I think I’ll pop to Japan by train next year
It’s quite simple. I’ll get the tube to St Pancras station (only 5 minutes away), then I’ll get the train from St Pancras to Brussels (maybe stopping for a quick glass of champaign at the station’s champagne bar). Then when in Brussels I’ll likely visit my friend Andreas’ family, who I assume still live there, and talk about the EU and haricot vertes. I’ll also probably go for a few bottles of Chimay, eat a waffle or two, and visit the Tintin museum.
The next day I’d get the train to Berlin, where I would spend a few days eating currywurst and thinking about the Cold War.
Then things start to get heavy. There’s a train from Berlin to Moscow, which in my imagination is staffed by stern-faced Russian matriarchs. I haven’t heard anything about the food on offer, but I would imagine it’s mainly black bread and vokda.
I’ll eat my black bread and drink my vodka and play my ukulele as the train makes its way across Poland and Belarus. I’ll prepare accordingly – I’ll learn some old Russian folk songs, which I’m sure are easy to play and sing.
After many hours I’ll arrive in Moscow. I’ve never had any interest in visiting Moscow, despite my long-standing interest in socialism. I have a vision of it being a dirty, horrible place, with a few clapped out tourist haunts and a nightlife overpopulated with young sons and daughters of oligarch billionaires partying in clubs that are shining beacons to consumerism, like bacardi adverts come to life.
I will hopefully be proven incorrent, but in any case I will buy a hat and some Lenin tat.
Next I’ll get on the Trans-Siberian railway to Vladivostok. I do have two choices concerning this step of my journey – either I can get the train to Beijing via Mongolia, then travel onwards to Shanghai and, from there, get a ferry to Japan.
But I think the Vladivostok option is bleaker, purer. Besides, when I was a kid I used to stare at Vladivostok at my light-up globe that I used as a night light, and wonder what it would be like to go there. It might be time to find out, even if the answer is ‘a bit rubbish and anti-climatic’. I hope there’s a Wimpy in Vladivostok.
So. From Vladivostok there are two ferries a week to Fushiki, near Toyama. A website tells me “passengers will be almost exclusively Russian men importing Japanese cars”. The ferry takes 36 hours and hopefully doesn’t sink very often.
Then, finally, I’ll be in Japan. I’ll have a wash, then get a train to Tokyo, hang out with my mate Tomoco, and wait for Morgan to arrive.
She’ll be flying.
EDIT: Courtesy of a guardian.co.uk live Q&A I asked Tom Hall, of Lonely Planet, a question about my proposed trip, specifically whether to plump for the ends-of-the-earth appeal of Vladivostok or to go via Mongolia. He replied as follows:
“Great question, superb journey. Unfortunately i don’t have first-hand experience but know from others that service levels can fluctuate. There are a couple of reasons to go for Vladivostock: the first is that it is a more direct route; the second that the international trains can be more in demand, especially the Trans-Mongolian; and I’d concur with you that the end-of-the-world appeal of Vlad. has a certain allure.Seat61 has useful information and links for your whole journey, though I’m sure you’ve already been here.”