Burton Holmes on the Trans-Siberian Railroad

Chapter 13:Toward Home

The Hotel at Streyetensk

Prudent Blacksmiths

Our Fourth-of-July Dinner, 1901
Exiles From Warsaw--and Milwaukee
We secured miserable accommodations in the pretentious hotel called the "Star of the Orient." But here again photography intervenes to soften aspects, for the picture gives to that hostelry an air of well-washed respectability that was as far from the real state of affairs as it was from the desire of the proprietor.

"Disgusting" is the adjective most generally applicable to the Siberian hotels. There was but one room vacant. It had a single bed in which the Professor courageously volunteered to sleep, while I lay on the floor, softened for the occasion by a straw mattress, covered with two flour-sacks which bore the legend of a famous A merican flour-mill in Oregon.


Our two companions slept, or tried to sleep, on the benches, in a sort of concert-hall connected with the caravansary. Next day we moved to the rival establishment, where, as the rooms were full, we were installed in an enclosed veranda.

The Emigrant Station

There we celebrated the glorious "Fourth of July" with a noon-day banquet of American dishes cooked by our ambitious amateur chef and washed down with three bottles of the beverage that makes Milwaukee famous, the selling price for which in Stryetensk—the absolute antipodes of Milwaukee—is three rubles, or one dollar and a half, per quart.

A Goodly Family

We are exactly on the other side of the world. We realize that we are as far away from home as we can get, upon this parallel of latitude; that we have reached the half-way point of our journey, at the forsaken, boatless river-port of Stryetensk; and to our discouraged minds the prospects are that we shall be compelled to stay in this place forever. We are not surprised in the least to learn that the proprietor of this antipodal establishment is a convict and an exile. Deported after the Polish revolution of 1863, he has lived as an exile in Stryetensk for thirty-seven years. He has grown rich in catering to the hunger and the thirst of travelers stranded at Stryetensk during the seasons of low water. But we are not the "only people on the beach," for besides the scores of "officially-assisted" settlers at the government

Tough Material

Would-Be Settlers

station on the hillside opposite the town, other emigrants, poorer and more independent, are camping along the dirty ater-front waiting for the steamer, of which the arrival is as uncertain as is the possibility of a subsequent departure; for the river is falling rapidly. All boats drawing over two feet are already hard aground along the upper reaches of the Shilka. Human hulks, too, are stranded on the Shilka shores.


We saw lying near the steamer-landing a despairing female who had given up the whole affair as a bad piece of business, and had fallen back on her reserve supply of vodka, as the surest ship to the harbors of forgetfulness. For three days that miserable creature lay there in a stupor, unmolested save by the chilling rain of one night and the burning sun of the ensuing day. Now and then she would wake, take a long pull at the bottle that she gripped tightly even while she lay unconscious, and then, with a glassy stare at the empty, receding river, resume her horrid revery.

But just as our stay in Stryetensk threatens to become a waking nightmare, —the dirt, the heat, the discomfort, and uncertainty beginning to get upon our nerves—the Professor makes a glorious discovery. He rushes in to report that the good ship "Rurik," drawing only two feet of water, has been reclaimed from some fluvial bone-yard and hastily thrown into shape to take advantage of the extraordinary conditions that prevailed during the summer of 1901.

The story of our subsequent experiences is told in another chapter entitled "Down the Amur."

A Hulk


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