First class cabin
The first railroad projects in Siberia were mooted after the Moscow-St Petersburg Railway was successfully completed in 1851. Siberia's governor was already anxious to advance the colonisation of the Russian Far East. But from the vantage point of the capital city, St Petersburg, it must have seemed too far and too difficult. The good citizens of Irkutsk, Omsk and Krasnoyarsk, who already lacked the cultivated high life of the western cities, must have been very frustrated.
Train route across Europe and Asia
The plans and funding for the Trans-Siberian Railway to connect the capital, St Petersburg, with the Pacific Ocean port of Vladivostok were approved by Tsar Alexander III. It was his son, future Tsar Nicholas II, who turned the first sod in 1889. The Imperial State Budget spent a gigantic fortune, once construction on the Trans-Siberian Railway was in full flow: 1891-1913.
The main route started in St Petersburg, via Moscow, Chelyabinsk, Omsk, Novosibirsk, Irkutsk, Ulan-Ude, Chita, Blagoveshchensk, Khabarovsk to Vladivostok via southern Siberia. People who are interested in the additional Chinese Eastern Railway should look up its history separately. Suffice it to say it was operated by a Russian staff and administration based in Russian Harbin.
At 9,259 ks, spanning a record 7 time zones and taking c6.5 days to complete the journey, it’s the longest single continuous service in the world. Including Moscow and Vladivostok, it stops at about 18 towns and cities. Visitors are usually impressed by the engineering feats involved in travelling across half the world: bridges, tunnels and super duper railway stations. And the natural world: see the large Siberian rivers, taiga forests, magnificent lakes and endless steppes.
Epic Journeys Around the World concentrated on the Siberian landscape, including the Gobi Desert and Lake Baikal.
Novosibirsk, Nevsky Cathedral
I was more interested in cityscapes, particularly the cities of Novosibirsk and Irkutsk. The large Siberian centre, Novosibirsk (population 1.45 million) really only started in 1883. Yet the Novosibirsk State University has a very fine reputation, the city has an active theatre life and St Alexander Nevsky's Cathedral is gorgeous. Irkutsk (population 600,000) is a beautiful town known as the Paris of Siberia, full of old churches, brightly painted shutters and log houses décorated with wooden lacework. It is a city of museums, literature and sports.