We’re arrived from Japan. We are on dry land again, with our backs to the great, grey Pacific, at Vladivostok train station and facing west, the way home, for me at least, although for some of my travelling companions, the opposite is true.
We’re about to set out on the worlds longest rail ride, crossing a whole continent. We are going to be on a train for the best part of two weeks – with just the occasional day off for good behaviour.
In a matter of minutes we’ll leave behind the salty air of Vladivostok, the sound of gulls, the freezing wind blowing off this November sea where the ice is already beginning to form. Ice that will choke the harbour and sound in a thick white sheet, broken only by the jagged trail forced through by the ice-breakers, soon to be roused from their summer hibernation.
We’ll leave behind the delights of this large city: restaurants, cafes, museums, the ever-changing view as boats and ships pass in and out of the great harbour. We’ll leave the comfort of our hotel room for a berth on the train.
And what a berth! We are being hosted by the Russian Railway Company and they are treating us like Royalty. A whole carriage for our group. Each of us has our own en-suite cabin. The luxury compares with the carriages operated by the Belgian Wagons-Lits Company on the Trans-Siberian when it was young – a little over a hundred years ago. The only thing missing is a smoking-room in chinese style.
A quick stop at a kiosk to stock up on chocolate and a few other vital provisions and it’s time to get on board. We look at each other, still strangers, some of us meeting here in Vladivostok for the first time, laughing at the prospect of this great journey, of the landscapes that will roll past us as we make our stately progress into the heart of Russia.
WWF saw us off as we left the Vladivostok station.
We were humbled and impressed as we learnt how they try to preserve the last wilderness in East Russia. As we start our long journey West, we are looking forward to hall that lays ahead of us.
Our eventual destination, the climate conference at Copenhagen seems a world away, a dim unreal prospect, compared to this freezing landscape of city, harbour, hills and this mighty train. Time to board! We’re off!