Thursday, August 02, 2012

My grand Russian adventure is someone else's summer vacation

I don't remember when I decided that one day I would just have to ride the Trans-Siberian - I really think it's something that I had in mind even before I had figured out where the Trans-Siberian actually ran. When I started planning to do some serious travel, it was high on my priority list. Then I needed to move from my teaching job in Japan to a new teaching job (which was meant to be in Prague but ended up in Bratislava), and the most obvious route between the two - at least to my mind! - was to hop on the Trans-Siberian.

Vladivostok Train Station, where my Trans-Siberian journey began
Months of excitement preceded this trip. I knew it would be one of the big adventures of my life, and it's still easily one of my favourite travel experiences, almost a decade on. I'm sure it will always will be. The actual train trip takes about a week, non-stop - I stopped off along the way a few times to experience some other parts of Russia. But many of my most memorable Russian moments occurred on the train, and one in particular involved a bunch of kids.


Since I travelled east to west, Vladivostok to Moscow, against the traditional tourist route, there were virtually no other non-Russians on the train - in fact, I didn't meet any at all! That meant if I wanted to talk to anyone, I had to get out my Russian phrase book and use some pidgin Russian with their reasonably limited English. And this bunch of Moscow children were the ones who understood my poor Russian the best! We played cards and chess and the older ones tried to ask me questions, some of which I was able to answer. Later, I discovered one of the parents was able to speak quite good English and I found out much more about them.

And this is the part that has really stuck with me: they were on the train because they were returning from their summer holiday on the east coast of Russia. This meant that the entire family spent a week - yes, a full seven days - on the train from Moscow to the coast, then relaxed for two weeks at the beach, then spent another whole week getting back home again. And this was something they did on a reasonably regular basis.

In other words, the Trans-Siberian to them was just a slow (and apparently fun, even for these energetic boys) way to get across the country, which just happened to be a really, really big country. They would have had no perception at all that it was a grand, exotic adventure, something I'd dreamt of for years. If I'd been able to explain that, they probably would have found it hilarious. For them, spending a week on the Trans-Siberian was basically the same as me spending an hour and a half in the car going from Perth to Mandurah for the weekend as a kid.

And that's one of the strange things about travel, isn't it? Pretty much wherever you go and whatever you do there - excluding, perhaps, proper extreme stuff like bungee jumping! - is exciting and new to you, but banal and ordinary to someone else.

The tracks of the Trans-Siberian



16 comments:

  1. This is such a great way of thinking of things. It's made me think that we should really see everything we do as an adventure, because it is to someone. I live in London and always forget how special the city is until I see excitable tourists on the tube or taking photos of the buildings I barely even see. It's definitely best to see the world through a tourist's eyes!

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    1. Monica, what an excellent point, yes, it's so important to try and see your own home through the eyes of others sometimes - it's so easy to miss the best parts because you don't even think of breaking your normal routine.

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  2. OMG, when I did a post on my dream destinations (the ones I've never been to !), I included Siberia and the Transsiberian train of course. You are so lucky !

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    1. Thanks Silver Bunny - I think I'm pretty lucky too :-) of course I do try to make some of my own luck, especially when it comes to travel - it's a high priority for me!!!

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  3. Very true! They look like charming kids. THey probably saw the train ride as part of the whole experience, didn't divide it off like adults do. I used to have to spend a day on a train regularly to get on holiday and it was just ... well, what we did.

    Perhaps mum and dad had friends they regularly travelled with - did you meet them?

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    1. I think you're quite right Jenny, they didn't see it as a drag at all. There were I think three families just in our carriage who didn't know each other but their kids had become firm friends during the trip.

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  4. How incredible that they spent seven days on a train! My boys wouldnt last that long :)
    Its amazing how little one has to understand the other to be able to communicate. And i do reckon we take for granted what we have around us....for them it was everyday travel. For us it would be a dream come true!

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    1. Yes I can't imagine taking my toddler on a crowded train for a week, but these kids behaved admirably the whole time. They were used to it, I guess. And yes, we used some universal languages (gestures, games they knew) and had a ball!

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  5. What a delightful bunch of beautiful boys! You are so right, travel opens us up (if we let it) to learn about things that are normal for others but pretty exotic to us. To see that nothing is quite as we thought it would be ;)

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    1. Fida ... "if we let it" ... this is such a valuable point!! You're right, I have met people who've seen amazing things and been unaffected because they're just not ready to let it change them.

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  6. How lucky that you managed to travel on the Trans-Siberian, what an adventure! That train station sure is a grand building!

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    1. I know - very lucky, Sami! Although I was determined for some time to do it, so I really did work hard to make this good luck!

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  7. What a great way to think about travel (and a fantastic post)! I've always thought about trip through the centre of Australia as an epic journey, but to truck drivers it is all in a day's work.

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    1. Lauren, what an excellent point! (or maybe several days' work ... a long drive!)

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  8. I love your posts on taking the Trans-Siberian. After going to Russia earlier this year it was something I thought I'd like to do but my friends there told me I was crazy. They had done it and had bad experiences. Thanks for giving me a different/positive view on it. Maybe in a few years we'll go back for this adventure.

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    1. Thanks Elaine! What a shame that your friends had bad experiences there. I (as you can) adored it! It wasn't always straightforward but a lot of the time it's just what you make of it. You should definitely go back!

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