Thursday, 1 December 2011

How it all began (3)

During 2011 I was spending time working on a project in Ukraine every so often and on my visit in July I took the opportunity to hang around the main railway station. I found trains heading to Moscow, a mere half day away and leaving the station to martial music piped through the public address system. There were trains full of holiday makers heading to Odesa and Simferopol. And there was a train to Astana in Kazakhstan, full to bursting with travellers wearing jogging pants and plastic flip-flops, already looking exhausted in the late-afternoon heat and only another four days to go.

I already had in my mind some of the photographs I would take, many in black and white, some inspired by a French photo magazine I had been leafing through recently. But what would be the reaction to an obvious foreigner intruding on the privacy of passengers and the security of the railways with a highly conspicuous camera?

Well, in the two afternoons I spent at the station I saw hardly an eyelid bat. Maybe things would be different at a village station in Central Asia, but in Kyiv the days of arrested photographers seemed to be long gone.

Kyiv - Odesa Express

Kyiv main rail passenger station, Ukraine, July 2011.This wreck of a loco heads up the Kyiv – Odesa Express as it pulls out of Kyiv Pasazhyrs’kyi on Saturday afternoon. The windscreen is smashed, the mirrors and windscreen wipers are missing, the bodywork is totally corroded and the driver looks about 17. But not to worry, he’s got two mates in the cab to help him. If all goes well, it will eventually manage the 655km in 11h14m, an average speed of 58km/h.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

How it all began (2)

The Trans-Siberian had been in my mind ever since I spent a few months in Hong Kong  in 1983 and met some people who were travelling home to the UK, by train. I had a vague idea about crossing the Bering Straits by ferry to link up with the North American railways, until I looked at a map. 1) there is no ferry; 2) the nearest railway in Russia to where there might have been a ferry is several thousand kilometres away; and 3) the railway in Alaska is not connected to the rest of the North American network.

As I started to think more about it, some possible workable ideas began to develop. I could start from Algeciras, the closest station to my home at the southern tip of Spain, and travel first to Warsaw, my other home, via Madrid, Barcelona, Milan. This would be a good test of the equipment I took with me and a check that I had not forgotten anything. Having started to look at timetables and fares it would also probably be the most expensive stretch.

Then I could head off through Ukraine or Turkey, Russia or Central Asia. I could pass through Baku and take a ferry to Turkmenistan, maybe linking up with the Trans-Siberian via Uzbekistan and Khazakhstan. Vladivostok is a must. From there I could fly to the States, or head back into China to Harbin, Beijing and Hong Kong. A side trip to Lhasa…

The westernmost railway terminus in the USA appears to be San Francisco. From there apparently the most spectacular route crosses the Rocky Mountains to Chicago and New York. Then I could fly to Lisbon, the westernmost airport in Europe, for the final leg back to Algeciras. Or better still, take the train up to Halifax in Canada and fly from there.

Kyiv - Simferopol Express

Kyiv main rail passenger station, Ukraine, July 2011

Thursday, 8 September 2011

How it all began (1)

Early in the summer of 2011, I started looking back through some of the guidebooks I have picked up during my travels. A guide to travelling around China on your own in the early 1980s when it was officially discouraged; a Lonely Planet “Travel Survival Kit” for Turkey in the mid-1980s; and a Lonely Planet guide to Pakistan from 1990 all got me thinking back to the times I had spent on buses and trains in faraway places.

This coincided with a desire to do something a bit different, perhaps linking up with an expedition of some sort as a photographer. I posted a vaguely cryptic message on LinkedIn, fishing for ideas. And in July I came up with the idea of travelling round the world by train and documenting it in a photoblog.

Blogging is new to me, and I still don’t really understand the concept of Tweeting on Twitter, so this first posting is something of a test to get things up and running. Please become a follower here and add me as a twit on Twitter. In the meantime, I'll try to find out how it all works.

Waiting to depart

Passengers wait to board the Kyiv - Simferopol Express at Kyiv main
railway station, Ukraine, July 2011