The Trans-Siberian Railway is not just a way to get to the most remote areas of the world’s largest country but if you look inside you can see a triumph of engineering and real Russia.
This Railway crosses 7 time zones and connects territory from Moscow to Vladivostok. Initially the route wasn’t only on the Russian territory, the Chinese Eastern Railway was built to provide a shorter way to Vladivostok via Harbin. Now it is known as the Trans-Manchurian line and it is still a train link from Moscow to Beijing.
There’s no better way to get a sense of the country than aboard the Trans-Siberian Express, which wends its way through beautiful pine and larch forests, meadows filled with flowers, rolling hills, rugged mountains, gilded churches, Siberian sunsets and, admittedly, the odd industrial eye-sore.
The Railway building was completed in October, 1916 and helped to connect not only the parts of Russia but also to improve its trade ties with China, Japan and the USA.
The idea to link Moscow to resource-rich Siberia and the Pacific Coast belongs to Tsar Nikolai I. During the reign of Alexander III the biggest and technically the hardest sector from the Ural Mountains to Vladivostok was built. Large rivers had to be bridged and many areas were either waterlogged or iron-hard deepfrozen. The Trans-Siberian Railway was built simultaneously from both ends, from east to wet and made the lines met at Irkutsk.
During World War II the Trans-Siberian Railway played an important role in delivering supplies first to the Axis Powers and then to the Allies. The first two years of the war when the USSR took the position of neutrality and hadn’t been invaded by Nazi yet, the railway was a link between Japan and Germany. In 1941 the USSR joined the Allies and blocked the Nazi’s access to the railway. Thereafter it was used to bring the US supplies to Europe and transport Soviet troops to the Japanese front during the Soviet-Japanese War in 1945.
After the wars The Trans-Siberian kept on being a vital trade link for the Soviet Union and it remains actual today: about one third of Russian exporting is carried this line. And it still filled with travelers and it is not exclusively aimed at tourists, the Trans-Siberian is a regular working train used by ordinary Russians.
The locomotives that ply the Trans-Siberian Railway are often things of beauty. Among the public trains running between Moscow and Vladivostok is the Rossiya, a wonderful piece of work, brightly painted in the Russian national colours of blue, white and red. For something truly stunning, splash out on a ticket aboard the privately-run Golden Eagle.
The Soviet Union may be long gone but some things never change, including the provodnitsa (tran attendants) community of mainly older Russian women who each take charge of individual compartments on the train and ensure that they remain clean, well-stocked and that there is always boiling water for tea or coffee. The provodnitsa’s default mode is stern, but somewhere deep within is a smile.
No matter how many time zones you cross, Russian trains always run to Moscow time.
Moscow is certainly worth lingering in for a few days before you get on the Trans-Siberian train. The Russian capital is full of great sights: the Kremlin, St Basil’s Cathedral and the Bolshoi are amongst the highlights. Lavish metro stations are worth seeing too.
Yekaterinburg is an essential stopping off point for anyone with an interest in history. It was the place where in July, 1918 the last Russian Tsar Nikolai II and his family were murdered by the Bolshevik captors. Church was built on the site where they were killed.
You’re unlikely to see many tourists in Tobolsk but those who visit this town are rewarded for their curiosity by one of the most beautiful kremlins in Russia. This historic city is also where Dostoevsky and Nicholas II passed through during their detentions in Siberia.
The Baikal is the deepest and the oldest lake in the world, it is more than a mile to the bottom. The water is highly oxygenated and over half the species that inhabit it are unique. Among them are freshwater seals and a type of crab that devours everything organic.
Described by the author, Anton Chekhov, Krasnoyarsk is the most beautiful city in Siberia surrounded by beautiful pine forests, meadows filled with wild purple flowers and the lovely hills. While away a day or two exploring its museums and embellished timber mansions (a particular feature of Siberia); take yourself off to the nearby Stolby Nature Reserve; and go for a walk up the Yenisei River.
On the way to Vladivostok the interminable forest began to withdraw. On either side grassland rolled away to infinity. You have reached Russia’s Far East, the end of the route. Vladivostok might be closer to North Korea than Europe, but the city has a decidedly European feel. Framed by rugged mountains, the city is packed with elegant turn-of-the-century buildings and is regularly used as a “European” backdrop by oriental film-makers.
There are stops and all-inclusive tours along the way at places such as Irkutsk, Lake Baikal, Ulan Ude and Ulan Bator in Mongolia
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