MOSCOW – The Trans-Siberian Railway, one of the world's classic rail journeys, is intimidating to some potential passengers because they don't speak Russian — and because the trip takes a week.
Now, with a new Web site launched by Russian Railways, interested travelers can take a virtual trip on the train from Moscow to Vladivostok in about 30 minutes — but it's still hard to find someone speaking English.
Although the Web site is only in Russian, it's easy to navigate intuitively.
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Go to http://www.rzd.ru/static/index.html?he_id=1457 and click on the word that looks like "ctapt" — "start" in the Cyrillic alphabet. In the pop-up window that's generated, click on the green button. Now you're on your way.
At the top of the screen is a line divided into eight segments — one for departure from Moscow, one for arrival, and the other six for the days in between.
Each shows views of the characteristic scenery of the day, as seen from inside the train. Clicking on the window takes the viewer to a 360-degree view of what's outside.
These aren't necessarily idealized picture-perfect views to soothe the nervous tourist. The platform scene at Moscow's Yaroslavsky Station is rainy and dour (though kind of romantic in a noir-ish way). Udmurtia, out the window the next day, is foggy and flat.
Inside the train, life looks more cheerful. At the bottom of the screen are segments showing the cars with four-berth compartments, the more luxurious two-berth cars and the restaurant car. The decor is bright, if a little fussy — heavily tasseled curtains give the compartments a grandmotherly air.
In the restaurant car, each day's view shows a hefty, bearded young man named Bigus sitting with a beer at a different table. He's got an intimidating look about him, but click on his head and word balloons appear in which he shows himself to be chatty and philosophical -- if you understand Russian.
Some other passengers also offer dialogue. But anyone looking for a chat in English is likely to be disappointed in the man standing on the platform in Krasnoyarsk, identified as "Mister Jones" from London.
He makes some remarks in Russian praising the trip -- but all he says in English is "See you."