November 4, 2012

Moscow time

My trusty Breitling “Aerospace” watch

One of my greatest Trans-Siberian nightmares (at least of the realistically possible ones) is being left behind in the middle of nowhere with all my gear still on the train trundling towards Mongolia. Apparently it does happen, normally when people get off in search of food and get either cut off or distracted from the right platform. There are no hoots or whistles – it just departs. Having once had to run for a moving train (Inter Rail, Nice – Bologna, 1986), I’m not sure if I’m now in good enough shape to catch it once it gets moving..

Most people who have done the trip comment on the weirdness of Trans-Siberian train timekeeping. Let me explain. The train starts out on Moscow time, thats GMT +4. As it crosses East it reaches as far as GMT +9 in Irkutsk, then back to +8 as it arrives into Beijing. However, the train timetable stays on Moscow time for the whole trip, whilst daily life (and vitally the restaurant carriage) work on local time. Its therefore possible to have dinner when others are having breakfast and every permutation of time lag in between!

The scheduled stops are listed on a timetable posted by the Provodnitsa inside the carriage, but I hear it can be hard to work out (mainly written in Chinese, Mongolian & Russian). I’m the kind of person who has to be early for the plane, so it wont surprise you to learn that I’m going to use technology to de-risk being left behind as best as possible. I have two key gadgets for this job.

The first is my ultra dependable Breitling watch. I have had it for about 15 years now and its perfect for travel. Its made of titanium, so its very light and it has a display on the dial so you can see a second time zone. It also has an alarm, timer and countdown function. The marketing blurb from Breitling points to it as a “professional” series watch for pilots. My model is actually called the “Repetition Minutes” – this refers to the facility to press the crown and hear the time as a series of long and short beeps. Very handy indeed if you only have one hand free in the cockpit of your F-16! I don’t always wear it when I’m away as its slightly flashy, but I have decided for this trip it is a must have.

My iPad 3 on IOS6 with new World clock function

The second is my new iPad. Or at least it was new last week, but Apple have updated it again, so its a now a “not quite so new, new iPad3”. IOS6 has for the first time put a proper clock function on the iPad, and it looks perfect for the Trans-Siberian. I have set mine up for time zones along the route – you can see above how it also shows daylight/darkness, and when there is 3G or wi-fi, the local weather. Of course the chances of getting wi-fi on the Trans-Siberian are slimmer than Michael Schumacher winning the F1 World Championship again, but I felt it my duty to point out to you the functionality..

The common best advice seems to be work on local time so your body adjusts as you go East – this means just having Moscow time only as a reference point for the arrival and departure times at key stops (all 33 of them). I also hopefully will have a Provodnitsa who will help me decode the length of time at key stops.

By the way, if you were wondering, I did manage to get on the Bologna bound sleeper train in 1986. Once I had done the comedy run down the platform and climbed on (pretending thats how I always got on a train), I realised I was not in the right carriage and they had all been locked at each end for the night. Cue another mission outside the moving train at night to get into my couchette. It is true that young people view risks differently to the rest of us!


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