The Trans-Siberian Railway: The Most Amazing Train Journey on Earth
By Susana Aikin, author of We Shall See the Sky Sparkling
No railway has captured the imagination like the Trans-Siberian. Running almost 6,000 miles through some of the most inhospitable yet gripping landscapes on Earth, it has seduced travelers and dreamers alike since its inception. Journeying across eight time zones—a third of the planet—from great cities to rural fairy-tale villages, across the pristine wilderness of the Ural Mountains, through the immense Russian Steppe and the awe-inspiring Lake Baikal, the Trans-Siberian is the longest passenger rail trip in the world and one of the greatest possible travel experiences.
The construction of the Trans-Siberian Railway was started by Tsar Alexander III in 1891 and finished by his son Nicholas II in 1916. At the 1900 Paris World’s Fair, Russia and the Wagons-Lits sleeping car company presented the Trans-Siberian Express at the Russian pavilion. Visitors could experience the luxury onboard in real railway carriages.
But even before the whole railway was completed, it attracted travelers who wrote of their adventures. One of them was Annette Meakin, a British writer who rode on the train with her mother and wrote about her journey in her 1901 memoir, A Ribbon of Iron. Annette wanted to be the first Englishwoman to travel to Japan onboard the Trans-Siberian. She and her mother left London in January 1900, and they arrived in Russia in May 1900, after delaying for a time in Paris. Annette believed in traveling light, and she reduced their joint luggage to three pieces for the trip: “a valise, a hold-all, and a tea basket.”
The train had exquisite sleeping compartments; a dashing dining car; and a library with oak paneling, Moroccan leather chairs, and a bookcase with more than a hundred books in four languages. There were even more luxurious cars, such as carriage number 725, which was decorated in the style of Louis XVI and only rented to private parties.