Tam Eastley for NPR
Contributor Tam Eastley just returned from a trip on the Trans-Siberian Railway, which connects Moscow to the far east of Russia and covers some 9288 kilometers.
Contributor Tam Eastley just returned from a trip on the Trans-Siberian Railway, which connects Moscow to the far east of Russia and covers some 9288 kilometers. Tam Eastley for NPR
The enchanting and mysterious Trans-Siberian Railway is the longest of its kind.
Snaking through Russia at 60 km/h, it links Moscow with Vladivostok, a city a mere stone's throw from North Korea, and covers a distance of 9288 km.
However, an increasingly popular route is to ride the rails from Moscow down to Beijing via Mongolia, or vice-versa, covering a distance just shy of 6000 km and utilizing both the Trans-Siberian and the Trans-Mongolian railways.
This was the trip that my friend and I took this past May. We flew into Beijing, a city that astounded me with its unexpected serenity. We spent a week in Mongolia, a country with breathtaking vacant landscapes and overwhelming friendliness. We washed our hands in the ice-cold and perfectly calm waters of Lake Baikal, which is home to 80% of Russia's fresh water.
These cities and experiences were unforgettable, but riding the Trans-Siberian train is where the magic really happened.
Our train from Irkutsk to Moscow took approximately 90 hours. Our cabin, no wider than two meters, held four people, two bunk beds, and a small table. We left the train for only minutes at a time to stretch our legs. We paused briefly in Krasnoyarsk, Omsk, and Perm. Reflecting back, these cities are but a blur of sleepy train stations, eager snack vendors, and welcome breaths of fresh air.
Tam Eastley for NPR
Eastley passed this small town between Omsk and Moscow.
Eastley passed this small town between Omsk and Moscow. Tam Eastley for NPR
Our carriage became our home, and our neighbors, despite obvious language barriers, became our family. Our fellow travelers were chatty and excited about our trip and our thoughts about their country. They persevered through numerous misunderstandings and confusion. To communicate, we pointed frantically at our dictionary, drew diagrams, and mimed scenes.
There was Natasha, the retired ballerina who stood with her feet pointed to the side in a ballet position. Ivan, a 28 year-old captain in the Russian Army, let us try on his officer's cap. There was Jane, a young Russian woman who made the train trip once a week to pursue her studies in real estate, and Galina, a 57 year-old diabetic, was traveling to a hospital for treatment.
Our days were punctuated with card games, frequent searches in our small Russian dictionary, lunches and dinners of pot noodles, and the occasional shared boiled egg or glass of beer.
The small clock in the hallway read Moscow time, five hours behind the time we started the trip, but time ceases to matter on the Trans-Siberian.
The authors Paul Theroux and Ryszard Kapuściński, travelers of the famous railway, speak to this point in their writings. Their trips take place in the winter when the sun doesn't rise and the landscape consists of snow bank after snow bank. Their writings are gloomy, pessimistic, and increasingly paranoid.
However, in the spring, the sun only sets briefly, and the landscape is made up of rolling green hills, wooden houses with colorful and unique window shutters, and never-ending birch forests which lick the edges of the tracks for miles. After days on the train, the country appears to be wide open, never-ending, and increasingly beautiful. We often went to sleep with the sun still up, and woke in the morning with the sun seemingly in the same position, as if time had not passed at all.
The rocking of the carriage and the chugging of the train's heartbeat as it rolled from village to village was enough to induce a meditative state. Staring out the window becomes a surprisingly enjoyable past time. On the train, nothing matters. All control is released, and one's only responsibility is to sit and enjoy.
With nothing important to do, thoughts of a final arrival in Moscow lose their relevance and slip away. Embarking upon the Trans-Siberian Railway brings new meaning to the old adage that life is about the journey, not the destination.
Tam Eastley Lisa Gerundini
Tam Eastley is from Calgary, Alberta, Canada. After finishing a Bachelor's Degree in Cultural Anthropology at the University of Calgary, she decided to see the world and embarked upon a nine month trip around Europe and Southeast Asia. She moved to Berlin three years ago and completed a Master's Degree at the Freie Uni Berlin in English Literature and Cultural Studies. Her interests include travel, culture, literature and roller derby.