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Introduction There can be few people who have not, at some time in their lives, wondered what it must be like to travel on the Trans-Siberian Railway - to cross Russia and the wild forests and steppes of Siberia on the world's longest railway journey. The distances spanned by this famous line are immense: almost 6000 miles (a seven-day journey) between Moscow and the Pacific port of Vladivostok (for boat connections to Japan) and just under 5000 miles (five days) between Moscow and Beijing.
Ever since a rail service linking Europe with the Far East was established at the turn of the century, foreign travelers and adventurers have been drawn to this great journey. Most of the early travelers crossed Siberia in the comfort of the carriages of the Belgian Wagon Lits company, which were as luxurious as those of the Venice-Simplon Orient Express of today. Things changed somewhat after the Russian Revolution in 1917 and it became increasingly difficult for foreigners to obtain permits for Siberia. It was not until the 1960s that the situation improved and Westerners began to use the railway again for getting to Japan, taking the boat from Nakhodka (it now leaves from Vladivostok) for the last part of the journey. In the early 1980s, travel restrictions for foreigners visiting China were eased and since then many people have found the Trans-Siberian a cheap and interesting way to get to or from both the Middle Kingdom and Mongolia.
In this jet age, the great advantage of going by rail is that it allows passengers to absorb something of the ethos of the country through which they are travelling: on a journey on this train you are guaranteed to meet local people for this is no 'tourist special' but a working service; you may find yourself draining a bottle of vodka with a Russian soldier, discussing politics with a Chinese academic or drinking Russian champagne with a Mongolian trader.
Now a democracy with a market economy, Russia is undergoing phenomenal changes after decades of stagnation. While the ending of the Cold War may have removed some of the mystique of travelling in the former USSR, the fact that Russia is now much more accessible means that there are new travel opportunities right across the country. With foreigners no longer obliged to stay in overpriced Intourist hotels, visiting the country is cheaper now than ever before.
Although travel in Siberia today presents few of the dangers and difficulties that it did earlier this century, a journey on the Trans-Siberian still demands a considerable amount of planning and preparation. The aim of this guide is to help you cut through the red tape when arranging the trip, to give background information on Russia and Siberia and to provide a kilometre-by-kilometre guide to the entire route of the greatest rail adventure - the Trans-Siberian.