Tuesday, May 03, 2005

The Russi local

At midnight the immigration officials came banging on the doors. The train was still so you could hear them coming. For an hour and a half the carriages were infested with uniforms, Polish, Belarus and Russian passport officers in green and Belarus customs inspectors in blue and without hats. Three countries' border formalities completed in darkness in a single, surly bureaufest of inkpads and suspicion.

At 3am, with a series of resounding jolts, we were shunted into a dimly lit shed for one of the most eccentric frontier procedures in the world. Because the gauge of Russian railways is 89 millimetres wider than the standard gauge used in the rest of Europe, the wheels of the entire train have to be changed. Each carriage, passengers and all, is jacked up and adapted for the rails of Mother Russia. Nobody has ever invaded her by train.

Peter Hughes takes the Trans-Siberian Express, a fine journey.

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