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Europe & Asia via the Trans Siberia Route

Koen’s new journey is about to start. This time it’s all about exploring Europe and Asia. Wherever possible, I’ll be trying to travel by train or ferry. A slower way of traveling should bring a nice pace to collect some impressions and meet some people.

There has been a couple of series I’ve been working on. Some of these are in line with the long-term photo-documentary projects, some are shorter missions for clients. This one was about to be a combination of travel, photography, a small video documentary, interviews with incredible people, and a book in a private publication.

Interview series

Microphone

I have been working on a series of interviews with people who take their destiny into their own hands. It’s a slow cooking project over a longer time. While I can find tons of these people here in New York, I try to get a broader view, so combining this with my travel passion sounds like a great plan. My trip alongside the routes to the east will hopefully bring some new, different, fresh insights into what drives people, and how society deals with them.

Partner Project

When seeking partners with whom I can make this venture of traveling with a camera sustainable, I found a great organization that chooses to work with me. We defined a project that will be both the cornerstone of a new initiative inside their company AND that at the same time will be used as the core of their annual event. I’m pretty thrilled to work with a visionary group of people on a very unique way of bringing my work, their corporate values, and some smart marketing and business development in one project. More about that in the last weeks of this year.

Location independent working: Digital Nomad

Another organization in Europe, active in strategic HR asked me to work with them on their content and website. Because of the quality of the team, the procedures in place, and the tools to communicate, my job can be done, location-independent. This trip will allow me to seek the pros and cons of such work. I will write about those findings here, as well as for a leading HR company that is, of course, interested in what this looks like in reality.
At the same time, having no home location that I can physically escape to, gives both a calm and an anxious feeling. It’ll be interesting to see how that develops over these next travel weeks.

Passion

Train - Railway Station - gare du nord, Paris

I’m very passionate about traveling and photography. Seeking new places, discovering them, and trying to document them, is something I don’t have to be told twice. And if you think I live the dream, I partially am. But there’s a flipside on everything. It’s a less “certain” way of living, and there is very little money in this way of working. You have to be really convinced that becoming wealthy isn’t important if you can be happy. That will often include really not having the cash to do what you like. It’ll be my goal to live this trip on a very (very!) limited budget. Not only because I want to, but because I have to. No regrets, however: the last months I’ve seen again where real richness is found.

Trains, Ferries, Planes

The original idea was to do London-Hanoi by train. That required however that all visas would work the way I hoped for. But getting into Belarus is still not that easy, as is getting an unlimited access to China. So I had to add flights to get from Vilnius to Saint Petersburg, and again to avoid having to enter China more than my visa allowed me when I go from Hong Kong to Hanoi. Besides these, I’ll be using the modern train systems (Eurostar, Thalys, and ICE) in the Western Part of Europe. I will rely on the classical “Trans-Siberian” system between Moscow and Beijing.

 

How and where:

Trans Europe

Royal Guard, London, UK, 2006 by Koen Blanquart

My journey will depart in the UK. The newer European railway systems are my first couple thousand of kilometers. I have been on Thalys and Eurostar before. Traveling on the ICE train will be a first, as will many train systems later in this journey. I’ll visit France, Germany, and Poland, further going by rail into the Baltic states. That’s where I will have to trade in trains for planes.

A biker in Paris in front of the Notre Dame Cathedral

In order to avoid complicated (and outside of the available time now) visa issues in Belarus for this trip, I’ll hop on a plane to St Petersburg from Vilnius. Minsk is still pretty high on the list of places I like to visit, but it’ll be for another time. From St Petersburg, it’s back on the train to Moscow.

Trans Siberia

In Moscow, I’ll board the Trans Siberian train. With a few stops along the way, this will take me 10,000 kilometers away from Moscow. The endpoint of my route will be Beijing, but not before I make a stop in Mongolia. The Trans Siberia part is, of course, the core of the Trans Siberian railroads, a name used to cover a whole set of trains crossing the continent. While the Trans Siberian train goes all the way to Vladivostok, I will change after lake Baikal to the trains that continue into Mongolia and China.

Mongolia

Mongolia fascinated me for the longest time. There’s probably little chance I will understand the country in a bit more than a week, but I believe it to be an amazing way to get to know it. Now a buffer between China and Russia, this was once the force that rules most of the continent. I’ll be in search of traces of that heritage here. Genghis Khan, here I come!

China

Shanghai, China - Image by Koen Blanquart

Is it communist, is it capitalist, I have not figured that out during my past visits to China. This time I’ll finally hope to make it to the great wall and to see more than just Shanghai and Beijing. Traveling by train should give me that chance. At the same time, it might be the challenge of a lifetime to make myself understood here and to find how to get to the destination. We’ll see how that will work out. For now, it all sounds very much Chinese to me.

I was last in Shanghai in 2010, so I can hardly wait for what it will look like after 6 years.

South-Korea

Friends who were here, are all raving about the culture, the language, the gadgets, the friendliness of the people. So my expectations are pretty high. Just like Japan, it’s not 100% sure I’ll add it to the trip, but who knows…

Japan

Japan only recently made it to my bucket list. Earlier, I did not feel attracted to the country of the rising sun. The more I read, however, and the more people I meet who lived or traveled in Japan, the more I got curious gets in the game. Tokyo and especially Kyoto give me so far nothing that I tangibly can identify as being the things I’d hope to see, the people I’d hope to meet, and so on.

Southeast Asia

When I leave Japan Japan, by way of China, I’ll continue the trip via Shanghai and Hong Kong towards Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand. Laos and Myanmar are high on the list as well, but in life (even as a traveler) there are choices to be made. Since I’ve never traveled to this area, and now being a divemaster, I’m considering how to combine the work for the clients with some time off, to see what the Thailand Gulf looks like below the surface, for example.

Preparations

I’m preparing for the trip as we speak. After making a draft of the route, I started getting the necessary visa. With Russia and China being the main part of the route, getting those visas delivered was the highest priority. For Russia, the US passport holders have the chance to get a 3-year visa with multiple entries. For Europeans, it’s a visa restricted to the itinerary as it was delivered to the consulate. I just received my Chinese visa as well, so the basics of the travel administration are now done!

Follow me along

I’ll do my best to often post some impressions from my travel here on Boarding Today. If you like the news delivered in your mailbox, at most once a month, there’s the newsletter for you!

rails

The featured image is based on a photo by Marc Dalio (marcdalio on Flickr), used under Common Creative License

6 replies
  1. Michael W Rickard says:

    I’ve always been fascinated by train travel whether it’s cheap train travel or luxury train travel. I’m going to England this summer and plan on traveling via train from London to the northern part of the country. It looks like you’ve taken quite a lot of trips via train, man. I like your style too. The idea that you don’t have to loaded (financially) to travel is true. There are different experiences depending on whether people are looking for adventure or just looking to get from point A to point B.

    Reply
  2. Vyjay Rao says:

    I too have a great fascination for trains and especially some of the great rail routes of the world. Traveling by train across changing landscapes has an unparalleled romantic allure.

    Reply

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