A Month on the Trans-Siberian Railway

Photographer Giulia Mangione reflects on a month travelling over 9000 kilometres and across 10 time zones, on one of the most famous stretches of track in the world, the Trans-Siberian Railway

This summer I travelled on the Transsibirskaya Zheleznodoroznaya Magistral, better known as Trans-Siberian Railway, which runs for 9000 kilometres across Russia, from Moscow to Vladivostok. Having chosen to travel in the platscart, the third class carriage – where I talked to soldiers on leave, families on their way back from holidays which can not afford to travel by plane, and students travelling home for the summer holidays – I photographed the trip and the people I met along the way.

A girl on the train from Chita to Birobidzhan. On the whole Moscow-Vladivostok line during summertime, it is very common to see students going home for the summer break, or boys and girls travelling to reach their holiday destinations with their families.

If one never gets off the train, the journey from Moscow to Vladivostok lasts 6 days. The train’s speed is on average 90 km/h, about the speed of a regional train. It makes multiple stops and at the stations, waiting on the platforms, all kinds of things are sold. Usually the sellers are women and they sell scarves or waffles filled with condensed milk and blueberries. Some of them carry a metal hanger of smoked fish, hung by the eye socket.

Each carriage is managed by a key figure, in most cases a woman, called provodnitsa.  She is responsible for maintaining the order on the train, checking tickets and passports, and handing out bed sheets, and she is also the person that wakes you up 30 minutes before you need to get off the train.

A young provodnitsa in her special student uniform. During summer, students who want to work in the hospitality sector at national railway can have an internship where they can sample life as a provodnitsa.

Third class carriage. Immediately after checking passports and tickets, the provodnitsa provides each passenger with a bag containing fresh bed-sheets and a small towel. Thirty minutes before getting off the train each passenger is requested to roll back the mattress and hand the used bed sheets back to the provodnitsa.

A group of Russian men on their way to their holiday resort. They are going to camp outdoors, fish and cook handmade pelmeni, Russian dumplings.

I decided to get off the train multiple times, so my trip lasted a month. The first stop was Ekaterinburg, a city located close to the Ural Mountains, which separate eastern and western Russia. Here begins Siberia, an immense region extending to the Pacific Ocean. After Ekaterinburg, I got back on the train and then stopped in Krasnoyarsk, Irkutsk. I then stayed for five days on Olkhon Island, on Lake Baikal, the largest lake in the world.

During an unexpected stop in the middle of the countryside people get off the train to get some fresh air. An old lady picks flowers and herbs while her granddaughters play on the tracks. 

I then went back to Irkutsk, where I caught a train to Ulan Ude. After Irkutsk the landscape and the people started to change, their features beginning to look more and more Mongolian. The only thing that still makes you feel you are in Russia is the language. Around Ulan Ude Buddhist temples can be found, and a strong tradition of shamanism too.

A village in the Ivolginsky region in the Republic of Buryatia (a federal republic of Russia), 23 km outside of Ulan Ude, its capital city. This region is famous for its Buddhist temples (datsan), which has been the only Buddhist spiritual centre of the USSR since 1945. In the datsan many spiritual activities are carried out daily, such as temple rites, medical practice and traditional Buddhist education.

After Ulan Ude I went to Chita, Birobidzhan, the capital of a Jewish autonomous region, Khabarovsk. Finally at dawn, I arrived in the Far East, in Vladivostok.

Behind the station is the Golden Horn Bay, a sheltered horn-shaped bay of the Sea of Japan. The bay shares the name of the Turkish bay, due to its similarity.

Photography Giulia Mangione


The Merchant of Moscow

Madeline Morley discovers how a member of Moscow’s mercantile class amassed one of the most extraordinary art collections of the twentieth century

“If a picture gives you a psychological shock, buy it. It’s a good one.” This was the advice that the great Russian art collector Sergei Shchukin gave his daughter at the turn of the 19th century.

Musée d’Art Moderne Occidentale, Moscow

During the first quarter of the 20th century in Russia, this small inconspicuous man with an uncontrollable stutter – a member of Moscow’s conservative and provincial merchant class – would open the doors of his Trubetskoy palace to the public to share his collection of paintings. Rooms adorned with the sunset palette of Matisse, the distorted perception of Picasso, the looming bodies of Degas and the earthy hues of Cezanne, all crowded under the ceiling’s ornate decor. It was here that a generation of young art students would draw from the canvases they observed and eventually find their way to abstraction.

Since Peter the Great, wealthy czars had supported the arts, but by the end of the 19th century, it was Moscow’s merchants – particularly Shchukin – who were buying the “shocking” work of new French painters, pieces like Matisse’s ‘La Danse’ and Picasso’s ‘Les Demoiselles d’Avignon’ that were scorned by the aristocrats of old Slavic-Russian values. It was well known that only Shchukin’s most sophisticated visitors could get a glimpse of one of his precious Gauguins, which he kept hidden behind a curtain.

He was a unique, open-minded collector, and regularly became close friends with the artists he supported. He would spend hours in front of a painting before he decided whether or not to purchase it, allowing its mood to wash over him.

In 1918, after immigrating to Paris with his family to escape the political upheaval of the revolution, Shchukin’s collection became the property of the state, and was hidden in museum storerooms. Almost 100 years later, the Foundation Louis Vuitton hosted an exhibition of 130 of his collected works.

“Nothing will ever replace the sensitive, invested, courageous and committed eye of the private art collector, enamoured often to the point of addiction and madness,” said the exhibition’s general curator, Anne Baldassari. Ultimately, Shchukin’s talent wasn’t business but instinct, curating and selecting the defining works of an art historical epoch. The show was a reminder of the power and eventual prestige that emerges from making the right choices at the right time.


This article was original published in Issue 19 of Port