Back in October, we announced our 2019 Trans-Siberian competition with a chance to win a signed copy of experienced Trans-Siberian travel writer Matthew Woodward’s new book ‘The Railway to Heaven’. We have received a great response and we wanted to send a big thank you to everyone who participated in our contest and helped make it a success!
Today, we are pleased to be able to share the winning entry with our readers:
My visit to Russia was a spin!
Outside the Train with our Provodnista
My visit to Russia was a spin-off of a previous travel adventure in China a few years’ before.
I had chosen one of the wildest parts of China as the first visit to that vast country, not the usual places recommended i.e. Xian and the Terracotta Warriors etc. I chose Yunnan province where most of China’s ethnic groups originate. It was a true adventure and memorable with no regrets whatsoever (except for not being able to include a visit to The Great Wall).
The Great Wall was always in the back of my mind as I explored and planned my next travel adventure. Looking at a World Map, I expanded my search across Europe and Asia, and in doing so, came across the Trans-Siberian train trip. I’d heard it spoken of and read adventure stories and seen photos of this train adventure, thinking it would forever just be a part of my imagination. I figured it would be out of my reach, financially and from a feasibility point of view.
Whilst enjoying armchair travelling, I felt continuously drawn to this train trip. Being someone not afraid of the off-beat, unusual challenge of visiting a foreign, far-flung country I began exploring the options with our local travel agencies, here, in Johannesburg, South Africa. This train trip is referred to as the Trans-Manchurian train trip, starting in Beijing and travelling west to Moscow. My available dates would not align with the dates on offer and also the cost was prohibitive. I felt downcast, but not for long. I’d had a taste of what this trip would involve and extended my search on the internet, which is where I came across a company called Real Russia, the name Real Russia caught my attention and excited me further.
It was not long before I was on live chat with Alla Menshakova. I realised early on I was dealing with an authentic travel agent, whom I could trust. The communication was outstanding and helpful in every way. I had no doubt then, that I would do the Trans-Siberian train trip. Alla went to a lot of trouble fitting it into my available dates. In order to do so, we had to do it from West to East, starting in Moscow and ending in Beijing, culminating in the long-awaited, trip to the mighty Great Wall of China.
I could scarcely conceive I was actually going to achieve two of my dreams in the space of 2 weeks. I was astounded and impressed and hoped the actual trip would fulfil if not all, but most of my wishes.
My first observation on touching down in Moscow was the austere manner of the first Russians we had dealings with. This impression was to change as we began exploring our initial part of this trip to Mother Russia, as my son, Charles kept referring to it as. With his easy sense of humour, we managed to raise the odd smile out of some. No English spoken whatsoever, which from my point of view was perfect, just the way I had envisaged it.
We boarded the Trans-Siberian train at midnight a couple of days into our trip and right away from being tossed our bedding, I knew it was going to be a trip with a difference; from discovering the much spoken about Samovar at the end of the passage to our very own shower and handbasin which did not work, we set off on this adventure of a lifetime. I loved the fact things were not as anticipated. I reminded Charles how it was always the hiccups on a trip which would be the most memorable and spoken about long after a return from a trip like this.
We soon discovered fellow travellers of different nationalities in the same carriage as ours, from an obviously well-seasoned couple from Norway to a Chinese student on his was from completing his degree at a university in Dusseldorf. At each station stop, we had the opportunity of scrutinizing fellow travellers, this being September, the train was not at full capacity, and local fare in the way of homecooked food was not in evidence. We made do with meals in the dining car, which on the first leg of our trip was really good and even resembled photos we had seen on the internet, although portions were small.
From the hustle and bustle of our first few days in Moscow, we soon welcomed the lulling effect of the trains’ motion, not the clickety-clack sound I remember from my childhood train trips.
I needed the time to relive our time in Moscow and catch up on daily notes, which were going to be used in the book I had planned to write and publish as a sequel to my Chinese adventure book.
I sensed a longing in the faces of those watching us as we dismounted the train at Irkutsk. Others were making the nonstop 7-day trip to Beijing. The stopover in Irkutsk and Listvyanka, Lake Baikal was perfect.
Tsar Alexander III Monument in Irkutsk
We were more than ready to continue our Trans-Siberian train trip a few days later, a different train, different compartment, new fellow travellers, and a chance once again to reminisce and not allow ourselves to forget a single moment of our time in Irkutsk and Listvyanka. The much spoken about birch trees lining the route started feeling normal as we marvelled the fact we were traversing wild Siberia. How many can claim to have dared to do this? I stared deep into the forests wondering what lay within, imagining bears and snow leopards, and the beautiful Siberian wild cat.
We noticed a television screen in our compartment which I was grateful did not work. I was focused not on luxury or pampering but rather on observing every nuance of this unique opportunity to traverse this the longest railway line in the world, crossing 7 time zones, taking 25 years to bring to completion in 1916. I considered how fortunate I had been to be able to achieve this, and only with Real Russia at the helm, was this possible.
Hardly a day goes by and I don’t recall some aspect of my Russian adventure, even some 4 years hence. In one word, I would describe the experience as EXTRAORDINARY.
We would like to thank all our entrants for taking the time to submit their stories. We really enjoyed reading these and we hope to share some of these with our readers in the foreseeable future.
If Helen’s story has inspired you, check out our Trans-Siberian guide which has all you need to know about Trans-Siberian travel from planning and packing to selecting the best route to suit your needs. Alternatively, if you would like help arranging your trains feel free to contact us at email@example.com or consult our Trans-Siberian journey planner.