Travel from Moscow to St. Petersburg in 1812

The distance between the two “great” cities of Russia, Moscow and St. Petersburg is over 700 kilometers, which is about the distance from Los Angeles to San Francisco. In a modern car, the trip takes about 9 hours. In an express train, just under 6. It’s an hour’s flight, not counting going to and coming from the airport.

During the time Tolstoy’s War and Peace takes place, the Napoleonic Wars, in 1812, there were no planes, trains or automobiles. The majority of people had to walk. At a pace of 5 km per hour, the trip would take 140 hours. If you could walk 10 hours every day, it would take two weeks one way. Obviously, only the rich were able to do it.

In the winter, they traveled by horse-drawn sleigh. In the summer, by carriage. If you owned your own carriage, and the four or six horses it needed, you could possibly travel perhaps 10 km per hour, for maybe eight hours a day. That means the trip took about nine days, each way. If you used a stage-coach, where horses are changed out periodically, you could do it a bit faster.

Regardless of the cost and the incredible discomforts of going over rugged roads in a carriage, all day, every day, you needed to find lodging every night and places to eat along the way every day. You also could not travel alone. You needed footmen to help with the carriage and drive the horses. You needed servants to make the arrangements. They all had to travel with you. They all had to eat and sleep every day. The cost of travel must have been enormous.

In War and Peace, the gentry does a lot of traveling between the “two capitals” St. Petersburg and Moscow. Tolstoy just casually mentions that so-and-so “went to St. Petersburg” for a few weeks. He takes it for granted that we know all this.

And today, sometimes I travel from California to New York for a meeting and spend one night there. And this is the difference 200 years of modern advances makes.


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