Monday, September 23, 2013

The Great Siberian Railroad

After watching a documentary on the Trans-Siberian railway, I looked for an early account of this famous journey by Eugen Zabel.   He was apparently the first foreigner to take the route from Moscow to Vladivostok, publishing his account in Germany in 1903.

Construction was yet to be completed and Zabel had to take a ferry at Lake Baikal to meet up with the under end.  He seemed to revel in this long journey, which stretched over 9000 km, noting the beauty of the iron bridges.  This is twice as long as the Trans-continental railroad in the United States, which the Romanovs used as a model.

Russia was being industrialized at a rapid rate and the only way to bring together this far-flung empire was with a railroad line linking East and West.  It wouldn't be until 1916 that the railway line was completed, 25 years after its inception date.

Russia was in a massive state of upheaval, which would stretch beyond WWI into the civil war that divided Red and White Russia until 1922.  The train figures heavily into Russian literature, no less than in Dr. Zhivago, in which we read of his family enduring long winter train rides to escape the revolution.

This lovely Faberge egg had been commissioned in 1900 by Tsar Nicholas II for Alexandra Fyodorovna with a lovely gold miniature train inside.

Paul Theroux evocatively captured this great rail experience in The Great Railway Bazaar, a trip he took in 1973, launching him on a great many travels that he would later write about. He included his experiences on the Trans-Manchurian railway, which connects to theTrans-Siberian railway at Tarskaya.   I couldn't convince my wife to take the 17-day trip next summer, so this is probably the closest I will get to experiencing the journey.

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