The ever-changing landscape on the Trans-Siberian train

Scenery along the Trans-Siberian railway

I recently re-read some of Paul Theroux’s travel narratives in preparation for the travel writing course I ran, and picked out what I considered a “beautiful” passage about his journey on the Trans-Siberian:

The experience of the Trans-Siberian Express is both monotony and monkish beauty: all day outside the loud, hurrying train it is birch trees and undulant hills, and after the utter blackness of night on that line, you see more birch trees and undulant hills; and all that day too, until it seems more like wallpaper than a landscape – the kind of wallpaper that is so simple and repetitious that you look at the seams rather than the design.

The writing is fantastic, I think, and that’s why we talked about it in class, but the other thing that struck me about this passage is that I totally disagree. I was amazed at just how much the landscape changed as I stared out the window crossing Russia.

Villages along the Trans-Siberian railway

Villages along the Trans-Siberian railway

Every photo in this post was taken within just a few hours, on the stretch out of Vladivostok heading west. There is no sameness here, and I didn’t experience sameness at any stage during my seven days on the train.

Forest alongside the Trans-Siberian railway

Forest alongside the Trans-Siberian railway

One of the students at my course had a very interesting suggestion to make: perhaps for other travellers who’ve spent a lot of time riding trains through Europe or somewhere more populated and varying, the Trans-Siberian route may look all a bit the same. For others, like us Australians for example, who are used to travelling across places like the Nullarbor Plain which holds various records for the longest pieces of straight roads and straight train tracks, then the more varying countryside across Russia seems more interesting.

A river runs alongside the Trans-Siberian railway

A river runs alongside the Trans-Siberian railway

What do you think?


  1. I’d say Mr Theroux is travel jaded 😉 Your pictures depict ever changing, dramatic scenery and what an amazing train trip to do. Definitely on my bucket list. To tell you the truth, and prove how much of an ignoramus I really am, I’ve never really got to grips with his books, and writing. I’d prefer a travel post from you anyday 🙂

    • Aw thank you Jo!!!!! Only just discovered this comment which had got stuck in moderation for some reason. I love Paul Theroux’s writing but think he’s a real grumpy bugger I’m afraid!

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