Being on a train for 5 days is hard work. For one thing there's the lack of sleep. There are loads of reasons for the lack of sleep: being bounced up and down constantly, lights from towns and other trains shining in the windows all night long, going through 5 different time zones, inconsiderate cabin-mates... I could go on.
There's also the boredom. New scenery outside the window can only keep you excited for so long, particularly as most of the journey is just through flat Siberian woodland or fields. It only gets a bit hillier as you near Irkutsk, and even then not by much. As a comparison, the highest point of ground we saw on the journey wasn't even as tall as some hills you'd see in Hampshire.
Another reason it's such hard work is the temperature. A lot of people asked me before we set off if I was worried about it being too cold on the train, but I'd been smart and done some research. I read somewhere that "The train is heated, and so you won't need to worry about the cold". A more accurate appraisal however, would have been "The train is heated constantly, even when the outside temperature toward the end of the journey reaches 22°C, and so you won't need to worry about the cold. If anything, you'll be sweating the entire time, and wishing they'd let you open a window".
To overcome the boredom, I'd downloaded in advance several episodes of The Infinite Monkey Cage (a podcast) to listen to on the way. By day four, I was already a long way through these, and really enjoying it. I made the mistake of getting too in to it though, and ignoring the fact I needed a wee until the end of an episode.
There are two loos in the second class carriage, one at the front and one at the back. This is good, because when it's full, there are over 40 people in the carriage, not including staff, and people can tend to spend a long time in the loos, since they're also the only places to go for a wash, or to brush teeth etc.
I got up, and checked the one at the front of the carriage. Locked. Naturally I went to the other end and checked that one. It was locked too. No problem - I gave it ten minutes, then checked them both again. Both were still locked. Each time I walked to each toilet, I had to squeeze past people who were standing in the corridor looking out of the window, and I didn't want to put anyone out, so I decided this time to wait in the corridor, and keep an eye on both toilet doors from the middle.
After about another ten minutes, I started to wonder if maybe I'd missed somebody coming out - after all, the toilets were at opposite ends of the carriage, and so I couldn't keep an eye on both of them at the same time. Someone could easily have slipped out and through the end door into the next carriage without me noticing. So, I checked the front carriage again, then back to the rear of the carriage to check that one again.
This time, one of the train guards was standing near the toilet door. She didn't speak any English, and I don't speak any Russian, but somehow we got to the point where I understood that the toilet door had been closed because we were approaching a station. At this point it's worth pointing out that they do this because rather than storing what gets flushed under the carriage somewhere, the toilets drop their contents directly onto the tracks wherever you happen to be at he time you flush. Fair enough, you wouldn't want a station full of poo, so it makes sense. This had happened a few times before, so by now I knew the drill - doors lock 5 mins before you get to the station, the train stops, people get off or on, the train goes, and then the doors are unlocked again. I could easily hang on another ten minutes, so nothing to worry about. I went back to our cabin, and talked with Abby to take my mind off it.
About twenty minutes later, we pulled into the station. This was annoying for me, because I couldn't imagine why the toilets had to have been closed so early, but nonetheless, getting to the station meant that I'd soon be able to wee, a fact that by this point, I was very grateful for.
Ten minutes later, we were still sitting at the station, and I was about to burst. I grabbed my shoes and coat, and wandered out onto the platform to find a toilet there. When I stepped out, I noticed there wasn't much going on on the platform. At previous stations we'd stopped at for longer, there had been food stalls and souvenir sellers, for people from the train to stock up from, but here I just saw two groups of people, the staff from the train, who had gathered for a smoke outside the exit I'd used at the back of our carriage, and a group of 5 police officers, who were standing by the front of the carriage, in a separate huddle.
I approached the group of staff, to ask if there was a toilet I could use there. "Nyet toilet", was the reply I received, along with a hand gesture to signal "no". Hoping against hope they'd meant that the toilets on the train were locked, I pointed at the platform. "Toilet here?" I asked. "Nyet." Bugger.
I then asked how long until the train would be moving again, by pointing at my watch, at which point a couple of the group started to laugh - they could see I was desperate - and one pointed at the sign on the platform. The train wouldn't leave for another 35 minutes.
I got back on the train, and began to wonder what I could do. The other residents of our cabin were out in the corridor, and Abby suggested that I shut our door and pee into a bottle. There was no way I was going to do that though - at the other side of the cabin was a window, and anyone on the opposite platform would have easily been able to see what I was doing. I started pacing up and down the corridor, in the hopes that focusing on that would sufficiently distract me.
Eventually, about 10 minutes before the train was due to leave the platform (and knowing that even once the train set off, they still might not open the toilets for another few minutes), I reached the point where I knew I just didn't have that long. I reconsidered peeing in the bottle, and went back into the cabin to find Abby. When I got there, I was mortified to find that one of the ladies we were sharing with had returned. She didn't speak English, and so even if I could have gotten over the shame of telling a stranger I needed the room to pee in a bottle, I couldn't possibly have explained what I needed to do.
I thought for a moment, then grabbed our empty water bottle, and asked Abby to come with me. In that moment, I'd formulated a plan - I'd go to the bit between our carriage and the one in front of it, since it only had fairly small windows there, and do it in there. I needed Abby with me to keep guard, because people could approach from either direction.
I got into the bit between carriages, and started filling the bottle. I felt a big sense of relief, dampened only by the worry that I might get caught. It was at that moment that I turned my head, looked out of the small window and saw the police officers on the platform, directly outside the window!
Thankfully they could only see my face, and were oblivious to what I was up to. I went back to our cabin and sat down to use some hand sanitiser (The only sinks were in the locked toilets, after all). A few minutes later, the staff were getting on the train again, and we were off. It's at that point I realised that they still thought I really needed to go, so I had to go back out and play the part, thanking them profusely when they opened the door for me.
The rest of the journey after that was much smoother, and we were getting off the next morning. I set my alarm later that day, and we all settled down for bed. The next morning one of the staff came in to wake us up, and let us know we were two hours from our stop. I didn't understand most of what she said, but after she walked off, one of the women in our cabin said to me "She said to tell you they're closing the toilet in half an hour".