We continue introducing to you the Real Russia team, enthusiastic people who make our company so special.
Today we spoke to Andrew Glenister, Marketing Manager in the Real Russia team, who is always seeking new ways to help the team to build new bonds with current and future customers and ensure the company continues to grow.
One of the most experienced and helpful members of our staff, Andrew was the one who attended the World Travel Awards ceremony in Sardinia in 2015. He knows all about Real Russia, and knows how to link everything within to make the company succeed. And what’s more, he is incredibly passionate about Russia, its history, culture and people; last year he and some other team members hopped on the Trans-Siberian railway from Moscow to Beijing, to experience Russia the way our customers do, and we asked him to share the highlights from that amazing trip with us.
Andrew joined Real Russia in 2014. Before embarking on a career in travel, Andrew received a degree in Law. Though, being a passionate traveller himself, he decided to be involved in the thriving travel business.
In his free time, he likes to travel, play rugby for his local club, read and watch movies.
Andrew in Ulan-Ude
What are three the most interesting countries you’ve visited?
Kazakhstan is a little off the beaten path, but it is an incredibly diverse place to visit; I visited around April/May, and within the space of a few hours I went from standing atop a snowy mountain in the Trans-Ili Alatau mountain range (part of the Tian Shan mountain system), to standing under a burning sun near Kzylorda – one of the flattest areas I have ever visited!
2.Russia (of course!)
This choice isn’t just bias, or cheeky marketing, it is the genuine truth. I have visited Russia a few times now and it is always different. I think my favourite example of this is visiting the Old Believers in Ulan-Ude last year. As an offshoot of the Russian Orthodox Church, I thought the visit would be quite sombre, but in fact they plied us with local homemade vodka, alongside song and dance in, very colourful, traditional local outfits.
Visiting the Old Believers in Ulan-Ude
Somewhere I have not visited for nearly 15 years, but that continues to hold my interest having only scratched the surface.
What is your approach to travelling to foreign countries?
I tend to do a lot of research, and work hard to choose just the right destination. There is so little free time in which to travel, I don’t want to waste it. I will check out blogs and travel articles, as well as ask friends for their recommendations.
Once I have decided where I want to go, I will start to look at things like travel, accommodation, etc. I usually make a spreadsheet for myself, so I can create an itinerary with costs. I am very nerdy about it, but it helps me to plan what I want to see, and make sure I can fit everything in!
Once I arrive I try to stick to the mantra, ‘when in Rome’. I use local transport, eat in local restaurants, and try to wander around the less ‘touristy’ areas of a place – in fact, the less tourists there are where I am the better!
Do you focus on learning the cultural and historical aspects of the country, or understanding the people and their mentality?
I tend towards getting a feel for the ‘feel’ of a place, and its people. Historical context of course plays a part in this, but how people live, and interact, and being a part of that, teaches much more. In my opinion, anyway. In any case, the historical context can be gained before traveling, when researching a destination.
Boarding the Circum-Baikal train
Last year you embarked on the Trans-Siberian journey for the first time ever. What advice would you give to customers that are planning on travelling to Russia, China or Mongolia for the first time?
I come back to research again. For instance, travelling by train for days on end is a unique experience, and one that I think is brilliant (I can’t wait to do again!) but without preparation I can see how some people may not enjoy it so much. I won’t go on at length about it, as we have some great guides elsewhere on the website by Matthew Woodward and Jessica from How Dare She that go into preparation in more detail.
Other than this, I would recommend that people go in with an open mind. Russia, Mongolia and China are all massively different from one another, let alone from the countries that most of our customers travel from, so being open to new people, ideas, customs, etc., if the best advice that can be given.
When is the best time to travel on the Trans-Siberian in your opinion?
I travelled towards the end of August, and this seemed to work out pretty much perfectly. The weather was still nice (other than a little rain in Irkutsk) and the bulk of the holiday season has passed (so fewer tourists).
It does depend on what any given person wants to see or do. Lake Baikal is a great example of this; in the summer it is possible to hike and sail, in the winter it is possible to go ice fishing and dog sledding.
Why do you think the Trans-Siberian route is so popular?
It speaks to the imagination. It speaks to the history of Russia. Few, if any, other journeys, anywhere in the world, take in so many different cultures, or such a diverse mix of geography. I remember going to sleep in the Gobi Desert, nothing but sand in all directions, only to wake up in the hills and valleys of northern China to stunning blue rivers, and vibrant green hills; the contrast could not have been more complete.
Sitting proud in a recreation of Genghis Khans ger
What surprised you the most on your Trans-Siberian journey?
How quickly the time passes while on-board the train. I will admit to being a little concerned that a 34 hour train journey might become a little tedious, but I needn’t have worried. In the end the time flew by, and I actually wished I had had more time! And I am not alone, I spoke to numerous Real Russia customers while travelling, and they all said the same thing. I think it comes down to the incredible scenery. Once you start looking out the window you turn off to the passing of time, and before you know it, hours have passed!
What food did you like the most in Russia, Mongolia and China during your Trans-Siberian trip?
I think the best thing I ate along the way was in Novosibirsk. We were served a Siberian stag (maral) steak. It has to count as one of the nicest steaks I have ever had. What wasn’t so nice was what I suppose was meant to be a Russian ‘digestif’ – a liqueur of some sort, made from horseradish, it was revolting.
What city along the Trans-Siberian route you would visit again?
I would like to visit them all again! We were only able to spend a couple of days in each city, so we barely scratched the surface of what there is to see. In Novosibirsk, for instance, we visited the opera hall to watch a rehearsal, and visit the backstage area, but did not have the time to see a full performance, which was a great shame.
What was one of the funniest thing that happened to you during the trip?
While visiting Lake Baikal, we were convinced by our guide to have a quick swim. The weather that day was damp, grey, and miserable, so the water could charitably be called quite cold. The reactions of the group as we entered the water, paddled for a few seconds, then ran back to dry land, were priceless. Luckily this was followed up by a trip to a local banya (Russian sauna), where we quickly warmed back up again!
You went to Kazakhstan in 2015, and were so much impressed with the country that you wrote a series of blogs about the trip. Was your trip to Kazakhstan in some small way life changing?
I probably wouldn’t say life changing, but it certainly changed how I look at travel, for better and perhaps worse! Kazakhstan is rarely visited by tourists, and so almost everywhere we went, we were alone. On one day, we visited the ruins of Sauran, an ancient Silk Road city; there can’t have been another soul for 50 miles in any direction – it was just us, the ruins and a herd of wild horses. The experience would not have been the same had their been even one other person, or group. It really brought home to me how good it is to visit unkown destinations like this, to experience something different without the hubbub of tourists. The ‘worse’ of this is that my patience for tourist packed destinations has decreased, don’t even mention the Coliseum in Rome to me!
How did you start your career in Real Russia? What drew you to the company?
I started as Rail Product Manager, before slowly spreading myself into other areas. Both helpfully, and probably unhelpfully!
What drew me to the company? The chance to do something a little bit different. Russia is a bit on an unknown quantity to most, and it certainly was to me. So joining Real Russia was an opportunity (from a selfish perspective), to learn about something that I was lacking in knowledge about, and get paid for it!
What keeps me hear is different? What keeps me here, is the chance to share Russia with the world. As I mentioned, Russia is an unknown quantity to many people, so the chance to introduce the country to people, to highlight its best qualities, is something that makes coming to work every day worthwhile.
After recently being crowned Russia’s Leading Travel Agency for the fifth time in a row, what do you think Real Russia owes its success to?
The people. The team. The effort they put in every day, partnering with travellers from around the world, helping them to realise their dream adventure. No request is too big, or too small, and I think that dedication is appreciated.
I like to think that the key is that our team will say, ‘yes’, where others may not. Any request, for any destination, if it is remotely possible, our team will try and make it a reality.
What do you find the most challenging in travel business?
The media and the politics, from any and all sides. Politicians, newspapers and television news programmes always have an agenda, and this agenda is nearly always negative, because that is what makes money. Rarely do they show the best of a place, or people. If we made decisions about where to travel based purely on politicians and the media, we would never travel anywhere!
Where in Russia would you like to go next?
There are two main destinations on my Russia ‘to-do’ list. In no particular order, Murmansk and Kamchatka. Both places are incredibly remote, and offer a view of the Russian people, and soul, that is unlike what can be found anywhere else. And the scenery, the stunning, untouched, beauty of it. Did you know that Kamchatka has no land connections to the rest of Russia at all? It is only possible to get there by water or by air, and they are very dependent on the weather!
At the end of the day, Russia and the Trans-Siberian are incredible places to visit. I have incredibly fond memories of both, and have made some great friends working at Real Russia, sharing it all with the world.
If you enjoy good food, good people, incredible scenery, and want variety in your travels, then nothing beats the Trans-Siberian.
Thank you, Andrew, for answering our questions and giving us this amazing and thought-provoking insight.
We look forward to introducing you to another member of our amazing team next month!
If you feel inspired and would like a helping hand in designing your perfect travel itinerary, or anything from train booking to applying for a visa, please contact our travel specialists.