May 01, 2001

Beijing to Moscow: Six Days on the Trans-Siberian

It is 10:30 p.m. on a crisp September night when my friend and I sweep into Beijing central railway station. We pile our packs on the floor and lean self-consciously against a pillar near the entrance.

The station is not well lit and it is difficult to focus on details. Red marble floor, grand central staircase, large stained-glass window. A grimy precommunist building modified with gold stars and political inscriptions that are beginning to fade. I feel like we’re being scrutinized, but no one, not even the teenage soldier wearing an oversized khaki jacket, is looking at us.

After a week in Beijing, we’re about to take the six-day, 9,289 km Trans-Siberian express from the Chinese capital to Moscow. Built by Russian imperialism and adapted to Soviet needs, it is the longest passenger rail route in the world. It is popular with both traders and foreign tourists and is also a lifeline for remote towns throughout the region.

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