Leg 2: Distance and Philosophy
The Trans-Siberian: Moscow -> Vladivostok
You’re plugged in. If you’re reading this, you’re online right now, so you’ve already checked status updates from distant mates and some breaking international news. Now you’re about to go on a digital journey halfway across the planet with the Rat & Dragon crew, all from the comfort of wherever you’re sitting – and that is pretty special.
This makes the world inside our heads and handsets more massive, while the physical world seems ever smaller. So with our brains increasingly plugged into the digital world, are we losing touch with what distance in the physical world really feels like?
9,288. That’s the number of kilometers between Moscow (technically Europe) and the terminus of the Trans-Siberian railway at the edge of the Pacific Ocean. There’s even a plaque on the platform at Vladivostok Station that says so. As we feel its cold bronze numbers with our own fingertips after departing Moscow 10 days ago, it’s fully apparent to us what 9,288 kilometers looks, feels, sounds and even smells like. The staggering breadth and beauty of the entire physical world is back in sharp focus. Welcome to the Trans-Siberian…
Days and Days on a Train
The steel hulk of our new home rolled out of Moscow’s Yaroslavl Station and we set in for the first 4-day section. In one go, it would take about 7 days on the Rossiya Train to Vladivostok, but we would break the journey a little over half way. Gradually, we slipped into the rhythm of the wheels on the tracks and filming, eating, sleeping and staring out at the frosted landscape all fell in step.
Early on we discovered our Internet access was not what we’d been promised by our mobile network providers and frustration set our brows into furrows. After all, we had work to do. Rat & Dragon are in the business of broadcasting our business, so without reliable Internet, we were feeling the strain. There was plenty of shooting and planning to do of course, so we carried on with our mission for content to knock your socks off, but always with the niggling feeling that while what we shot was amazing, we had to keep it to ourselves for the time being…
Irkutsk and the Greatest Lake in the World
Irkutsk is a sprawling town en-route and home to Anatoly, a Siberian mate from way back, local tour guide and linguist. Irkutsk is also our journey break-point, and perfect for accessing Lake Baikal, ‘The Pearl of Siberia’.
We joined Anatoly (or Toly for short) for a home cooked meal and drinks straight off the train – this happened to be New Years Eve after all, the biggest party on the Russian winter calendar (with Christmas lagging far behind in importance) and the perfect occasion to share in authentic Russian style.
First thing on the very first morning of the brand new year, we shared a bus to Listvyanka on the shore of Lake Baikal with a bunch of energetic explorers on a Vodkatrain tour. We spent the next 3 days catching up with Toly, getting our wifi fix, and filming around the greatest freshwater lake in the world.
Lake Baikal smacks you in the face with it’s beauty, it’s backdrop and it’s statistics. It’s the deepest lake on earth, the frozen chalice to 20% of the entire planet’s liquid freshwater supply, and home to the world’s only freshwater seal, the cute-as-hell puppy-like Nerpa. After filming lakeside it was off through the crystal-white forest on a sled behind a husky team.
Huskies are gorgeous, but entirely bonkers – which makes for excellent filming. So desperate to run, the howling rabble of about 30 huskies went nuts in the hope of being chosen. As soon as a handler clipped a dog into the harness, it’s legs started running, even if the harness was pegged to the ground. That meant once the team of 8 dogs was in place behind a tethered sled, they became a writhing, yelping, hilarious tangle. As soon as you’re aboard and the sled is released however, the dogs power forwards in military formation and whisk you away at speed with the wind in your furry hat.
The sensation is something magical. The sled is smooth on its snowy track, the dogs finally shut up and all you can hear is the swoosh of sled on snow and the soft panting of the huskies – an elegant soundtrack for the winter forest as it rushes by.