Category Archives for "Uncategorized"

Dec 19

What to get Yourself for Christmas

By Edward | Uncategorized

Four Ideas for Christmas or After

Transparency: none of the links below are affiliate links. 

This was supposed to be something about rail travel related presents you could get for other people. But then I thought, it is you, the reader, that is interested in rail travel. I assume, otherwise you wouldn't be reading this, right? Right?

And I saw you selflessly getting other people other stuff. To reward yourself, here are a few rail travel ideas. 

Europe By Rail

by Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries

Good if you are planning something in 2020. Must-have if you aren't leaving your cell in 2020.

Europe by Rail is written by the women behind hidden europe magazine. There may be the odd CIA veteran who has seen more of Europe, but he isn't allowed to write about it.

This book combines consummate rail travel knowledge with gripping travel writing.

Worth reading even if you stay at home.

Moscow to the End of the Line

by Venedikt Erofeev

My favourite book of all time. I read it in German and later in Russian. This is the English edition.

The Russian holy fool in Soviet reality. Man gets on train and gets drunk. This is what goes on in his head. Riotous and terrifying. A slow train journey beyond the edge of human consciousness.

My German readers: Look out for Die Reise nach Petuschki translated by Natascha Spitz.

Orient Express

by Graham Greene

Thriller set on the Orient Express. Known as Stamboul Train in the rest of the English speaking world.

Greene travelled from Oostende to Cologne on the Orient Express to get a feel for the train.

Orient Express captures the excitement of long European train journeys and the suspense of border checks.

Alois Nebel (film)

Based on the graphic novel by Jaroslav Rudiš and Jaromir 99. DIrected by Tomáš Luňák.

Set in Czechoslovakia at the twilight of Communism. A dispatcher at a small Czech station, Bílý Potok, starts having nightmares and flashbacks of what went on at Bílý Potok during and after WW2.

A black and white cartoon for grown-ups (in Czech!), bleak and eerie, bursting with searing images such as Nazi steam trains in winter landscapes.

Bonus present: treat yourself to the password to my e-guide library. It's free.

Join my free Rail Guide Europe Club.

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    11 Soundtracks for your Russian Train Journey
    Mar 20

    11 Soundtracks for Your Russian Train Journey

    By Edward | Uncategorized

    11 Soundtracks for your Russian Train Journey

    So you are now on a Russian train.

    Had enough of all the talking and eating and listening? Perhaps time for some you-time, yes?

    This is something I hadn't the cojones to put into my guest post on Miss Tourist.

    I wanted to have a chapter with lots of different Russian music for you to listen to on your journey, as you travel from city to city, to help immerse you in Russian culture. Well here it is. For each Russia 2018 host city I have chosen something for you to listen to.

    You are unlikely to like all of it - I've deliberately delved into old and new music, some of it more arcane, some of it less so. I've also striven to reflect that there are other nations in Russia apart from the Russians.


    Let's ease ourselves into this with some light Mussorgsky. Dawn on the Moskva River is the introduction to Mussorgsky's opera Khovanshchina. When Mussorgsky died, this opera was an unfinished heap of papers that had to be straightened out and completed by his friend and mentor Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov.


    Kazan is the ancient capital of the Tatars, originally a nomadic tribe from Central Asia. They were feared throughout Eastern Europe during the Middle Ages, when they made it as far as Poland.

    The Tatar language is related to Turkish and the Tatars are mainly Muslim. Famous Russian ballet dancers Rudolf Nureyev and Irek Mukhamedov are Tatars. Here is a Tatar pop song by Guzelem and Salavat Minnekhanov, in Tatar.

    Saint Petersburg

    Imagine the Russian aristocrats dancing to these waltzes in the salons of Petrograd, unaware of their imminent fate.

    Standard waltzes of the Strauss and Lehár kind have several happy themes with one sad one embedded - Russian waltzes are the other way round: unhappy themes with one happy moment. 

    My favourite, Autumn Dream, (49'20") is actually by an Englishman, Archibald Joyce. In England no one knows this piece any more, but in Russia every schoolchild can whistle it. 


    Time for a war song. This is one of the most famous. It makes my eyes sweat terribly. It is the song of a lonely soldier in a dark night, listening to the whistling of bullets and longing for the tenderness of his wife. Here is a full translation. Volgograd is the erstwhile Stalingrad, the battle of which was the turning point of the Second World War.

    Soviet war songs are nearly all about individual suffering. I cannot think of one that celebrates how great war is.


    Rostov-on-Don is in southern Russia, near Ukraine. This is Cossack territory. The Cossacks are a people that drew mainly on eastern Slavic stock in the Russian Empire's southern borderlands. They also absorbed elements from the mountain cultures of the Caucasus. 

    It shows in this song by Otava Yo, in which they use a beat that many of the tiny Caucasus nations use in their music. Otava Yo are a bizarre group that make wildly gripping music and wonderfully imaginative videos. Do look at their other videos.


    Sochi is even further south on the Black Sea. I thought for ages about what to put here and settled on some Circassians or Adiga dancing the dzhegu, more commonly called the lezginka in Russian.

    In the 1860s, while in America the Indians were being driven off their land and the British were plundering India, the Russians were busy ethnically cleansing the Circassians from the Sochi area. To this day there are Circassians all over the world, mainly in Turkey, but also in the Balkans, and even in America. 

    Now the Circassians have their own autonomous Republic of Adigeya within Russia.

    Nizhny Novgorod

    One of the host cities on the Volga river. The Volga is an integral part of Russia and Russianness, soul and artery at the same time. There are countless songs and poems celebrating the Volga. Here is one of them, sung by Lyudmila Zykina. This video also shows admirably what music videos were like in the 1960s in the Soviet Union.


    For Kaliningrad I've chosen music from Sergei Eisenstein's 1938 film Alexander Nevsky, written by Sergei Prokofiev. Both men had recently returned to the Soviet Union after emigrating and now had to produce something that pleased Stalin. Both succeeded. Not only did Stalin love it, but to this day the co-operation of Eisenstein and Prokofiev is considered a milestone both in cinematic and musical history.

    Alexander Nevsky tells of the war of Novgorod against the Teutonic order, a state of German crusader knights that dominated the Baltic in the Middle Ages. Königsberg, today's Kaliningrad, was once their capital.


    Ekaterinburg is the only Russia 2018 host city in Asia - just across the Urals. To reflect the nearby mountains and its former seclusion as a closed city, plus its history of making ICBMs, for Ekaterinburg I've chosen some electronic music from 1980, Morning in the Mountains by Vladimir Martynov. It sounds like the soundtrack of a nuclear winter. What people got up to with a synthesiser under communism, with only state- but no market censorship, was insane. I don't do electronic music, but this I love.


    I looked hard for something interesting in Mordovian, the language of the Republic of Mordovia of which Saransk is the capital, but found nothing that fits. Instead I have found something lovely played on the gusli, an ancient instrument more Russian than the balalaika and native to Russians and Finno-Ugric nations like the Mordvins.


    Another Volga city, and the last of the Russia 2018 host cities. I'm going to let you go with the famous Song of the Volga Boatmen, sung by the Red Army Choir. 

    I've really enjoyed compiling this post. When you go on a Russian train, I hope some of this music will accompany you and become part of the memory.

    If you haven't got plans for going on a Russian train, I hope these soundtracks give you a bit of the feeling.