Westward on the Trans-Siberian (Train Station Observations, Beijing, UlaanBaatar, Irkutsk)

The trans-Siberian train is a dream trip for some, an escape across continents for others, and just a normal passenger train for the majority of people who make a living working abroad, as migrant workers, or by trade between China, Mongolia, and Russia. My motives fell somewhere between the first and second as I took the train the non-traditional route, westwards out of Beijing.


Now, coming from the west there are a few different routes: two from Vladostok on the Russian pacific, one that traverses all of Siberia north of Lake Baikal called BAM that cuts the transit time, the other south of the lake; and then two from Beijing, one via Mongolia and the other through Manchuria.

I was leaving Beijing and opted for Mongolian landscapes out my window. My destination: Irkutsk, Russia. Some say, as my mom told me, that Irkutsk is the Paris of Siberia. But when I got there the locals didn’t really care for this comparison. They were also much kinder to me than Parisians, and I speak French! I didn’t feel the similarities with Paris, though Irkutsk is beautiful and especially on a grey night with a light mist. Anyway, I digress.

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Train Station Observations (Amsterdam Centraal, The Netherlands)

It was the second time in a month, and I’m starting to guess that this is something I should be use to by now, that I found myself roaming the streets at the dead of night outside a train station. This time, though, I had no reason to be there, I was just hanging around; I had no accommodation for the night, and I wasn’t leaving the city in the morning.

This time it was in Amsterdam, home to one of the most beautiful train stations in Europe. But don’t let the grandiose building on the outside fool you, the interior is filled with the lowest of the down and outers in the world, I imagine. Amsterdam is notoriously unexpected – it’s not what you thought from the rumors you’ve heard: Though those rumours are also true.

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Train Station Observations (Rome Termini, Italy)

With all too much time to kill until my train in the morning, I left Rome’s Termini station to find some place to take a piss. Little did I know that when I would return I would be locked out for three hours. I should have taken the hint from all the people lined around the outer walls, with their make shift bedding of cardboard mattresses and filthy blankets, that the metal and marble comforts of the station would be under the scrutiny of lock and key overnight.

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