The Trans-Siberian MOSCOW TO BEIJING
Dan Colwell and Martin Gostelow
Fold-out map Train routes Moscow Beijing
3 An Epic Ride
13 Moscow 27 On the Tracks
On the right track
From Moscow to the Urals Into Siberia Across Mongolia South to Beijing
53 Beijing 61 Shopping 65 Dining Out 67 The Hard Facts 71 Index
27 33 43 51
AN EPIC RIDE This is the Big One. Nothing else can match the epic scale of a train ride that at its longest (Moscow to Vladivostok) covers more than 9,000 km (5,600 miles), crosses eight time zones and takes seven days of almost non-stop movement. To travel on the TransSiberian is no ordinary experience—it’s a journey where the train itself becomes its own fascinating world.
The Trans-Siberian is a working train used regularly by people from Russia, Mongolia and China. Creature comforts are few and far between. But sharing the same compartments, corridors, samovars and dining cars makes this journey a rare chance to get to know the citizens of these inscrutable countries. Always, outside, is the mysterious vastness of Siberia. In an age of mile-crunching jet travel, this journey’s unhurried progression across a continent gives an unparalleled sense of space and distance. Before the railway line opened at the beginning of the early 20th century, traversing Siberia posed a far greater challenge. This seemingly inﬁnite region could take a gruelling three months to cross, in temperatures that might reach as low as –68°C (–90°F). The railway soon became not
merely a vital means of transport, but a cherished link connecting the far-ﬂung region with the rest of the nation. Today, it’s a relief to ﬁnd that in the long winter months the trains are comfortably well heated; and with the snowblanketed scenery just beyond the window, this is for many the best time to enjoy an authentic Siberian experience. It may come as a surprise after all this to discover that the TransSiberian Express train doesn’t actually exist. In fact three different lines cross Siberia. Ofﬁcially, the main routes go under such prosaic titles as “Train No. 3”, “Train No. 19”, and so on. But to aﬁcionados, they are known and loved as the Trans-Siberian (from Moscow to Vladivostok), the Trans-Manchurian and the TransMongolian (both from Moscow to Beijing). This last train veers
34 ON THE TRACKS
Museum of Local Studies
The city is known for its many pleasant parks and gardens and also has a couple of museums worth seeking out. The Dostoyevsky Museum concentrates on the writer’s four terrible years of incarceration here as a political exile from 1849–1853. The Military Museum is especially good on the history of Russia’s 20thcentury conﬂicts, from World War I through to the debacle in Chechnya during the 1990s.
Back towards the main square, this museum has some very interesting displays on the history of the city, as well as a section devoted to Siberia’s fascinating natural history. Pride of place goes to the skeleton of a woolly mammoth, whose kind last bestrode this region more than 10,000 years ago.
Novosibirsk Shortly before reaching Novosibirsk, the biggest city in Siberia, the train crosses the Ob River Bridge, 700 m (766 yd) long. The Ob is the fourth-longest river in the world. Its size was a major obstacle for the railway builders, and Novosibirsk was founded in 1893 as a settlement for them during the bridge’s construction. Take a river cruise from the boat station south of the city centre. Novosibirsk’s architecture is inevitably modern. The impressive Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is one of its ﬁrst stone structures; the splendid Opera House, with its massive colonnaded façade and huge silver dome, was completed in 1945. Not far from here stands the Chapel of St Nicholas, whose claim to fame is that it is built on the exact geographical centre of the country.
Krasnoyarsk Almost 700 km (430 miles) further east, Krasnoyarsk is a major industrial city whose location on the banks of the wide Yenisey River and views of the hills of the Central Siberian Plateau give it a pleasing sense of space. The town began life as a 17th-century Cossack fort, but expanded dramatically following a gold rush in the 19th century. Another boost to the economy came with the building of a massive hydroelectric dam in 1960. Surikov Estate-Museum
The 19th-century painter Vasily Surikov came from Krasnoyarsk. The Surikov Estate-Museum, at ul Lenina 98, is based in his old house and garden, and has a ﬁne collection of his paintings, while the charming Surikov Art Museum, on ulitsa Parizhkoy Kommunty, displays works by Surikov together with those of other artists from the 18th century onwards.
Cathedral of the Epiphany
At the north end of the town, the Cathedral of the Epiphany dates from 1724. It somehow survived the Great Fire of 1879, when one of the bells melted in the heat. Bridge over the river Ob. | A night at the opera in Novosibirsk. | Irkutsk: shuttered charm; Virgin and Child in the Cathedral of the Epiphany.
Irkutsk Because of its grand architecture and reﬁned cultural life, Irkutsk was inevitably known as the “Paris of Siberia”. The city nestles in a bend of the Angara River 1,000 km (620 miles) east of Krasnoyarsk. It was created on the back of a 19th-century gold boom, when fortunes were made and spent on luxuries from Moscow and Paris. Irkutsk is now considered the most attractive city in Siberia, and the most popular place to break the journey. It’s also the stopping-off point for a visit to marvellous Lake Baikal, a mere 64 km (40 miles) away.
Southwest of the city, the intriguing reserve is on steep, wooded land and makes for an enjoyable excursion. The park gets its name from the unusual rock pillars, or stolby, which reach up to 100 m (330 ft) in height.
Stolby Nature Reserve
Just what you need to stop your ears from freezing.
SHOPPING In Moscow nowadays you’ll find a choice as vast as that in any large European city. In China, a vast range of traditional crafts, armies of skilled workers to produce them, an unrivalled instinct for commerce and the sheer need to make a living all combine to make it the world’s biggest emporium. In Moscow The best known of Moscow’s department stores is GUM, smack on Red Square. TSUM is GUM’s big competitor, near the Bolshoi Theatre. You will ﬁnd good souvenirs in the hotel shops, and it is worth looking around the ﬂea market in Ismailovsky Park. Handicrafts are the best buys. It’s a rare visitor who can resist buying a set of wooden matryoshka nesting dolls. Traditional versions—anything from 3 to 35 dolls—are painted as colourfully dressed peasant women, each inside the next size up. Now they have been joined by Disney ﬁgures, American footballers and Russian Leaders Through the Ages, ending with a tiny Putin. Wooden spoons, bowls, kvass cups, trays and boxes from the village of Khokhloma, painted with bright red and gold designs
on a black background and highly lacquered, are sold at souvenir shops everywhere. The traditional designs have been passed down from father to son. Artists turn out watercolours and drawings of churches and other sights for sale to tourists. Many are beautifully done, and prices are usually reasonable. Amber, the fossilized resin from pine trees, comes mainly from the Baltic coast. Ranging from pale yellow to gold and deep red, it makes eye-catching bracelets and necklaces, light in weight and warm to the touch. Unusual bygones, lamps and candlesticks, samovars and carpets turn up on market stalls although there are few bargains to be found these days; they are often overpriced. Mementoes of the Soviet Union—coins, badges, medals, caps and even whole uniforms—have become collectors’ items.
70 THE HARD FACTS
Safety Although Russia has received bad publicity for gang crime over the last few years, this rarely affects tourists, and major cities such as Moscow are no less safe than their Western counterparts. Ulaanbaatar and Beijing, on the other hand, are generally safe for visitors, while there should be few problems on the Trans-Siberian itself. Take sensible precautions. Ensure that valuables and important papers are kept secure, and carry cash and travellers cheques in a money belt or sealable pocket. On board the train you can lock the compartment door at night, but it’s advisable to keep your passport and money on you even when you go to sleep. Time Moscow is at GMT+3, Novosibirsk is GMT+7, Irkutsk, Ulaanbaatar and Beijing are GMT+8. In Russia, the train timetable keeps to Moscow time, which can be confusing as this means that the time on board isn’t necessarily the same as the time outside. If you break the journey, make sure you know when the next train is going to arrive. Tipping Porters should receive about $1 per bag. The best way to show your appreciation of the provodnitsa (carriage attendant), who
will be an important part of your journey, is to offer a small gift rather than money—and the more Western its label the better. Visas Russia, Mongolia and China all require visas, and you’ll need a transit visa even if you’re only passing through Mongolia. Evidence of booked accommodation is necessary to obtain a visa for Russia and Mongolia. If you wish to break the journey when crossing Siberia, you will need to specify each stopover at the time you obtain your Russian entry visa. If you book through a tour operator they will sort everything for you. Voltage In Russia, Mongolia and China, electric current is generally 220V, 50 Hz AC. Russian and Mongolian electrical sockets are for European-style plugs with two round pins. In China there are two main types of plug: the parallel ﬂat-pin plug and the V-shaped ﬂat-pin plug. Water Hot water is generally on tap in the samovar, situated at the end of each carriage. It’s a good idea to take a large plastic bottle of mineral water, which can also be used afterwards as a water carrier or even a makeshift shower if you pierce holes in the bottom of it.
INDEX 71 Badaling 51 Baikal, lake 36 Bargaining 63 Beijing 53–59 Beihai Park 58 Chairman Mao Zedong Memorial Hall 54 Dining Out 66 Drum and Bell Towers 57 Forbidden City 54–58 Halls of Harmony 55 Heroes’ Memorial 54 Hutong District 57–58 Imperial Collections 56 Imperial Garden 56 Jingshan Park 56 Shopping 62–63 Summer Palace 59 Temple of Heaven 58–59 Tiananmen Square 53–54 Zoo 57 Bogd Uul Reserve 48 Climate 67 Communications 67 Currency, see Money Matters Dining on the train 67–68 Erdene Zuu Monastery 49 Erlian 49 Essentials 68 Fengzhan 51 Genghis Khan 45 Gobi Desert 49 Great Wall of China 50 Harbin 51 Health 68 Hustain Nuruu National Park 48
Ivolginsky Datsan 39 Irkutsk 35–37 Art Museum 37 Cathedral of the Epiphany 35 Church of the Elevation of the Cross 37 Decembrist Houses 37 Museum of Local Studies 37 Museum of Regional Studies 37 Kanzuang 51 Karakorum 48–49 Khovsgol, Lake 48 Krasnoyarsk 34–35 Surikov Estate-Museum 34 Manzshir Monastery 48 Money matters 68–69 Moscow 13–25 All-Russia Exhibition Centre 24–25 Arbat District 20 Archangel Cathedral 14 Archeological Museum 19 Armoury 15–16 Bell-Tower of Ivan the Great 14 Bolshoy Theatre 19 Cathedral of Christ the Saviour 22 Cathedral of the Annunciation 14 Cathedral of the Assumption 15 Dining Out 65–66 Donskoy Monastery 24 Gorky Park 23–24
Grand Kremlin Palace 15 Graves 18 GUM 18 Ismailovksy Park 25 Kazan Cathedral 18 Kolomenskoye 24 Kremlin 13–16 Kremlin Palaces 15 Kuskovo 25 Lenin’s Tomb 17–18 Lubyanka Square 20 Manezh Square 19 Memorials 18 Metro 17 Moscow Chekhov Art Theatre 19 Moscow State University 22 Museum of Modern History 19–20 Novodevichy Convent 22 Ostankino 25 Palace of Facets 15 Patriarch’s Palace 15 Pushkin Fine Arts Museum 21 Red Square 16–20 River buses 21 Senate 16 Shopping 61 St Basil’s Cathedral 16–17 State History Museum 18 State Kremlin Palace 15 Terem Palace 15 Tretyakov Gallery 23
72 INDEX Tverskaya Street 19 Victory Park 20–21 White House 20 Novosibirsk 34 Museum of Local Studies 34 Nureyev, Rudolf 41 Omsk 33–34 Perm 30 Photography 69 Planning the journey 10–11 Public holidays 69 Qinglongqiao 51 Rostov-Veliki 28–29 Safety 70 Sergiev Posad 27–28 Old Art Museum 28 Toy Museum 28 Trinity-St Sergius Monastery 27–28 Shanhaiguan 51 Stolby Nature Reserve 35 Sükhbaatar 43 Terelj 48 Time 70 Tipping 70 Trans-Manchurian 51 Trans-Mongolian 51 Tyumen 33 Ulaanbaatar 43–45 Bogd Khan Palace 44–45 Choijin Temple 44 Natural History Museum 45 Sükhbaatar Square 44 Zanazabar Museum of Fine Art 45 Ulan Ude 37–39 Buryat Art Museum 39
General editor Barbara Ender-Jones
Cathedral 39 Main Square 38 Natural History Museum 38–39 Open-Air Ethnographic Museum 39 Urals 30 Visas 70 Vladivostok 39–41 Aleutskaya Street 40 Arsenyev History Museum 41 Krasny Vympel Ship Museum 41 Main Square 40 Pacific Fleet 40 Primorsky Gallery 40 Railway Station 40 Submarine Museum 41 Voltage 70 Water 70 Yaroslavl 29–30 Art Museum 29 Church of Elijah the Prophet 29 Church of the Epiphany 29 Metropolitan’s Palace 29 Monastery of the Transfiguration of the Saviour 29 Nikola Nadein Church 29 Yekaterinburg 30–31 Fine Arts Museum 31 Military History Museum 31 Romanov Memorial 30–31
Design Karin Palazzolo Layout Matias Jolliet Photo credits Chris Cheng: p. 1 T. Orban/Corbis: p. 2 ballet M. Thompson/istockphoto.com: p. 2 matryoshka; C. Ronneseth/istockphoto.com: p. 2 Mongolian ger C. Hervé-Bazin: p. 2 locomotive Maps JPM Publications
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Printed in Switzerland 11772.00.1998 Weber/Bienne Edition 2007-2008