穿越西伯利亚之旅 Trans-1)Siberian Express A Window on Russia
Never did I dream I would experience the first few miles of the Trans-Siberian railway standing on the locomotive. Smiling through the raindrops, I peered across 2)Lake Baikal, which alternately glittered in sunshine and darkened to 3)slate as clouds 4)scudded across the sky. The leaves of 5)aspen trees lining the lakeshore fluttered in the breeze and Siberian roses and the red berries of 6)mountain ash flashed by as we approached the 33 tunnels that break this spectacular stretch of railway, blasted from cliffs that rise sheer from the lake. Grinning 7)inanely at the 8)poker-faced driver of the Trans-Siberian, I filled my lungs with clear Siberian air.
Six days later, the exhilaration of that first day is a faint memory and I am settled comfortably into daily train life. I’ve grown accustomed to staring wide-eyed through the windows of my 9)compartment, the corridor and the dining car, hungrily trying to take in all the 10)vignettes that 11)flit past the windows. However, as 12)Eric Newby wrote when he traveled on the Trans-Siberian in 1977: “There are so many questions that have to remain forever unanswered when one travels by train.” And it’s precisely the mysteries beyond the window that make train travel so appealing, particularly with this journey along the world’s third-longest single continuous railway service.
Built between 1891 and 1913, the Trans-Siberian Railway stretches for 5,753 miles from Moscow’s Yaroslavsky terminal to 13)Vladivostok on the Pacific Ocean. The journey 14)spans seven time zones and as a passenger you soon grow accustomed to having two clocks on the train and station platforms—one showing Moscow time, which dictates life on board, the other displaying local time. I am traveling east to west, which means I gain more time every day to admire the scenery as we traverse 15)swathes of dense 16)taiga, vast wheat fields and pretty aspen forests, and pass tiny rural 17)settlements and cities, ancient and modern.
I am covering a relatively short stretch of the railway—a mere 3,188 miles—from the shores of Lake Baikal to Moscow. Since boarding on the shores of Lake Baikal six days ago, I’ve visited the city of 18)Irkutsk, 19)Novosibirsk, the beautiful city of 20)Ekaterinburg, and 21)Kazan. I’ve also crossed the 22)Urals—albeit in the 23)pitch dark and in the comfort of the dining car—and passed effortlessly from Asia to Europe, experiencing the changes in people, countryside and architecture between the two continents. I’ve spent enough time on the train to be familiar with her noises and movements. I feel her effort as she 24)labors uphill or shifts awkwardly round corners, and find the 25)snatched glimpses of the tracks underneath my feet as I walk between carriages and the noisy clatter of metal on metal reassuring rather than merely alarming. I can now also mispronounce sufficient Russian phrases to greet the train staff as I squeeze past them on my way to the restaurant car and to ask Sergei, my carriage attendant, for a cup of tea. This he delivers to my compartment in a podstakannik, a large, traditional tea glass with delicate 26)filigree 27)casing.
I am fortunate to have the luxurious space of a 28)Tsar’s Gold two-29)berth compartment, one of six in my carriage, complete with an armchair, table, sofa—which Sergei folds out each night into a large, comfortable bed—wardrobe and 30)en suite with a surprisingly good shower. All compartments 31)boast a small radio, which we’re encouraged to leave on, for it offers announcements about forthcoming stops as well as local music. So, between bursts of thigh-slapping 32)Cossack music and melancholic 33)Slavic singing, a voice crackles out in Russian, German and English with announcements such as: “We will be arriving at 34)Zuma at 4:32pm Moscow time. The train will stop for seven minutes.” During these brief halts, passengers stretch their legs on the platform, snatch puffs on cigarettes and stock up on snacks and essentials from the ubiquitous Russian 35)kiosks. The glass fronts of these tiny structures are crammed with an array of biscuits, jars of pickled vegetables, fish, eggs and who knows what else: cigarettes, soap, matches—36)you name it. Almost invisible to the eye, the kiosk’s 37)proprietor peers from a small window in the center of this sea of products, through which an arm extends to take your rubles and deliver your purchases.
Food on board wasn’t all about platform snacks. The train has two attractively decorated dining cars, one at the front and one at the rear, to which passengers are assigned on arrival. Meals, though, are not always a culinary highlight, consisting often of dense brown bread, pickled soups, cabbage, potatoes and meat in various 38)guises, 39)washed down with acidic wine and 40)astringent, 41)no-nonsense 42)vodka. To 43)ring the changes, some of us stock up on 44)caviar, cheese, smoked fish, fresh bread, honey, yogurt and dried fruits. Meals in the dining cars, however—while not always of 45)gourmet quality—are a social highlight of the journey. Particularly on the one full day spent traveling, when the dining room is the venue for Russian language lessons, history talks, extended card games and caviar and vodka tasting.
These experiences of Russia’s people and cities, and the diverse scenes one glimpses from the train, are what make a journey along the Trans-Siberian Railway so distinctive—whether it’s the 46)curious 47)juxtaposition of our hostess’ teddy bear collection and her husband’s gun collection in their home near Lake Baikal; a bride and groom posing for photographs against a wall of 48)imposing bronze portraits of revolutionaries in Ekaterinburg; or two glamorous women dressed in leather and fur driving their new BMW past an old man pushing a wooden truck loaded with vegetables in Novosibirsk. Such 49)snapshots come together to create a unique collage of contemporary Russia. Sharing these experiences over tea and vodka in the dining car with my new friends makes this journey particularly special and I know I’ll be 50)loathe to leave them in Moscow.