Travel: Beam me down

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The Independent Travel
This week's random co-ordinates chosen by the computer are:

51 41' N 126 08' E

First reaction

Help - I'm stranded without my thermals!

Country and region

This is South Amur Oblast in north-eastern Russia, close to the border with China. The Trans-Siberian Railway passes near here, 7,819km east of Moscow, on its way to Vladivostok.

Nature of the terrain

Due to flooding of the river valley, the area beyond the Zeya River, known as the Zeysko Bureinskaya Plain, is wonderfully rich and fertile, and is the food store for Russia's far eastern region. Consequently it is the most densely populated area of the Amur region, with its villages interspersed by fields of melon, barley and soya beans.

Altitude

200m

Nearest settlement

Kostyukovka is a 10km hike to the east, but the nearest place worth staying in is Svobodnyy, 40km NNE, which was founded in 1912 when the railway bridge over the Zeya River was constructed. The town rapidly grew up around the railway industry, although it suffered in the Thirties from Stalin's purges; during five months in 1937 158 officials of the Amur railway were shot. Kostyukovka lies between a band of towns along the Chinese border and stops on the railway which runs parallel to it.

Possible hazards

The Zeya River is notorious for rapid flooding in the rainy season, and 10m-high floods have been recorded. Fortunately the worst is over by October.

Useful languages

Russian, the universal language of the whole of the former Soviet Union.

Take me to your leader

Officially it's still President Boris Yeltsin - watch this space.

Likely weather conditions

The mild, wet summer days have passed and a cold, dark winter is rapidly approaching. Temperatures are already dropping below zero after sunset.

Reasons for hanging around

Svobodnyy is an attractive river port, and boasts several museums including a geological museum, a history museum and - you've guessed it - a railway museum. Junior trainspotters have their own children's railway.

Getting the hell out of there

The Trans-Siberian train leaves Svobodnyy at 00.37, arriving in Vladivostok at the unearthly time of 02.45. From there, catch a flight to Moscow and on to London. Alternatively there's the more sociably timetabled train heading west, leaving Svobodnyy at 19.56 and arriving 156 hours (six and a half days) later in Moscow at 06.30.

Compiled by Laura Ivill

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