just kind of lifestyle. I enjoy these tiny moments."
"Leave your comfort zone and do it. Attend this great journey to meet other Nomads, exchange experience with them – as you are so close in the train, and spend much time together. It's very nice to meet like-minded people."
Arriving in Novosibirsk was a completely different experience. We had come to enjoy the gentle motion of the train, the digital detox and taking the chance to read a good book or just enjoy life. We peeled off our events schedule from the door, glancing over the activities that had been scheduled - from train Tai Chi to How to trade stocks and even a brainstorm on the potential for a Nomad Nation. It’s not that we weren’t excited for Novosibirsk, it was more that the slow and rhythmical wobble of the train carried away all thought of deadlines and work, whilst the lights of the city ahead meant returning to our normal city life.
In reality, Novosibirsk became a synonym of comfort, rest (or party) and exceptionally fruitful work. Non-stop dancing in an overcrowded bar where we all drank way too many shots and the last party heroes getting back to the hotel at 8 am, It was the most comfortable hotel of the trip with great rooms and a hearty breakfast. A group of us caught the local train to a nearby river where we enjoyed the warm sand of the Obscoe More We astonished the locals by diving into the cool waters, laughing and splashing each other, before hunger got the better of us and we had 5 large pizzas delivered to the beach. Others in the group checked out the peaceful student town of Akademgorodok, some worked together at the coworking space and a couple even ended the day with a soak at a waterpark.
It is a special pleasure to solve a task after a task when close by there are other nomads who, you know, are fully occupied with their projects even though 5 hours ago you were dancing together to Russian rap or swimming in icy water. Our work process consisted of 2 types of experience: working on the train and working in the cities. On the train there were a few chords for electricity, Yota simcards and modems for internet connection, and a few workaholics that you could spend time with if you want to work more. Stable internet connection enough for video calls was available during the stops – approximately every two hours. In each city we had hotels with wi-fi and coworking spaces reserved and paid. As the schedule of our train trips and stopovers had been known in advance, it was rather easy to adjust a calendar of calls and video meetings. Each nomad chose their own work regime according to his or her needs.
Autumn seemed to arrive overnight. It was quite the shock to the system After the summer-like warmth of Yekaterinburg and Novosibirsk. Damp, chilly Irkutsk met us with a noisy railway station, no sign of Uber only swaggering taxi-drivers and rectangular hotel Irkutsk with monotonous rows of windows (say ‘hi' to USSR) next to the shaggy embankment of the Angara-river.
Immediately upon check-in the most restless nomads rented a car and set off to explore Listvyanka — a village near Baikal Lake, and trekked along an antique railroad around the Baikal. Another part of the group explored local datsan communicating only with gestures and smiles, other fellows spent the whole day on their laptops content with a stable internet connection. We arrived back to the hotel, to an amazing surprise from some of the nomads. Champagne and an incredibly delicious cake, as a thank you gift for the organising team; decorated with a small train! The cake was So good that some healthy-eaters could only stop after eating three pieces.
The next day started with two missions, (even harder than abstaining from overnight cake eating) – to get up at 5 am and fit pretty much the entire crew to a tiny bus with 24 seats. To be more precise, there was 18 standard seats and 6 folding ones which, however, turned out to be rather comfortable. Why, you ask? We’ve decided to spend 2 days at Olkhon – the biggest island of the Baikal.
After a four-hour windy drive and one-hour waiting for a ferry on the shore of storming Baikal (really storming, so we had to use all our hands not to lose hats and not to be carried off the cliff) we experience the lack of roads at Olkhon Island with our whole body. At first its desolate landscape let us nervously think, ‘That’s it? Are you serious?’ But as it had happened numerous times before, all questions dissolved two hours later in the same way as clouds did reminding us the sun still existed. Pine-smelling wooden house, common room (finally!), traditional Russian banya (sauna) with some Indian mantras, a four-course dinner and after a few vodkas (just to note, that it was the 9th day of the trip on the ‘vodka train’), and gaining some liquid courage, a couple of nomads even went swimming in the icy Baikal The next morning we took a jeep expedition to the most northern point of the island . The end of the trip arrived unexpectedly fast and saw us having to say goodbye to both Olkhon and to a small part of the group who would not be joining us on the last leg of the journey to Mongolia.
During the last train trip the restaurant coach was buzzing, full of nomads all the time – that feeling when you want to discuss everything, even more, and new topics pop up like popcorn, without any effort, and time passes away at an unkindly fast pace. Fast forward 5 hours and we were getting passports ready for the border control. Just before customs, naturally we irritated the Chinese train stewards who didn’t understand why we needed to urgently fit 23 people in 1 kupe (to make a 360 photo of course), and after the mission was completed (too easy, need much more volunteers next time) we could not stop laughing and joking. Frankly speaking, at that point even silly jokes worked pretty well and one joke was enough to send the entire carriage into a roar of laughter for the whole coach as walls were thin, and after 11 days of the trip we easily discerned authors of each joke what made it even funnier.
We arrived to Ulan Bataar to an absolutely freezing morning, which fitted the atmosphere well. Everyone hugged and said goodbye to everyone. Some hugs were ‘just in case’, as there was another portion of adventures right ahead – with the group splitting off into subgroups to go and explore steppes, sheep, horses and camels, nights in gers, salty tsay, mountains and snowfalls – welcome to the land of Gengis Khan - Mongolia.