Explorer: Andrew Matwijec
Destination: The Trans-Siberian Railway
The Trans-Siberian Railway is one of the world’s most epic journeys. Stretching over 6,000 miles across the continent of Asia, the Trans-Siberian is also the world’s longest railroad. This famous rail line crosses vast expanses of Russia with connecting lines leading into Mongolia, China and even North Korea.
I have always been fascinated with Russia and the Far East. Ever since I was little, I would pour over books recounting the riveting history of medieval Russia, the Mongol horde and ancient China. It is therefore no surprise that journeying through the Far East on the famous Trans-Siberian Railway was always one of my top travel ambitions.
I finally had the opportunity to travel the famous rail line in the summer of 2013. At the time, I was stationed in Alaska. I had just returned from a combat tour in Afghanistan and had recently purchased my first DSLR camera. Alaska was a photographer’s paradise – especially for a beginning photographer. However, I was eager to start photographing international locations. I was determined to photograph for myself the breathtaking vistas and multitude of cultures along the famous Russian railroad.
After doing my research, I found a top-notch travel company that offered tours on the Trans-Siberian. I settled on the option to travel by train from Moscow through Mongolia to Beijing. The tour company’s customer service was exemplary. It made all of the travel arrangements for me including the procurement of the necessary visas.
After two months of preparation, I finally departed on my flight from Anchorage to the Russian capital. I flew east from Anchorage with layovers in Seattle and Dallas. I landed in Moscow’s Domodedovo International Airport nearly 30 hours later. I was met upon arrival by my driver who drove me to the 5-star hotel where my travel group was assembling prior to our departure on the famous train the following day.
The group I would be traveling with on the train was a unique assembly of individuals from across the globe. There was a total of about 250 persons (mostly of retirement age) traveling on the train. These 250 passengers were divided into groups by language and/or country of origin. Each group was led by a young, bi-lingual Russian guide. I found myself in the small, English speaking group of roughly 15 individuals (including five married couples). My English-speaking travel companions hailed from the United States, Scotland, England, Australia, Egypt, Hong Kong and Turkey. I was amazed at how quickly our group bonded on that first night in the Russian metropolis. Furthermore, my group shared an outstanding and collective sense of humor. We shared hundreds of laughs experiencing the mingling of American and British humor interspersed with the witty commentary from our companions from Egypt, Turkey and Hong Kong.
The group spent the first night in Moscow enjoying an exquisite buffet and a welcome social presented by our Russian hosts. Our Russian guides joined us for the evening and took time to learn about each member of the group. As the evening wore on, a husband and wife (from Texas) who were in my group decided that they wanted to see Red Square at night. I – interested in shooting night photos of the famous plaza – offered to be their guide. Armed with my camera and a small city map, I set out from our hotel with my two travel companions shortly after sunset. Since I had been to Moscow on a previous trip, I was able to navigate easily to the landmark.
Red Square is impressive. Flanked by the imposing walls and spires of the mighty Kremlin, towering onion-domed St. Basil’s Cathedral, the expansive glass-roofed GUM department store and the citadel-looking State Historical Museum, Red Square is one of the most intriguing tourist attractions in the world. Walking from one end of the massive square to the other, I observed people from all over the world gazing in awe of the architectural emblems of Russian history and power.
While shooting a series of night photos, I explained the history of the nearby landmarks to my two fellow passengers. We remained in the square for roughly an hour before proceeding to make our way back to the hotel for some much-needed rest. Our journey across Asia would officially begin the following morning.
To be continued…
Andrew Matwijec is a world traveler and a photographer. He graduated from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2010 with degrees in Theology, Philosophy, and German. He also helped establish the university’s U.S. Army ROTC Program and earned a commission as an Army Officer upon graduation. Since graduating from Franciscan, Andrew has served in a number of unique Military assignments and has traveled to over four dozen countries on six of the seven continents. He shares his experiences through photography and has published several photo books of his travels. Andrew currently resides in Oklahoma.