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central america: cuba
Nowhere in
Russia is it
easier to find insight
in the real, gooey-
hearted Russia than
by train, where
locals bring enough
food to survive
for days – and
share it freely.
bruno morandi / getty images
g in
There is only one railway whose name
immediately conjures up romance, adventure
and trepidation: the Trans-Siberian Railway.
gooey heart
robert reid, co-author of Lonely Planet’s guide to the
mighty train journey, discusses his experiences riding
the autonomous Jewish district in the napkins are, before handing one over.
Far East, who offered to sketch me with Occasionally it’s a shot of vodka they give.
the rails through the former Soviet empire.
two new friends, energetic (and tipsy) The trains are quite comfortable and
truckers from Blagoveshchensk; and the safe. The kupe class has four-bed berths,
ne of these days word than by train, where locals bring enough cute 70-something couple from Chita while the cheaper platskartny is a wide-open
is going to get out food to survive for days – and share it who jolted out of their seats when I wagon, but each passenger gets a bed too.
that Russians are not freely. I’ve crossed most of Russia a couple boarded, insisting on putting the sheets There’s a samovar at the end of every wagon
all drunken, coldly times by train now, and seem to make on my bed, then handing me whole to make tea or add water to over instant
indifferent thugs who new friends every time I climb aboard. tomatoes from their dacha garden. noodles. The dining car’s a fun place for a
reject anything foreign. Just out of Moscow on my first Trans- I’ve also shared cabins with some break. Windows (often) open, with curtains
These sorts of myths have a history, Siberian experience a few years ago, an of those guys you might worry about blowing and tables of lone passengers
beginning long before Sting’s overblown aging Novosibirsk professor eased me at first – meaty, head-shaved frowners sipping borscht or a group of guys drinking
Cold War single that wondered whether into its rhythms by discussing French in black jackets. But they’d ended up beer with dried squid.
Russians “love their children too”. But film, heavy metal and growing up in pulling out photos of a distant bride Some travellers who take the Trans-
debunking such misunderstandings is a Magadan gulag. Other wagonmates to coo a second over and kiss, staring Siberian – in all, a seven-day ride between
as easy as stepping aboard the 5663- since have included the Siberian woman wide-eyed in real pity that I’d never gone Moscow and Vladivostok, seven time zones
mile Trans-Siberian Railway, one of the resembling Joe Pesci who pulled me out mushroom-picking (“they really don’t east – don’t get off on the way, instead
world’s most eye-opening journeys. of the cabin and pointed, with a sigh, to a have mushrooms in New York City?”), or keeping their long inspection of Siberian
Nowhere in Russia is it easier to find passing Soviet-era dam; the long-haired clapping with delight of how great the towns from the window (and their showers
insight in the real, gooey-hearted Russia artist from Birobidzhan, the heart of concept of individually wrapped sanitized make-shift adventures with a tube attached
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