I have a bit of a thing for train journeys. Back in 2006 I travelled from Moscow to Vladivostok on the Trans-Siberian railway. The journey takes around a week if you do it non-stop, but I spent about a month covering the 10,000-or-so kilometres. Although the romance of the rails might be all but dead in the UK, it certainly lives on in Russia.
It was one of the best journeys I can imagine. I shared a compartment (and vodka) with a bunch of Russian wrestlers, made friends with a cider-drinking man called Vladimir who helped me buy a new camera, then discovered the greatest lake in the world before arriving in Vladivostok, a wonderful city perched on the edge of the Pacific.
However, despite having some amazing stuff to see, the Russian government seems to have next to no interest in promoting the country as a tourist destination. The visa application alone is enough to put most people off, so it’s good that Google Russia has stepped up with its amazing online tour of the railway.
What they basically seem to have done is to stick a camera out the window for the entire journey, chopped the film down into manageable chunks, then wired the whole thing up to a map with highlights marked. It means you can jump between points on the journey, get additional information, and generally experience the bits of the trip you’re most interested in, from your desktop.
Now this is never going to be as good as doing it for real (trust me on this one), but the lack of flashy graphics and tourist board-supplied hype does make it a great way to get a taste for one of the greatest train journeys in the world. Go take a look for yourself.
(There are also a bunch of photos from my trip on Flickr, but be warned – I never got round to typing in descriptions of each photo!)