A journey on the Trans-Siberian railway
by Nathan Gailee
The sheer size of the Russian can be incomprehensible to those travelling from the “small island” of Britain as Vladimir Putin calls it. What better way to truly understand the extensive federation than to travel the length of it by train. The iconic Trans-Siberian railway is a network of railways that provide a lifeline deep into Russia’s isolated far east, as well as Mongolia’s desert plains, and the imperial sights of China. The main route begins in the westernised hubbub of Moscow, before taking you on a mundane but strangely mystical journey through sparse plains, endless forests and mountain ranges, ending up in rugged and exotic harbour city of Vladivostok, some 6,100 miles (9,200 km) away.
The steady pace of the journey allows you to catch a glimpse at village life in between the monotonous but somewhat romanticised reel of snow-capped siberian pine trees. As the train plods along it feels like you have all of eternity to form lasting friendships with your fellow passengers. Start by sharing around the local food you’ve picked up at the last station stop and even if there’s a impassable language barrier, it won’t be long before you’re slumped over the table in your cabin together after draining the dregs out of yet another bottle of ludicrously cheap vodka.
As the journey takes almost a week, it would be foolish to not break the expedition up with a stop at either of the major Russian cities: Irkutsk, Novosibirsk, Khabarovsk or Ekaterinburg. If you prefer to marvel at natural beauty than explore urban life then a stop-off at Lake Baikal is very worthwhile. Lake Baikal is the deepest lake in the world, holds 20% of the worlds unfrozen freshwater, and has been coined as the ‘Galapagos of Russia.’
Trekking around the lake basin is a lonely and picturesque experience. A detour along the Trans-Mongolian railway to the Gobi desert of Mongolia is also highly recommend.
If countless beers and card games isn’t your way of passing the time, there’s a restaurant carriage where you can sit back with a cup of tea and a good book. The experience on the Trans-Siberian can be one of quiet serenity, or one of throat burning spirits and loud conversations, depending on who you meet on the train, and that’s the excitement of it!
The Rossiya (the Russian) train leaves Moscow every second day to embark on it’s 6 night journey to Vladivostok. Booking through an agency is advisable unless you are one of the lucky few who can understand the puzzling Cyrillic alphabet, although expect to pay a little more for their service. And, don’t forget to sort your Visa in advance!
Nathan Galilee is a contributor for The Travel Shortlist
Having left home at 18 to spend a year abroad, Nathan inter-railed around Europe and took the trans-siberian train through Russia. After catching the travel bug, his next venture is into creating a unique travel inspiration concept – The Travel Shortlist, an ever-expanding collection of intuitive and inspiring reviews from exciting destinations across the globe.
Photos by Nathan Galilee, Bernt Rostrad & Kyle Taylor .