Russia is a curious place that I did not understand, and while I got a brief insight while travelling the width of the country on the Trans-Siberian Railway, I still don’t completely understand the varying mind-sets of its people. Outwardly very rough and stoic, it takes something like being locked on a train for 6 days with somebody before they unwind a little and open up to you, and I have our wonderful cabin mate Milla to thank for her insights on her country. They are extremely proud people, and while they openly admit they consider smiling at strangers weird, they are incredibly warm and welcoming once you get past their frosty outward demeanour.
Beauty was not something I had previously associated with Russia, if you exclude the catwalk parade of model-esque women that line its streets, but it is a visually stunning country that requires hours of window gazing to appreciate. From the elegant architecture of St. Petersburg to the never ending forests of Siberia, there is a diversity to its beauty and also the people’s standard of living. Away from the expensive clubs and art galleries of Moscow, basic wooden huts line the railway line and populate the villages on the edge of the world’s deepest lake, Baikal (1,642m deep). Even in summer the lake is chilly to swim in, but there are several toasty banyas (sauna) on its edge to warm the toes, which lead directly into the water. If that doesn’t heat you up, there’s always vodka.
The Trans-Siberian Railway is a worthy bucket list trip. The relaxing nature of the never ending train journey is unique, and while we ventured off track to Beijing, I made mental plans to return and go on to Vladivostock. Preferably in winter next time when the appeal of the warm train cabins and banyas can have its full effect.