Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


I WAS ORDERING another book entirely (of which more, once it arrives) when the Amazon Smile algorithm was spot-on with two other recommendations. Here are tidbits about one of these delightful examples of artful travel. Expect the other anon.

Border Crossings—A Journey on the Trans-Siberian Railway, by Emma Fick, Harper Design, 2022.

An Artful Travel Companion. Emma Fick is an American artist and illustrator with degrees in English Literature and Art History. Evidently adventurous and bright, she followed up her degrees with a Fulbright to teach English in Serbia. A book of watercolor illustrations, Snippets of Serbia, evolved which led to her second book, Snippets of New Orleans, where she now resides. Emma has hopes of traveling “far & wide, illustrating her way across the world.” So why not the Trans-Siberian Railway? (All of this accomplished prior to the horrific Putin madness.)

But Which Trans-Siberian? As Emma observes, “Construction of the Trans-Siberian Railway began in 1891 at both ends—Moscow  & Vladivostok—under the rule of Tsar Alexander III and one of his ministers, Sergei Witte, who masterminded the project.”

Today, though, on its way to Vladivostok it offers two spurs to Beijing, China, one of which travels through a third country, Mongolia.

This and the following illustrations from Border Crossings.

“We chose the Trans-Mongolian route,” Emma says, “because it is the only one that passes through 3 different countries…. If you take the train from Beijing to Moscow without stopovers, the trip take about 6 full days. We allotted 23 days to make the journey, with frequent disembarkments to enjoy visits to towns & cities along the way.”

I mentioned that she’s adventurous. So is her then-boyfriend/now-husband Helio (they met in Serbia).

Emma offers (and illustrates) hints on preparing for and undertaking the trip, for example, “Upper vs Lower Berths & Common Train Courtesy.”  Here I focus on one aspect, the culinary adventures.

Chinese Chicken Block. Naturally enough, “The food served in the dining cars corresponds with—& changes according to—the country you’re in.”

Mongolian Dumplings. Upon entering Mongolia, Emma writes, “Based on our research, we knew to expect lots of lamb as the primary protein, and we’d also read about the ubiquitous meat-filled dumplings.”

Russian Fare. Emma describes the Russian Dining Car: “Loud drapes, futuristic seats, & a grumpy server.” 

In retrospect, Emma provides “A Generally Accepted* Ranking of the Various Dining Cars (all Second-Class; no First-Class experience).”

The Joy of Stolovayas. But then visiting Omsk, she discovers stolovayas.

There she acquires a taste for Herring Under a Fur Coat: “I fell in love with this dish at a stolovaya before knowing what it was called, & when I learned its name I completely lost my mind. It tasted even better when I could savor its hilarious name along with its flavor!” 

I must try making this some time. I wonder if it’ll compete with my current craze for Korean Gilgeori. ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2022 


  1. Bob Storck
    June 30, 2022

    As you often do Dennis, your meanderings jump about, and trigger slightly related wandering thoughts from my convoluted grey matter.
    Recall that rail technology ran way ahead of road infrastructure, and when in 1907 the Thomas Flyer won the NY to Paris race (opposite direction taken by Charlie Lindbergh two decades later), they drove on the tracks of the Trans Siberian RR, as navigable roads didn’t exist. No, they didn’t ride the rails, but straddled them, thumping along the ties.
    A couple decades ago, I had occasion to take Aeroflot from Seoul to Moscow. Flight attendants seemed to be WWII veteran grandmothers with drill sergeant ambience. Food was interestingly palatable, though pre-salted, and heavy on vegetables, mostly cabbage. Rest was pasta, dumplings with curious sauces, borsht, sausage and mystery meat. Detailed menu, but just Cyrillic.

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