December 01, 1996

Deeper into Russia


The event of the year in travel guides to Russia, the publication of the enormous new Lonely Planet (Russian Life, April 1996), would seem to have concluded the era of the country’s discovery by pioneering travelers. But if the latest batch of independent guides appearing this year is anything to go by, this process is only just beginning. The new crop is more specialized and each has unique and valuable information, albeit for narrower audiences.

The most substantial of them is Athol Yates’ Russia by Rail, with Belarus and Ukraine (Globe Pequot Press, 1996, $18.95). Considering the size of Russia’s rail network and its importance well beyond the limits of pure transportation, this is definitely a subject that deserves such a sizeable tome. In fact, the scope of this guide will make it indispensable both for hard-core railroad enthusiasts and for those who use rail travel simply as a means to getting somewhere. It is professionally done, with good illustrations, maps (though for some reason not of the biggest cities), asides and detailed descriptions of routes. It does have some irritating flaws, though: sometimes illogical ordering (the Golden Ring chapter appears after Northern Russia, and the BAM sectiom comes before that on the main Trans-Siberian); very perfunctory coverage of major cities (the only Moscow sights mentioned are the metro and its museum); and a slight tendency to oversimplify. Note also that it has an emphasis on places of scientific and technical interest, and those interested in more conventional sightseeing will probably need to supplement it.

Yates’ Siberian BAM Railway Guide (Trailblazer Publications UK 1995) is an expanded version of the BAM chapter in the previous guide. The world’s bleakest railway line, the Baikal-Amur Main line, appears to be in fashion now, and this guide should quench the thirst of anyone who happens to crave it.


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Russian Life is a publication of a 30-year-young, award-winning publishing house that creates a bimonthly magazine, books, maps, and other products for Russophiles the world over.

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