The Trans-Siberian Railway—Russia’s steel mountain ridge

In Russia’s vast expanses, the train remains an indispensable mode of transportation, sometimes even becoming a passenger’s home for several days. Drinking tea from tea glass holders, eating long lunches of homemade food, engaging in heart-to-heart conversations with various traveling companions—Russians have formed their own special railway etiquette.
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The Trans-Siberian Railway—stretching 9,289 kilometers across Eurasia and through 7 time zones—is Russia’s core.
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Its construction began in 1891 from the Miass station in the Ural Mountains and the Port of Vladivostok on the Sea of Japan, where the first train from the capital arrived in 1903. At that time, Lake Baikal was crossed by ferry, and the rail line itself went a shorter route through China, giving rise to Harbin. The lost Russo-Japanese War showed the vulnerability of such a route. In 1905, the Circum-Baikal Railway began to operate, and, by 1916, a new branch of the Trans-Siberian Railway was built. Even though it went through permafrost across uninhabited mountains, it was nonetheless entirely on Russian territory.
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Later on, the Trans-Siberian Railway was expanded, and then completed, and, in the 1980s, even received an alternate route: the Baikal-Amur Mainline. Most of the bridges crossing over the huge Siberian rivers that were built around the same time as the Eiffel Tower have been rebuilt long ago, and it is only in Novosibirsk and Khabarovsk where their graceful forms have been preserved as monuments.
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But, at the same time, hundreds of historical train stations, water towers, station villages with churches, and memorial locomotives are still intact. This is the location of the monuments to the Civil War, the outcome of which was determined along this great railway. A direct Moscow-Vladivostok train is still in operation, and the journey on it takes about a week.
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There are several routes from Moscow and Saint Petersburg to the low, industry-filled Ural Mountains. The southern historical route of the Trans-Siberian Railway through Samara and Chelyabinsk has long been a secondary route, and most trains operate on the shorter northern branch through Yekaterinburg and Tyumen—the capital of the Russian oil industry.
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The lines finally converge at the Irtysh—the first of the large Siberian rivers—in Omsk, which served as Russia’s ‘white capital’ during the Civil War. The next big city is Novosibirsk, located on the Ob River, with the largest train station in Russia. But, as Chekhov remarked, «if the landscape outside the window matters to you, you will be bored from the Urals to the Yenisei.» While traveling on the train, you will see the perfectly flat West Siberian Plain with
its endless fields and birch groves for over a day.

After crossing the rapid Yenisei, on which picturesque Krasnoyarsk stands, the landscape begins to change. Now, mountains covered with dark taiga will accompany the passenger all the way to the Pacific Ocean.
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The landscape becomes more and more uninhabited until the next major city of Irkutsk, which is almost one day’s journey away. The Irkutsk train station stands on the banks of the Angara River, a huge river flowing from Lake Baikal. A little further on is Slyudyanka station, from which the old Circum-Baikal Railway departs: the reservoir on the Angara River turned it into a short, but stunningly picturesque cul-de-sac.
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By the way, further on, the Trans-Siberian itself runs along the shore of Lake Baikal for several hours. In the next city, Ulan-Ude, you get a real sense of Asia: Buryats, a Buddhist people closely related to Mongols, live here.
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Probably the most impressive section of the Trans-Siberian Railway comes after Chita, with its huge temple near the train station: for nearly two whole days you won’t see a single large city— just villages looking lost in the taiga.

Don’t be surprised at the Yiddish letters in Birobidzhan—during Stalin’s rule, they attempted to create Jewish autonomy here.
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You quickly get accustomed to the views of large rivers while traveling on the Trans-Siberian, but, even after all of them, the Amur River, beyond which the city of Khabarovsk is located, never ceases to amaze. After another half-day’s journey across the fertile plain along the Ussuri River, you suddenly catch a glimpse of the sea: the train is arriving in Vladivostok.

The most amazing thing after such a long journey is to discover that this is the very same country as at the start of your journey.
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Related trips
Transsib Moscow - Vladivostok
Transsib Moscow - Vladivostok
  • 16 days
  • 2500 €
  • all the year

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