As part of planning for our Trans Siberian trip I’ve been doing a little background reading.
Now you would expect the opening of the rail line to the far east and Siberia to have an impact in Russia, but it also had a significant impact in the west – as suddenly the north of China, the various foreign concessions, Japan and Korea were in reach. Not two months by ship, but perhaps two weeks by train from London.
Businessmen, missionaries, adventurers and the like could actually make the journey and be back in less than half a year. Something that carried on well into the thirties with people like Robert Byron settling in Beijing and adventurers like Ella Maillart and Peter Fleming passing through
The result is an outpouring of books about the TransSiberian and guidebooks telling you how to travel, what to take, etc.
Like today’s Lonely Planet’s the guidebooks of the time offered advice on hotels, best places to stop, what to take with you on the train.
Now we tend to find late nineteenth century adverts slightly amusing. Portable rubber baths and Dr Jaeger’s sanitary underwear tend to produce a slightly preposterous, Pythonesque, caricature of Victorian and Edwardian travel.
Baedeker’s 1914 guide to the Transsiberian doesn’t mention rubber baths but it does suggest taking several changes of woollen underwear for the journey.
This isn’t quite as stupid as it sounds. Nowadays we’d tend to think of cotton but of course brands like Icebreaker have been agressively promoting merino base layers for backpacking in part because it doesn’t get as smelly as synthetic thermals – washing and drying it might be a different issue, and of course the eponymous Dr Jaeger’s woollen underwear was sanitary because of its ability to absorb smells.
So given our twentyfirst century fixation with cleanliness on the train the answer might in part lie in good sensible nineteenth century advice from an age where coping with poor washing facilities along the route was the norm …