Monday, October 22, 2012

The art of doing nothing on the Trans-Siberian Railway

I have heard that there are people who would get really bored if they had to sit on a train for a whole week.

Really? Okay, I admit I can imagine it, but it's not the case for me. When I travelled on the Trans-Siberian railway I broke the trip up with a few stops along the way so the longest stint I travelled non-stop was, if I remember correctly, three days and two nights. What I'd absolutely love to do sometime in the future is go back and do the entire week-long journey in one go.

8,240 kilometres (and about seven days) left until Moscow
I'm the kind of person who seems to have an endless source of ideas for things to do. In my current life, juggling mothering a toddler with running my own business and (now and then) doing some housework too, I have endlessly long to-do lists and never enough time to do all the things I need to do, let alone the things I want to do. But even during those times in my life when I've had a lot less on my plate, I can't remember a time in many, many years when I've ever been bored.

But just what do you do when you're "trapped" in a train for seven days?

First of all, a serious amount of "nothing". How often do you get the chance to do nothing? If you're like me, practically never. The luxury of not having the opportunity to do much means that you can finally have some guilt-free "nothing" time. "Nothing" for me involves a lot of staring out of the window - actually taking notice of what's going by, seeing the landscape change dramatically as you cross Russia, and being thrilled to see a man standing on the doorstep of his small wooden shack. "Nothing" is also the chance to reflect on things that you don't normally have the chance to spend thinking time on - in my case, this is usually stuff like what I'd like to do with the rest of my life, what goals and dreams I have and how I can achieve them. Travelling in generally always seems to inspire me down these paths but some pure empty time Trans-Siberian style is even better than normal.

My Trans-Siberian home - a cabin on the Rosiya train
Along with this "simply being" time, my "nothing" time involves the kinds of activities that I rarely have much time to do. Reading a book for hours at a time is basically a long-forgotten early-20s memory, yet when I took the Trans-Siberian I was able to delve into Russian literature (in English translation of course!) - most memorably I read Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment and was able to savour it properly and still remember so much about it a few years on. I also wrote long entries in my travel diary - yes, even though I was doing practically nothing, I still found plenty to write about - and also wrote pages and pages of short stories and ideas and even letters home. Finally, I also got to know some of the people travelling with me - mostly using my basic Russian phrasebook and the few words I'd learnt, mixed with their few words of English.

I guess that this kind of trip wouldn't suit everyone. I can understand that some might think they have planes that fly between Moscow and Vladivostok for a reason. But if you have ever wanted to perfect the art of doing nothing, then I think a week on the Trans-Siberian would be an excellent place to do it.

11 comments:

  1. I would have to read, write, knit...but not doing nothing. I´m too fidgety for that, even at home I don´t often just sick on the couch watching TV, I have to be doing something else at the same time. But that sounds like a great trip though!

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    1. Fair enough Sami - with a week on the Trans-Siberian you could get a lot of knitting done, I think!

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  2. I rode the Trans-Siberian all in one go, but I must say boredom largely escaped me! It was luxurious. My biggest stress was not having internet for a week (and imagining the pile of emails that were awaiting me on arrival in Beijing)!

    The year prior, I rode 16,000kms of rail in Oz - 11,000kms of which I did in 11 days straight. (Which Amanda, of course you know about since you were my reprieve in Perth!). My reason for the mammoth journey? To see if it's possible to become bored on a train. (Instead of boredom, I came out of it with a 20,000 word 6-part series on the experience)!

    You may be stationary on a train, but the train is moving through space and time....so there's always something new to see or experience!

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    1. Yes, Nora, you are an excellent example of "doing nothing" (which is not really nothing at all, but you know what I mean). Luxurious is a wonderful way to describe it. I remember your posts about not being able to get bored. We are two peas in a pod on that one ;-)

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  3. Take me with you next time you go, I'm a great one for enjoying the freedom travelling gives you. I even see my commuting to work as an opportunity to read, think or do nothing without feeling the guilt. And when we go, I will even put my four years of learning Russian at school a long, long time ago to good use :)!!

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    1. That's an excellent offer - a travelling companion who speaks Russian? Fantastic!

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  4. Sometimes "nothing time" is luxury time! I can understand what you feel. Though I am not sure, if I could handle such long days of idle time as graciously as you did! I am the kind who always is faced with scarcity of interesting ideas unlike you!

    Nice Post,
    Matt @ GetACarHire

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  5. I'm also a fine contender for the award, "The Art of Doing Nothing"! I love being in a position, like you, when I can just sit and think and dream. The Trans Siberian journey sounds wonderful and those times where you could just gaze out of the window and think must have been blissful :) To tell you the truth, I'm also quite keen on long haul air travel - that some body 'drives,' waits on me hand and foot, and asks nothing of me for hours on end, is fantastic! I'm very happy (Just as long as there's not too much turbulence)!

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    1. Sounds like you're even better at this than me, Jo, because I really can't deal with long haul plane trips. I just can't get comfortable, and I just can't sleep. Give me a train any day!

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  6. What a luxury - to be able to do nothing and not feel guilty about it. To just be able to sit and think and to contemplate allows us to realise who we are and where we fit in the grand scheme of things. So often we are so tied up in the minutiae of daily life that we don't have the time to just be.

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    1. Yes Pam, you describe it perfectly. It's a bit of a "time out" from normal life and a way to completely reset. A beautiful luxury.

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