Chapter 2: Across Western Russia
On the 19th of June, 1901, we begin our nine-day's journey toward the Rising Sun. For three days we roll on
across the somber lands of eastern Russia, where there is little to relieve the sad monotony, save the crossing of several rivers, and glimpses of the big ragged cities of Sizran and Samara, which rise upon the banks of the greatest waterway of Russia, the old highroad to the South, the mighty Volga. But that which will linger longest in our
memory is the hopeless aspect of the Russian villages, which look like groups of hay-stacks or of mounds of refuse. We cannot at first believe that the shapeless heaps scattered around one or two frame-houses and a modest church are the abodes of human beings. But in these congeries of hovels we touch the very depths of Russian misery; as we leave the
old overworked acres of Europe behind us, the condition of the people and the aspect of their habitations steadily improves. The hovels of thatch give place a few days later to crude log-cabins, surrounded by well-built rail-fences, and always dominated by a gracefully pretentious church. But we must not anticipate. Before we enter upon descriptions of Siberia let us describe the means by which we reach that huge, unknown, and misrepresented country.
The means is modern, a railway-trainso conventional that we cannot realize that in it we are to traverse what were not long ago the unknown vastnesses of northern Asia. Having missed one Train de Luxe, of the Wagons-Lits Company, and not caring to wait for the next new train,
we find ourselves installed in one of the Trains d'Etat, or Government Trains. It is composed of six long carriages, one first-class, two second-class, one restaurant- and one baggage-car. Over several of the early stages of the journey in Russia proper, this train was hauled by Baldwin locomotives at a speed surprisingly exhilarating.
But the pace grows slower as we mount the gentle inclines of the Ural Range, that inter-continental boundary composed of mountains so low and so soft in their wooded outlines that we find it difficult to look upon them with as much respect as they deserve by virtue of their geographic fame as the barriers between the continents of Europe and Asia. Yet we experience a thrill as, standing on the rear platform, we watch the last few rods of Europe skimming beneath our feet and see the last Russian station flashing by.
This thrill is intensified as, a few moments later, there glides past the simple monument which marks the line where Europe ends and Asia begins. The first Asiatic station is soon passedan unimportant place at which the express-train does not stop.
Other pages about Holmes on the TSRR| the first chapter | the route | the contents page | the next chapter |