I have a weakness for Russian novelists and their all-encompassing narratives. I also have a weakness for Russia’s far-reaching landscapes. So today’s armchair travel is brought to you by my literary Achilles’ heel.
Also, I may have watched Anna Karenina last night. (As an aside, brilliant movie. Theatrical, dramatic, heart-breaking – exactly as it should be.)
The Trans-Siberian railway fascinates me, and I have a long-standing desire to travel from Moscow to Vladivostok on this legendary rail line. In fact, you can even take this train from Donetsk, Ukraine to Vladivostok – the longest train journey in the world. I’d like to venture down into Mongolia on the railway as well, but that’s for another post. Maybe a life split between Australia and Canada is destined to inspire a fascination with huge, wide open, wild spaces (given that both my countries boast many of these!), but I am so drawn to the wilderness of Russia.
I struggle a little with my travel impulses, my interests usually being the “off the beaten path” type. I’m well aware that as I complain about tourists ruining it for everyone else, I’m an equal contributor to the problem (though I like to think a slightly more respectful and quiet contributor than some). For this reason, the Donetsk-Vladivostok trip appeals to me; most travelers opt for the Mongolia line, and word on the street [read: internet] is that the longer trip provides a real taste of Russia. I have this absurd vision of drinking hot tea and vodka with strangers while the steppe whistles past us, this tiny train dwarfed by the immensity of the landscape.
Idealised notions of Russia aside, this truly is an adventurous trip for any season.
The trans-Siberian railway was completed in 1904, running a staggering 9,288 kms. It’s possible to take the train straight through from Moscow to Vladivostok, but be warned – this is a full 7-8 days of constant train travel. I imagine it would be something like a sea voyage, which is certainly not for the restless travelling types. Most guide books recommend at least one stop – the beautiful Lake Baikal.
Lake Baikal is the world’s oldest and deepest freshwater lake, and is an incredible display of eco-diversity. This lake holds one-fifth of the world’s freshwater, and is host to over 1,200 animal species, 600 types of plants, and the world’s only freshwater seals. Of these plants and animals, 75 percent are found only in the Lake Baikal region, making its preservation crucial. [Source]
Adventurous travelers should be warned – if you plan on stopping in many of the towns along the way, you will need to buy individual tickets for each leg of the journey. Planning is key on this trip – I doubt many people would enjoy being stranded for days waiting for the next train. It’s also recommended that you attempt to learn some basic Russian, as this will make your journey much easier. The further you get from Moscow, the less English you’re likely to hear. My Russian is sketchy at best, and I’ll definitely need to improve on it before I even think about undertaking a trip like this.
As with most projects of this magnitude, the trans-Siberian does have a dark side. During construction, many men died due to the incredibly adverse climate & living conditions. If you decide to undertake this journey, take a history book along for the train – you’ll gain real perspective on the incredible lives of the men who made this railway possible.