Burton Holmes on the Trans-Siberian Railroad

Chapter 3: Our Train to Asia

But it was Russian Europe that we left behind, and we are now in Russian Asia. There is no shock of change, no startling contrasts in the aspect of the lands that meet here in the passes of the Urals.

 The First Siberian Station

It is all Russia, and will continue to be Russia until we reach the eastern coast of the continent we have just entered. We note already an improvement in the villages. Better houses, better fences, the same air of newness and crudeness that we find in the young settlements of the American northwest.

 In the Corridor

We are impressed by the thought that now for nine days the endless panorama of Siberia is to unroll itself to us as we stand gazing from the windows of our car. I say "stand gazing," because that is what we did all day and day after day in the confined space of the narrow corridor of our spalnia-vagon, or sleeping-car.

The compartments are extremely comfortable. They are arranged on the plan of the Mann Boudoir cars, with berths across the car instead of up and down the sides. The upper berth is raised

 A Comfortable Compartment

during the day, leaving a divan where we may sit to read or lie to doze. There is an electric lamp and a folding table that may be instantly transformed into a step-ladder for the convenience of the person occupying the upper berth, and there are many racks for holding bundles large and small.
 Our Quarters

The crude and ill-kept public wash-rooms are the most objectionable feature. We have two compartments thrown into one by the opening of folding-doors. It gives us four beds for three people, for we have paid a trifle for the extra space. The fare from Moscow to Irkutsk was, even thus, a little less than fifty dollars each. We paid a dollar and a half apiece for the use of the bed linen, three changes being given in the course of the nine days.

 The Dining-Car

The dining-car is a stuffy little affair with a piano at one end and a bookcase at the other—but neither music nor literature appeared to appeal to the passengers, for the ivories remained untouched and the books undisturbed. The meals although badly served were surprisingly well-cooked and appetizing; good bread, excellent veal, and hearty soups, sometimes frappés, with a clinking cake of ice floating on their chill depths, sometimes seething hot, with a hunk of steaming beef rising from them like a volcanic island.
 A Station Restaurant

Meals as cheap as they are satisfying may be had in the station restaurants; and as for the untidiness of the service, we have been too long in Russia to take note of it. As a cure for squeamishness let me prescribe a period of Russian travel. For example, napkins are rarely washed; the patrons carelessly throw them down; the waiters pick them up from floor and chair and table, spread them out as flat as possible, spray them as the Chinese wash man sprays his washed linen, fold them very carefully, and then put them in presses, so that at next meal-time they may be again produced with neat new creases that deceive those who have never chanced to look behind the scenes. Take plenty of Japanese paper napkins with you when you go to Russia.


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