Alex has been looking for that poem in his basement, and he found it.
He was 10, so I was 13. Here come his manuscript and illustrations.
Thanks Alex, for taking the time!
(he is at the very moment going to the airport, we will meet in Shanghai on Sunday!
I have been alone in my cabin, which was great. Yesterday, though, I got scared to death: I was reading a book on my bed, my door was half-opened as I needed some fresh air (the window doesn’t open), when suddenly a guy enters the room (I recognize him, the Brit from the cabin next door, he has just made a mistake to I think within half a second), and shuts the door. Ok, so it is not a mistake if he closes the door. I stop breathing…
Nope, it was indeed a mistake; he laughed and left the room as quickly as he entered it. This morning I did that mistake as well, entering their room while they were sleeping. Ufffff.
When the rail was first introduced, people were afraid that speed could blow their brain. Here, in the Trans-Siberian, there is no risk, I’m sure our average speed do not exceeds 60 km/h…
It is my last day in a Russian train. We don’t go East anymore, but South, following the Manchurian boarder up to Vladivostok. As I wake up, we enter Viazemskaya. I take a breath on the platform, where some people sale caviar in small baskets.
A little bit later, three women are trying to sell garlic and grape to the train’ travellers but they get angry as nobody is interested, and they leave the platform shouting.
As a conclusion to the Trans-Siberian journey, let me share with you this Russian joke, telling the USSR political changes through the train:
There’s been a sabotage on the train’ rails, so the train has to stop. Lenin asks the passengers to repair the rails all together, and they all do, with enthusiasm, singing the International Song.
A little bit later, the train stops again, again for a sabotage. Stalin orders to have half of the passengers killed, to find the treats, and asks the other half to build a rails’ factory to repair the tracks, in spite of the cold.
A little bit later, rails are kaput again. This time, Khrushchev asks people to take the rails from behind to put them upfront and then keep going.
Of course, it happens again with Brejnev. He asks people to pull the curtains and some guys will shake the wagons from the outside, so that still believe the train is moving.
This is the official end of the story. But you can keep going post-USSR:
Gorbachev stops the train to run a global inspection.
Eltsine runs a privatization program of the rail industry.
Putin decides he’s going to be the CEO of the new rail company!
And as I’m writing those lines, I have in front of my eyes a surprising landscape again. It looks a bit like the African Savannah…
In a couple of hours, I will finally reach my destination. Slava will pick me up at the Vladivostok railway station. Who is Slava? Well, a friend of a friend of a friend who knows one of his relatives, what else!?!
Oh, and here it is…. Ten minutes before entering Vladivostok’ railway station : The Sea of Japan pops up!!!
So, I entered the train at 4AM on Sept. 24. I had decided to travel first class, to avoid being four people in a small space and to have a shower. Unfortunately, the train is super old and there ain’t no shower. No plugs in the compartments neither, I’ll have to charge my computer in the corridor.
Though, the train decoration is unbelievable. Entering my cabin at night, I have the feeling I am entering an Agatha Christie décor. There is a long stripes carpet in the corridor, a flowers carpet in my cabin, silk curtains hanged at my window, delicate sheets on my bed, flower pillows… So the décor makes its first class. Plus I have to towels instead of one, though I wonder what I’m gonna do with those since anyway there is no shower to have. Plus there are only two beds. Plus the Prodvinista looks nicer than in other classes. Haha.
As I went to bed very late, I will not be very active that day. Watched series (How to Make it in America, good one), had several naps.
Meanwhile, the train is leaving the Baikal region. I’ve read yesterday that, in the Irkutsk region, houses collapse because of global warming. Indeed, taiga is planted on ice, the famous permafrost we heard of at school.
was leaving Buriatie, one of the poorest republics of the federation. A few meters of iced land, frozen all year long. In theory. It is starting to melt in some areas. And Irkutsk houses collapse. Later, trees roots will not find anything to grip, soil will melt, and the forest itself could collapse… Without mentioning the cities concrete buildings, the nuclear plants…
The train keeps going, and I say good-bye to Buriatie – by the way one of the poorest Republics of the Federation. It is also time for a farewell moment with TAIGAAAA, before I warmly welcome the steppes, finally!
Good move: landscapes at the end of the day are unbelievable.
At the beginning, nice tones of autumn, a full range of colors from yellow to brown.
And then, one hour later, it looked like the nature was on fire.
The second day, Sept. 25, we pass by many rivers and MARAIS. And I understand why this portion of rail was a nightmare to build. Everything is liquid here. Here as well, sunset in unbelievable, as the sky reflects perfectly in every single drop of water.
My brother was 8 when he had to learn this poem by Blaise Cendrars. None of us could really understand the meaning of it, or even catch its rhythm, very different from what we had read that far. I was just intrigued by the length of the poem, and by that name, Jehanne, whereas, in French, we usually say Jeanne…
That was when I heard for the first time about the Trans-Siberian. Intrigued…
Here is my version of the poem, recorded during my Ulan-Ude / Vladivostok trip, including the noise of the train in the background… It is in French but can be listened has a nice ballade… It lasts 17 minutes… Close your eyes, relax, and start dreaming… the images will pop up in your eyes, believe me…
Yes, what do we do during those long hours of train, did ask Annie and Françoise on the blog yesterday? Good question, thank you!
Believe it or not, we never get bored in the trains – The opposite would have been quite disappointing though, as following the Trans-siberian path is precisely about enjoying train trips!
Second thing to do : Secure your place and space
It means you have to find the right seat for you, the right storage for your luggage, the right hook for your coats, the right space for your shoes so that you don’t block trolleys in the alley. You will prepare your passport and ticket for the moment when someone will ask for them, speaking for five minutes. You will smile, and it will be ok.
Third thing to do : Secure your goods
You will be given sheets you will use to envelop your pillow and seat, even when you are not planning to spend the night there. So you make sure your delicate skin and hair do not get contaminated with… whatever.
In addition, you need to make sure you don’t forget important things from your luggage, as you will have no chance to open your suitcase anymore. As a matter of fact, either your suitcase is next to the roof, where a strong guy has helped you to put it and you don’t want to disturb him anymore, or it is in a trunk below the seat of someone else you don’t want to disturb neither. The best is to bring a separate bag where you would have put the vital stuff.
First thing to do : gather the vital stuff in a small bag
It includes touristic items such as: your camera to capture the landscape and the coach atmosphere, the guide book to prepare the next stop of the journey, a conversation guide in case someone would be interested in talking with you about life.
Then you need practical things: flip flaps because everyone removes shoes in the train, pyjamas if you are here for the night, an electric lamp, a book in case you get bored.
And finally you prepare everything you need to eat. Journeys are long, so you will spend at least one meal inside.
A plastic glass for tea, a plastic bowl for soup or noodles, a knife to remove the skin of a cucumber, a spoon, will make the job. Which means you have bought pirochkis at te railway station and deshydrated food at the supermarket.The train provides hot water. The magic of samovars…
Fourth thing to do: eat
You’ve spent so much time preparing everything that eating is gonna be the highlight of your journey, that for sure. Sometimes, your neighbors will offer you food, and you will do the same. Please, be polite.
Fifth thing: have a rest
Yep, every previous step was synonym with new challenges and mysteries to overcome: how to I open the samovar? How am I not gonna burn myself with that boiling water I have to bring back to my seat? How am I gonna flush the toilets? How am I gonna open the door of the toilets without putting my hand on it? How am I gonna wash my bowl without waking up one more time? How am I gonna reach the upper bed without showing my fat ass to everyone?
So obviously you need to take a nap.
Fifth step: enjoy
You wake up, you look at the window, and, best case scenario, you interact with people.
The best moment we had was when we left Tobolsk. Two young guys, working for an oil company and going back home for the week-end, decided to talk to us, after a long phase of observation. First we exchanged our passports, that was fun, and then they tried to teach us how to play cards. Of course, their English was very limited and we didn’t understand anything. But this was really super nice.
I’m stuck in bed with my cold, an amazing running nose, and I’m running out of tissues.
We have reached Ulan Ude, capital city of Bouriates.
Our hotel is quiet, and today we should meet with some travelers we met in Olkhon, the two girls from Leeds and Nicolas from Paris.
We’ve spent seven hours in the train today, on a section bridging Irtkusk to Ulan Ude, one of the most challenging part to build, at the time.
We had been told that it is the most beautiful part of the trip, but frankly it looked very much like the others. Taiga on the left. Lake on the right though.
I’ll let you have a look at the two videos below.
I don’t know if it comes from the cold shower at the back from the vegetable garden, or if it was meant to happen anyway, but I have a cold. My nose is completely blocked.
Today we have spent six hours in a jeep with a bench of backpackers, on the way back to Irtkusk. Landscapes were awesome. Lonely cow on the side of the road, yacks even, old trucks from the USSR Times (or from Mad Max, I still wonder)…
In addition to the foreigners, two local ladies were chatting and chatting next to me.
I would like to share more details but I’m really very tired. So I’ll just share two additional pictures from the market, where we have bought some supplies for the train we take tomorrow our new direction : Ulan Ude…
The Baikal Lake is a top destination for Russians. In the middle of it, an amazing wild island called Olkhon. We are on our way…
From Irkutsk, We had to take a minibus to the shore, then a boat, then a bus again.
An interesting road, were you could feel the proximity with Mongolia. Same trucks, horse riders, never-ending land and sky, it reminded me Arkhangaï very much
Called Dalaï-Nor by the Mongols – meaning « Holy Sea » – called Baï-Khaï by the Yakoutes – which stands for « Wealthy Sea » because of fishes – the Baikal is more than a sea to all the Siberian populations. It is unique and sacred.
More prosaically, it is the biggest unsalted water tank of the world, 23 000km3, 1/5 of the planet’s reserve. 1737 meters deep, it is like a reversed mountain. And the water is sometimes so transparent that you can get vertigo, as you never see the end of it.
At least but not last, it is now part of the “Unesco heritage” – People who have already travelled with me know how impressed I am by that label 😉
As we have just spent the last 30 hours in a train, I think the Trans-Siberian line deserves a special post dedicated to the history of its construction. So:
Before rail, there was kind of a trail, called Trakt, which construction had been decided by Catherine II, in a time when Siberia was disputed by Russians and Tatars. Catherine II wanted to send there convicts, and bring back wood, gold, fur.
In 1861, Alexander II abolished slavery, and men need lands… The Trans-Siberian’ construction was decided in 1891 to demonstrate the country’s power, to maintain an influence on Siberia – which was showing signs of independence – and, above all, to help farmers in moving to new regions as Ural villages were facing overpopulation and hunger.
This was the construction work of all superlatives: 15 years of construction, 6500 km of rails, 1000 railway stations, hundreds of colonization villages, 15 000 workers for the Eastern part only… They had to cut thousands of trees in the dense taiga, dry mashes of Siberia, dynamite mountains, make Altai hills flat, bridge amazingly large rivers (the Ob, river passing by Novosibirsk, is 800 meters large), fight cholera, typhus, mosquitos, heat and freeze.
As 600 millions rubles are needed, versus 130 initially planed, the government launches the famous “Russian loan”…
It caused a war with Japan in 1904, as the train was supposed to go through Chinese territories under Japanese influence. As Russian troupes were blocked at the Baikal – The trans-Siberian wasn’t ready yet – Japan wins It triggers the “yellow peril” fantasy as well as the 1905 revolution.
Anyway. The trans-Siberian was a success. Whereas only 500 000 free men had moved between 1860 and 1890, 5 millions of them did between 1890 and WWI. Farmer of course, but sometimes even entire mirs (villages).
In parallel to the well-known Gold Rush on another continent, was taking place another huge conquest on the East part of the world, railway stations becoming new caravanserais.
During the night, we have left West Siberia behind us. A world of taiga. 1000km large and 5000 km in Siberia… That’s what we’ve seen in the last weeks. pines, larches, cedars, birches. Never ending. Looks like a bar code.
Though, I shouldn’t be bored but feel sorry. The world focus on Amazonia, but here, every year 700 000 m3 disappear, sold by corrupted Russians to multinational companies, especially chinese.
For long, Siberia was in the hands of Tatars, descendants of Gengis Khan. But they progressively start to loose power during the 14th century, and the tsar Boris Goudonov succeed to colonize West Siberia totally in the 16th thanks to IVAN LE TERRIBLE – East Siberia being still under control of Chinese and Mongols.
We’re gonna see very soon how different East Siberia can be…
Krasnoïarsk is the first big city of East Siberia. Landscapes starts to be less straight, ligther, small hills, small rivers, show up.
Irkutsk will be our first stop.