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Today's quote:

Saturday, August 15, 2015

I travelled all of Friday and early Saturday morning from Yekaterinburg to Vladivostok

 

Did you know that Siberia fills one twelfth of the land-mass of the whole Earth? Or, if it were detached from Russia, it would remain by far the largest country on earth?

At almost five million square miles,it is bigger than the United States, including Alaska, and western Europe combined. As the sun is rising over the Urals, it is setting on the Bering Sea.

Colin Thubron has published nine travel books. His latest, In Siberia, gives a lyrical and learned account of this vast and mysterious region, and has again been praised as much for Thubron's literary talents as for his intrepid journeying to impenetrable locations.

When he went to Siberia he was interested to see how deeply the changes that have transformed the old Soviet Union had penetrated. "This is the part of Russia that is most distant and least reported on, and I wanted to see how small communities were faring. Perhaps naively, I hoped to find that things had survived better than they had done. I thought Siberia, with its traditions of robust independence, might have fared better than other areas of Russia. But I found that this wasn't so."

From the beginning of summer through the onset of winter he travels alone, mostly by train and bus but also by way of airplane and thumb (paying the drivers small fares, as was the custom for hitchhikers even in Socialist times). Above and below the Arctic Circle, he visits frigid outposts languishing in neglect, emptied prison camps, misplanned planned cities, cities built by Cossacks and others built by convicts. He takes a steamship north on the Yenisei River to the Arctic village of Potalovo, where he allows himself to be stranded for weeks. In Magadan, ''the capital of sorrow,'' he crawls under barred windows to explore a former detention center, where the walls of the unheated punishment cells are sheathed in ice.

Thubron is never a travel bore and covered a lot of ground. Many of us, though, will be glad that he was the one who made the trip, so that we won't have to.