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NPR Host Shares His Trans-Siberian Journey, Views On Russia

David Greene

Before joining “Morning Edition” in 2012, David Greene was a foreign correspondent for NPR in Moscow. While there, he took the 6,000 mile Trans-Siberian Railway, writing about the second trip in his new book “Midnight in Siberia: A Train Journey into the Heart of Russia.”

In October, Greene returned to Russia and Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula that Russia seized from Ukraine earlier this year.

“This is an incredibly difficult country and culture to really figure out and understand,” Greene told “St. Louis on the Air” host Don Marsh on Tuesday. “A lot of people say the Russian soul is something so powerful and so present in every walk of life, but knowing exactly what it is and how it defines the Russian people, it is a mystery. It’s become a passion of mine, trying to figure it out.”

Greene said he has been fascinated with Russia for some time.

“Russian literature, Russian culture, Russian music, Russian ballet — I think we all grew up really respecting it,” Greene said. “Russian science. Russian space travel. This is a country that is important. It’s a country with such a dynamic culture. I grew up sort of thinking of this country as its leaders were the enemies, but always being curious about the Russian people and how they kind of survived behind that wall. For me, at least, there’s always been this fascination with getting behind that wall and figuring it out.”

In 2011, Greene took his second trip on the Trans-Siberian Railway, which is used to describe one of two routes. Greene traveled from Moscow to Vladivostok, Russia; the other route goes through Mongolia, ending in Beijing.

“It’s not all trains that are traveling these whole routes,” Greene said. “There are some — you can get on in Moscow and go all the way to Vladivostock. As you’re working your way across the Trans-Siberian, you might book a train that is only going a thousand miles. That changes who is on the train. If you’re on one of the long-distance trains, you’re with people who are going often the long distances and seeing family, who are four days away by train, for the first time in years. If you’re on a more local train, it might be travelers who might commute from one city to the other once a month or something like that.”

Accommodations on the trains also vary. Second-class fare offers a compartment for four people, which may mean bunking with strangers. Third-class accommodations are open bunks.

“It’s a place with a lot of life,” Greene said. “I mean that in a good way because the people-watching can be incredible. I mean in a bad way because there’s orchestral snoring at night. There are sounds and smells and you have to step on fellow passengers to get up to an upper bunk. It’s just wild — it’s an adventure. It’s not for everyone, but it’s an adventure.”

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“St. Louis on the Air” discusses issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh. Follow us on Twitter: @STLonAir.

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