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He’s got a ticket to ride

Luc Pols
Vail, CO, Colorado
Special to the Daily/Luc Pols
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Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of stories about local Luc Pols’ trip on the Trans-Siberian Railroad.

“This is not a trip, it is an adventure,” a good friend of mine once said.

My travel companion Peter Franke and I take a flight to Frankfurt, Germany, switch planes and head for Finland’s capital Helsinki, where we will board the Trans Siberian Railway and ride all the way across Russia through Siberia to Vladivostok on the Pacific Ocean.

We plan to make a “small” side trip into Mongolia and spend some time in Ulaan Baatar, its capital. Here, two of my friends who live in Shanghai will join us, and together we will be heading back to Russia and the Pacific Coast. We then will head south to China with the first stop being Harbin, where my friends Rob and Sandi return home. Peter and I will continue on into China and visit its capital Beijing, followed by Xi’an, of Terra Cotta Soldiers’ fame, before ending in Shanghai for a couple of days’ stay at my friends’ house.

This should take us about six to seven weeks, which will include 14 nights on the train, traveling approximately 17,500 km or 11,000 miles on trains and seeing a lot of new country.

We will make stops and spend several days in various cities, such as St. Petersburg and Moscow, and then go back on the train for the next stretch. We do not buy our tickets here in the U.S., because we figure that somehow we’ll manage to make ourselves understood at the railway stations.

It is possible to buy our tickets here, but then we are completely stuck to a schedule. We find out later, that, in spite of ourselves, we are quite smart to do it this way. However, we do print out most of the train schedules, because we want to be on the Trans Siberian Railroad for one, and for another, some trains between the same cities take twice as long. We want to be prepared.

For your information, neither of us speaks a word of Russian, but we both have two hands and two feet, so we will manage … famous last words.

First stop Helsinki. From the airport we take a city bus into town and stay, especially compared to what we have become accustomed to in Asia, in a very expensive, and as it turns out, quite lousy hotel.

For $150 a night we were expecting at least a nice place, but it was not. Undaunted, we walk around the city and in the evening find some food and drinks. It is still quite cold, but the harbor area with the beautiful Lutheran Cathedral on a hill is quite charming.

The next morning we secure our railway ticket to the next destination and once again take city busses to visit the Sibelius monument. Jean Sibelius is the only Finnish classical composer who is well known outside of his native country. This, unfortunately, is about the only worthwhile place to visit, but we were impressed.

The Finnish people are not very friendly but at the same time not exactly unfriendly either. Nor are they the most communicative people we have ever been among. We don’t know whether this is due to the cold weather or to the Lutheran background, (never, of course, is it due to us). But we do not see a lot of smiles, nor are we having a lot of conversations, despite the fact that the majority of the Fins reputedly do speak English.

This afternoon we take a rather quick train ride to our first Russian city St. Petersburg (or as it used to be called Leningrad). It is the shortest of our trips to come and in only about seven hours we arrive.

Next week, read more about St. Petersburg.


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