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Traveling Russia's Historic Trans-Siberian Railway


Our colleague David Greene has done so much distinguished work for NPR that we've decided to send him to Siberia - really. David is wrapping up two years in Russia with a trip on the Trans-Siberian Railroad, which crosses that gigantic country. He's head east from the capital, Moscow. We reached him about 150 miles into the journey in the city of Yaroslavl. Hi, David.

DAVID GREENE, BYLINE: Hey there, Steve.

INSKEEP: Why wrap up your time in Russia with this train ride?

GREENE: You know, the Trans-Siberian is really such a part of Russian history and Soviet history and the life and culture here, and I think you could say both the good and the bad. I mean, it's a symbol of the industrial strength. I mean technologically the railroad was really a marvel when it was built at the beginning of the 20th century. It sort of charts a path across the country where a lot of industry was built around it. But it was also the way that exiles and people headed for, you know, forced labor prison camps during Stalinist times, you know, took that horrible route eastward. And so at this moment, 20 years after the fall of the Soviet Union, it just felt like the right way to take one more trip through this big country, as you said.

INSKEEP: And the journey itself must be amazing. I mean, like a train trip across the United States, only longer and colder.

GREENE: Yeah, like double the length and a lot colder. Yeah, it's really, I mean what people told us before getting on the train, I mean it's so much about the people you meet, the food you share with Russian passengers. I sent some of the sounds from right before we left Moscow at Yaroslavsky train station.


GREENE: It looked a little like Penn Station in New York except it's outdoors, the trains lined up and ready to head eastward, and of course the statue of Lenin is not something that you see in New York City. But I brought an expert with me to the train station. He's a professor named Sergei Trakhov, and I asked him for some advice on what to expect, because he's done the trip before. What are some of your favorite things to eat, drink, to do while you're on the train? How do you pass all these longs periods of time?

SERGEI TRAKHOV: These trains have a lot of stops. And each stop, sometimes 20 minutes, sometimes 30, sometimes an hour. Along the platform, local sellers, you can catch local food. For example, in the Urals it's called pelmini. I don't know how it's called in...

GREENE: Little Russian dumplings.

TRAKHOV: Yeah, dumplings. In Vladivostok, seafood, of course. Because Pacific...

GREENE: Pacific Ocean.


GREENE: It's amazing to think we'll be on the Pacific...

TRAKHOV: Yes. Chinese, Korean and the local foods. A lot of Chinese restaurants, Korean restaurants, even you can eat a small piece of dog if you wish.


TRAKHOV: Yes. In Vladivostok possible everything.

INSKEEP: A small piece of dog or maybe a larger one - sounds appetizing, David Greene. So who besides foreign correspondents finishing their time in Russia rides these trains?

GREENE: Yeah, I don't think I'm going to be sampling that cuisine. It's mostly not journalists, Steve. I mean, this is still a very functional way to travel. This is a country where a lot of people can't afford to fly on planes but they want to get to other parts of the vast country. And so they take these long, long journeys. And the person who really represented the passengers who were boarding to me is a woman who was all bundled up in her furs with all her luggage named Tamara Astrozskya(ph). She was getting ready to board that train for a really long trip. Three days for this. Wow, long, long, long trip.

TAMARA ASTROZSKYA: (Through translator) Good nature and good people, nice people in the cabins, so we have a good time during our long journey.

GREENE: And Steve, I have to tell you, one of the most memorable things about my time in Russia is these really strong elderly women, babushki they call them in Russia. Like Tamara. Her sister-in-law was dropping her off at the train station. They were both standing in the cold. Her sister-in-law lost her husband at age 49. Women in this country are, you know, they're really a symbol of strength, and that's one of the realities that I expect to really take in as I cross this country.

INSKEEP: David, how long is your trip?

GREENE: It's about two weeks and about 6,000 miles. And we'll be talking to you along the way and then we'll be doing a lot of our reporting for you when I'm back in the United States in January.

INSKEEP: And let's tell people about that as well, because David will be broadcasting these reports early in the year as he takes on a new assignment. He'll be a host/correspondent here on MORNING EDITION, meaning he'll sometimes be sitting in this chair. And David, welcome in advance. We're looking forward to it.

GREENE: Appreciate it, Steve. I'm really looking forward to that.

INSKEEP: And you can follow David Greene's journey not only here on MORNING EDITION but on Twitter. He's NPRGreene - with an E on the end. His most recent tweet begins: Sunrise in Yaroslavl. You can also follow this program on Twitter @MorningEdition and @NPRInskeep. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.