A small request to the Russian people

This is the Transsiberian Railway.


It stretches across the whole of Russia, cutting through places with incredibly cold, barren reputations. It’s the middle of winter.

Our crazy brave daughter Skatje is off to that place today. She’s going to spend three weeks visiting St Petersburg and Moscow, and then boarding that train and crossing Siberia, in winter, from Moscow to Vladivostok. Why? She loves Russian culture and the Russian language, and she wants to learn more and see more, and this is her opportunity. So she just decided to go.

Now, while I’m quite proud as a father to have a child who has grown to be so fearless and confident, her parents are going to be a bit anxious for the next few weeks. So, to any Russian readers out there: if by some slender chance, you’ve both read this mention and also encounter an enthusiastic and adventurous American woman on a journey across your country, say hello and remember that she’s there as a friend. And we need more friends around the world.


  1. says

    Someone really needs to take a toy train set up and set it up at one of the poles, thereby having the firts toy train to circumnavigate the globe, etc.

  2. says

    When I was in Moscow in ’07 in January, it was actually above freezing. It was kind of nuts. A lot of the locals were running around wearing the equvalent of bathing suits. (Open fur coats, tall boots, and miniskirts) I was probably staying at the hotel where the oligarchs hang out, come to think of it… The Lamborghinis didn’t look very snow-worthy.

  3. frog says

    I am jealous of Skatje. I hope she has a wonderful time!

    If she would give you photos of the trip to post, that would be grand thing.

  4. joel says

    “And we need more friends around the world.”

    Hey, no problem. Vladmir Putin and Donald Trump are totally friends.

  5. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    Reminds me of when I decided to take a summer off from grad school and go to China in 1985. I got two reactions when I told people my plans:

    1)You can’t do that!
    2)Can I come?

    China was just opening up at the time, and it was a great trip. Tell her to be careful saying anything about pineapple (which evidently sounds quite obscene in Russian).

  6. robro says

    Back in the 80s I would shop at a record store here in SF called Rough Trade. There I discovered many gems, such as South African music. I also discovered Russian rock bands. Wow! Rock bands in the USSR! And they were decent, even if I couldn’t understand a word. Shortly after I was talking to some friends who were local DJs and mentioned these bands. One of them said he knew them as he went to St. Petersburg every year to visit with them.

    I also knew a woman who was studying Russian and traveled through Russia several times. It helped her to know the language, of course, and to have some understanding of the cultural context…of course.

    This was in the middle of the Cold War and I reasoned that one way to bring that ridiculousness to an end was tourism. I had myself taken my Grand Tour of Europe a few years before and it was life changing. I had seen lots of Polish and Russian tourists in Paris, as well. I figured, if people went here and there, we would all discover the obvious: we’re all humans. Not ogres.

    I recently discovered Mark Twain beat me to this realization some years before. There is nothing new under the Sun.

    Good luck to Skatje. I’m sure she’ll have many great adventures.

  7. Terska says

    There is an Idiot Abroad (Netflix) episode that takes place mostly along the Trans Siberian RR. It’s quite good. Don’t watch the movie Trans Siberian until she gets home.

  8. Richard Smith says

    I doubt I’ll ever have the opportunity to ride the Railroad, but I’ll be seeing the Orchestra on Tuesday…

  9. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    choo choo!
    cheers Skatje!
    being a railfan, my envy is TransSiberian.
    As boring as the scenery may be, it would still be fun to watch it roll by, while sipping some wodka and slurping some caviar.

  10. wcorvi says

    I took the Trans-Siberian a few years back, only about half way, from Moscow to Barnaul. Though it was summer, it was a great trip and I think winter wouldn’t be all that bad. My impression of the Russian people was, if 100 Americans, 100 Russians, and 100 bottles of vodka had been locked in a room, we never would have had a cold war.
    Don’t worry about her, PZ.

  11. microraptor says

    My grandparents once took a trip down the Trans-Siberian railroad. They returned home on August 18th, 1991.

  12. voyager says

    What an amazing voyage. Have you read Siber, by Farley Mowatt? Great book with lots of friendly Russians and large quantities of vodka everywhere he travelled.

  13. wsierichs says

    I doubt I’ll ever get to Russia for financial and, at times, health reasons. But I’ve met “Russians” because a neighbor at the end of my block married a woman from the Moscow area. I first met her at a party to celebrate her naturalization. I put “Russians” in quotes because the many guests included people from Byelorus, Ukraine, Bulgaria and some other places I don’t recall. It’s easiest to call them Russians collectively. And I was rather surprised at how many Russians live in Baton Rouge, La. I suppose the climate might attract some. They were a warm, friendly group, lots of new foods to try and, of course, vodka. I’m invited to their annual Christmas party tomorrow night, so expect to see some familiar faces.

  14. Artor says

    A friend of mine circumnavigated the globe before landing at Burning Man. He bought his ticket in Moscow, and was in Ulaanbaatar before he discovered the agents had run his card twice: once for the ticket, and once to clean out his bank account. Fortunately, he was able to get on Facebook and beg money, or that could have sucked. A lot.

  15. Bruce says

    Not the same thing as this, but in 1994 I took a train alone in Poland. I noticed the rail cars were labeled in four different languages, none of which were English. My main caution is to presume that any disturbance will involve pickpockets that are very experienced.
    Sounds like a great experience, though.

  16. Blattafrax says

    If [… you encounter a person in] your country, say hello and remember that she’s there as a friend. And we need more friends around the world.

    Together with remembering that (almost) everyone has parents and people that care about them, that’s a pretty sound attitude to life in general.

  17. Rich Woods says

    Skatje, don’t forget to close the train compartment door before opening a beer or a vodka. The cops will have you and you’ll have to bribe them (keep a couple of ten dollar bills handy). But make friends with the ladies running your carriage and you’ll have a hell of a good trip.

  18. Moggie says


    I put “Russians” in quotes because the many guests included people from Byelorus, Ukraine, Bulgaria and some other places I don’t recall. It’s easiest to call them Russians collectively.

    I hear you! Louisiana, Florida, Minnesota: who can keep track of all that? It’s easier just to call them all Canadians.

  19. AlexanderZ says

    Moggie #26

    I hear you! Louisiana, Florida, Minnesota: who can keep track of all that? It’s easier just to call them all Canadians.

    You do realize that there is a difference between ethnic Russians and citizens of the Russian Federation? And that even people who aren’t ethnic Russian nor Russian citizens can still consider themselves (partially) Russian because Russian language and culture is closer to them than the local hyper-nationalized cultures (for example, non-religious Jews in Ukraine)?

  20. Just an Organic Regular Expression says

    We took this ride in 2008, stopping in Novosibirsk to see a total solar eclipse. That was in summer, and even so the main danger of the ride was boredom, as hour after hour and day after day the trees zip past the window. The most interesting scenery was momentary glimpses down into villages whisking by, none of which had paved streets. They’ll probably look more quaint in winter, covered in snow.
    There was a moment of frustration when we got to Vladivostok and realized, heck, home is just a few airline hours ahead, but no, we have to go three-quarters of the globe back the other way, starting with a seven-hour flight back to Moscow.
    (some pics: https://cortesi.smugmug.com/Trans-Siberian-Express-2008/Trip-Segments)

  21. Ivan says

    Good luck to your daughter! Well, I believe the plunge of our currency made this trip considerably cheaper to her than it would have been a couple years before, so she’s already a bit lucky. When does she expect to be in St Petersburg, and when in Moscow?

    In Piter, I’d recommend her to take an excursion led by Tatyana May: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002200475958&fref=ts . Her trips aren’t ordinary “visit the Hermitage, visit the Nevsky prospect”; instead, one is likely to pass through obscure inner yards where some famous writer once lived, maybe crawl through a couple holes in fences, etc. Looks like exactly the thing a brave girl would find interesting.

  22. PDX_Greg says

    I admire and am very envious of Skatje’s adventurous spirit. I am loathe to admit that at a similar age, I was pining over fancier cars and thinking of ways to maximize the frequency of casual hook-ups. I did not have travel aspirations or interests in other cultures then, and in fact was a bit afraid of the prospect of going to places where communication might be awkward or food or accommodations might seem uncomfortable or too primitive for me. If I had my youth back again, things would be oh-so-different. My only trip out off of the continent into a vastly different culture (a 5-week trip to China to live in my wife’s tiny childhood home when our then only-child was very young) made a huge positive and lasting impression on me, and on our child. Alas, I only have one such trip under my belt, as I’ve never enjoyed the work flexibility to do another prolonged trip like that. Perhaps when our kids are done with college, hopefully my wife and I will still have the health and resources to travel, and we can invest in some serious cross-cultural journeying.

  23. davem says

    Now I have to worry about her over-doing it on the vodka.

    I went there in 1986, during Gorbachev’s vodka rationing. I was going past a shop door, when a man stepped out, and seeing me, and not realising I was a tourist, shouts Vodka! Da!. He had 5 bottles in each hand… Watch out for ‘home-made wine’, too, which turned out to be home-made rocket fuel.

    On the souvenir front , the only thing I wanted to take home was one of those ‘podstakanniks’ that hold glass tea mugs on the railways. Maybe you can buy them now; you couldn’t then (we tried hard).

  24. yubal says

    Oy vey, SIberianis sooooo incredibly beautiful. Especially in the winter when the mosquitoes are hibernating. I wish I could go again, but then I feel lucky that I did when I was young and had no time consuming obligations.

    @Skatje try the fish

  25. blf says

    Not the same thing as this, but in 1994 I took a train alone in Poland. I noticed the rail cars were labeled in four different languages, none of which were English.

    So did I, same year even (as I now recall)! Not just Poland, but train from Wien to Bratislava, up the valley by small choo-choo, stopping overnight in a few villages, then eventually a train to Kraków, then to Praha, and then back to Wien. Three weeks in total, and quite possibly the best vacation I’ve ever had.

    Actually, Poland / Kraków didn’t originally figure in my planning — the only pre-planned points were Wien (arrive and depart), Bratislava, and Praha. The plan was to go where-ever sounded interesting on leaving Bratislava (by train!), as long as I wound up in Praha as planned. Some Lonely Planet guidebooks, the Thomas Cook European Timetable, and a big wodge of Deutschemarks, were critical parts of that trip!