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.
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.
THE FIRST SIBERIAN STATION
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
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.
A COMFORTABLE COMPARTMENT
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 is a stuffy little affair with a piano at
one end and a bookcase at the otherbut 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.
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.
A STATION RESTAURANT
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