Real Russia Blog

How much do you know about the Trans-Siberian?

How much do you know about the Trans-Siberian?

We like to think of ourselves as the Trans-Siberian experts – we’ve taken the Trans-Siberian and every year we help thousands of others take it too but… Well, with countries as fascinating as Russia, China and Mongolia there’s always more to learn.

We've put together a few of our favourite facts we've learnt over the last few months as well as a few of the favourites that got us interested in the Trans-Siberian too.

A legendary lost city

Located just beyond Nizhny Novgorod, which gained recent exposure because of its role as a 2018 host city during the World Cup, is Svetloyar Lake. Some Russians believe that Svetloyar Lake holds a secret, and somewhere in its waters is Kitezh, a mysterious, sunken city. The city is said to have become invisible when it was attacked by Tatars, and there is even an opera partially based on its legend, Сказание о невидимом граде Китеже и деве Февронии, or The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh and the Maiden Fevroniya.

Svetloyar Lake

Stuck in the middle with Tayshet

The railway station of Tayshet, when you hit 4644.5km from Moscow, is the half-way point between Moscow and Vladivostok, which is 9,289km from Moscow. If you stop in Tayshet station, make sure to take a moment with a drink and admire just how far you've come, and just how far there is left to go! Think back to how many people have passed through this hallway point on one of the grandest journeys there is.

The Trans-Siberian wasn't always accessible to travellers

Vladivostok, the final stop of the original Trans-Siberian was off limits to foreigners until 1990, even Soviet Citizens needed a permit giving them permission to enter. There are, of course, exceptions to every rule and in 1974 the USA's President Ford was given permission to visit for an arms summit with Leonid Brezhnev.

There are also, urban legends that David Bowie spent time in Vladivostok taking a ferry from Japan at the end of his 1973 Japanese tour. He's said to have taken the train through Russia due to his dislike of flying.

Vladivostok, Russky bridge

A station of marble

Slydyanka station is the only railway station in the world to be built entirely of marble. The station is famously close to the beautiful Lake Baikal, a highlight for many taking the Trans-Siberian. There is an old story that when the train stopped for 15 minutes, travellers would dash down to the water to dip in a hand for good luck. It wasn't unusual for these travellers to not make it back to the train in time, but what a picturesque place to be left behind!

Nowadays, the train only stops for 2 minutes and many travellers will simply choose to book a later train so they have time to enjoy Lake Baikal.

Slydyanka station

Home of Dance

Famous Russian male ballerina Rudolf Nureyev was actually born onboard the Trans-Siberian, near Irkutsk. His mother was travelling to see Rudolf's father in Vladivostok where he was stationed as a commissar.

It's not a one-track experience

Russian and Mongolian railways use the same size gauge which makes travelling between countries very easy, the train only needs to stop for custom and border checks. Chinese railways, however, use a different size gauge for their wheels so when you cross from Mongolia to China, the bogies need to be changed on every single carriage, so it'll fit on Chinese rails!

Chinese train

Baikal-Amur Mainline

The Trans-Siberian was originally planned as Moscow-Vladivostok, however, over time, that has evolved with the Trans-Mongolian which travels through Ulan Bator to Beijing and the Trans-Manchurian which travels through the Manchurian region to Beijing. This evolution has continued with the newest addition of the Baikal-Amur Mainline which runs parallel and northern to the Trans-Siberian railway route. It begins in Tayshet, the Trans-Siberian's midway point, and ends at Sovetskaya Gavan. It offers an alternative to the Trans-Siberian, showing off towns and cities that perhaps wouldn't be seen otherwise.

Leonid Brezhnev described the BAM route as the ‘construction project of the century’ as much of it was built over permafrost.

Real Russia Blog

Seasonal Guide to Moscow: Spring

Seasonal Guide to Moscow: Spring

Want to visit Moscow but not sure when`s the best time to make the journey? Well it all depends what you want to do while you`re there! Real Russia is here to help with our seasonal guide to Moscow so you can make the most of your time whenever you go.

Spring is a very short season in Moscow, only lasting from the beginning of March until the end of May. It is chillier than a typical British spring with temperatures hovering around 0 degrees right through March. Although temperatures warm up around April they won't go much above 10 degrees so you'll still need to pack warmer clothing.

The best advice is to take a good pair of boots, Moscow tends to have very heavy snow during winter so the spring streets can be treacherous with melting snow.

Despite the colder weather, the city still comes to life in spring as the fountains are turned on, trees begin to bloom and there are many celebrations to enjoy.

What should I do?

The first few days of spring mark Maslenitsa, a Russian tradition celebrated the week before Great Lent. The pancake festival is especially popular as people say farewell to winter with steaming hot bliny served up at festivals around the city parks and squares.

If you go towards the end of April, the city fountains will be turned on again showing off their glory and will shortly be followed by Spring and Labour Day on May 1st when the city will be filled with marches, or you can visit city parks for more laid back festivities.

Spring also welcomes Orthodox Easter, one of the most important dates in the Orthodox calendar and is a great time to visit for those interested in Orthodox traditions. Make sure you look at opening times for anything you wish to visit as they may be affected by Easter.

May 9th is Victory Day, another of Russia's celebrations, which is celebrated with street parties, city parades and fireworks! One popular tradition is the tasting of the ‘soldier's meal’ made up of boiled barley groats and 100g of vodka in rememberance of soldier's rations.

Best Spring Excursions:

Moscow Metro Tour

The Moscow Metro is unlike any other and the stations have been compared to underground palaces because of their beauty and iconic architecture. The Moscow Metro is the second most heavily used underground in the world after Tokyo's twin subway with average interval times of just 90 seconds during peak travel times.

On this tour you'll visit the most stunning stations of Moscow Metro, learn about the unique history and design of each station and learn how to travel like a true Russian.

Victory Park Excursion

Spring hosts many celebrations of Russia's history and traditions and Victory Park is a great chance to dive into this further. The park takes you on a journe through the Great Patriotic War with a memorial mosque and synagogue, a Holocaust museum and Russian Orthodox Church.

You can tour exhibitions of weapons, military equipment, sculptures and war-time documents. Inside the museum are six remarkable war scene dioramas and an art gallery covering events that occured during the war.

If you want to find out more about Moscow, and other cities throughout the seasons, you can view the rest of our seasonal guide here or view our excursions page here.

Real Russia Blog

Customer Tales: The Ultimate Trans-Siberian Adventure

Customer Tales: The Ultimate Trans-Siberian Adventure

Unforgettable 5-weeks journey along the Trans-Siberian railway and beyond

Read how our customer Linda fulfilled a lifelong dream, with her daughter, taking a tailored Trans-Siberian tour with Real Russia. She spent 5-weeks experiencing as much of the diverse cultures as she could along the way and taking in the unrivalled sights.

So, what did she experience on the world’s most famous rail journey?

The Rossiya train

We booked on the Rossiya, the flagship of the Trans-Siberian. Interestingly, for staff benefit, no matter how many time-zones we passed the train kept to Moscow time – this is crucial to understand when using the restaurant car!

The Rossiya was home for four days, we travelled hundreds of miles with ever-changing scenery. From the riches of central Moscow we noticed changes in housing immediately, memorably an estate of pink houses with marshmallow like roofs.

As we made a stop at its grand station, I concluded in hindsight I would have liked to have stopped at Yekaterinburg, famously where the massacre of the Romanov Royal family took place. Now memorialised in a little church a little way out of the city.

Irkutsk and Lake Baikal

We arrived at Irkutsk, the capital of Siberia, to see Lake Baikal, the world’s largest freshwater lake. We booked a day trip to Lake Baikal from Irkutsk by taxi. As it came into view the site was immediately breath taking, on one side of the lake was a seaside complex and on the other majestic mountains loomed large.

​ Serene Lake Baikal – a jewel of the Trans-Siberian


Ulan-Bator, Mongolia’s capital, the land of Genghis Khan. We arrived at 5.45am to the most glorious sunrise. 1.5 million people live in Mongolia, and 1 million of them live right in the capital. A huge golden god oversees the capital and is worth a morning trek. Mongolia is known as the ‘land of sky’, nothing but miles and miles of horizon. We found four more travel companions and hired a jeep and driver, who would also be our chef for the next six days to head into the Gobi. At the time, there were no roads to the Gobi; only well used scrubland tracks with flocks of sheep, goats and camels that scattered when our jeep appeared. We stayed in local yurts along the way and our meals were rice with goat meat, only horse milk was available.


Our train was now the Trans-Mongolian, a proud engine with 16 coaches. As night descended the train pulled into a huge factory-type complex. My daughter said, ‘I feel like I’m going up’; we drew back the curtain to find ourselves 10ft in the air, supported by hawsers, as the men below changed the wheels from 8’ to 6’. Foreign trains could not use China’s tracks without this change.

We arrived in Beijing and stayed in the Old City. We explored Tiananmen Square, with the huge photo of Chairman Mao being the meeting place for all tours and taxis. We visited the Forbidden City, home of China’s emperors for 500 years. We climbed part of the Great Wall whose route we had already followed along the train journey from Mongolia. We experienced a cultural evening of song, dance and food. We visited a silk factory and finally, a jade factory.


We left Beijing after 4 days and travelled to Xian, home of the Terra Cotta army. It was impressive, each face unique, the detailing intricate. Our guide pointed out though sometimes described as life-size, being made around 2,200 years ago they would have been huge compared to the population, therefore formidable guardians to protect the emperor in the afterlife.

We visited a Rescue Centre for pandas, after an hour of waiting Bam Bam appeared right in front of us. He put on a tree climbing display for half an hour before shuffling back into the undergrowth.

Hong Kong via Shanghai

Shanghai was a beautiful modern city where we stopped for 3 days before Hong Kong, our final destination.

Hong Kong

We climbed to Victoria Park on the funicular railway revealing a stunning harbour view; and visited the oldest Taoist temple in the world where a local shaman will put a curse on the head of your enemies at £4 a head. You will also find the third largest Marks and Spencer in the world, constructed in adherence to Feng Shui naturally.

We did a whole island tour by coach and sampan, Hong Kong was beautiful, the temperature is never lower than 15 degrees throughout the year.

We flew back to Heathrow, my dream holiday over. We had physically traversed over a third of the planet by train.

Where would you go?

The Trans-Siberian route offers a completely unique experience that can be tailored to suit your dream journey. Thanks to our dedicated and knowledgeable customer service we can work together to make sure you won’t miss a thing.

​If this personal experience has inspired you, why not to take a look at the Trans-Siberian routes and start planning your adventure?

Real Russia Blog

Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year

It is the most important annual event in China and a great opportunity for visitors to experience authentic Chinese traditions!

There is no better place to experience this unique Chinese festival than China itself. Immerse yourself in the colourful Chinese culture and celebrate this special time of year alongside the locals: with fireworks, family and a whole lot of dragons. This year China will welcome the year of the dog.

Date: from 15 February – 2 March 2018
Place: China.

Chinese New Year falls on the first day of the first month in the traditional Chinese lunar calendar, which is 16th February 2018 in the Gregorian Calendar. China adopted the Gregorian Calendar in 1911 so Chinese New Year was renamed the Spring Festival to mark the end of Winter and welcome Spring. However, the ancient traditions of the day remain unchanged.
Traditionally, the end of the Spring Festival, the Chinese New Year, is the Lantern Festival, where beautiful lanterns are displayed everywhere, and sweet rice dumpling soup is eaten. This celebration symbolizes the wish for a bright future.

Chinese New Year is the most important annual event in China and a great chance for visitors to experience authentic Chinese traditions!

How locals celebrate the New Year in China.

Preparing for the New Year celebrations, people clean their homes, buy gifts, clothing, food and items to decorate their house. Chinese people put New Year pictures on their walls and decorate their homes with red papers and couplets for happiness, wealth and longevity, and hang beautiful red lanterns.

In the evening of the Spring Festival Eve, many people set off fireworks and firecrackers, hoping to cast away bad luck and bring in good luck. Many people will wear new clothes and send Chinese New Year greetings to each other. People joyfully participate in various festivities, such as beating drums and striking gongs, dragon and lion dances.

​ The Lion Dance

It is a time to reunite with and visit relatives. A festive dinner is held on New Year’s Eve where families will gather to celebrate, normally in or near the home of the most senior member of the family. The New Year’s Eve dinner is very large and traditionally includes meaty dishes, such as pork, chicken and fish. Most reunion dinners also feature a communal hot pot to signify the family gathering for the meal. Meals on this date have a big significance, certain foods are consumed to usher in wealth, happiness, and good fortune.

During the dinner family members exchange red envelops, which often contain money in certain numbers that represent good luck.

The first day of Chinese New Year is a time for younger people to honor their elders, families will visit the oldest and most senior members of their extended families, usually their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. The second day of the Chinese New Year is the time when married daughters visit their birth parents, relatives and close friends. Some believe that the second day is also the birthday of all dogs and give them special treats.

Most employees in China have at least seven days off work to celebrate the Spring Festival. However, the festival lasts for 15 days, from the Chinese New Year Eve to the Lantern Festival on the 15th day of the Lunar New Year. Various traditional customs and activities are held during the Lantern Festival that appeal to people of different ages, including watching lanterns and fireworks, guessing lantern riddles, performing folk dances, and eating yuanxiao (a rice ball stuffed with different fillings).

Symbols of the holiday.

The Chinese believe that while red is a symbol of happiness, gold is a symbol of wealth. Traditionally, red envelopes are passed out during the Chinese New Year’s celebrations, from married couples or the elderly to unmarried juniors and children. Red envelops almost always contain money and, sometimes, chocolate. Interestingly, the amount of money in the red packets should always be an even number, as odd numbers are associated with money given during funerals. The numbers six and eight are considered lucky so they are commonly found in the red envelopes.

Small gifts, usually of food or sweets are also presented to friends and relatives during Chinese New Year, for example, oranges cakes, biscuits, chocolates, candies, or other similar gifts.


Did we inspire you to experince the greatest annual event in China? It’s never too early to book your trip! Contact our travel specialists to get assistance in planning your dream journey.

Real Russia Blog

Top 10 Most Desired Winter Journeys – Part 2

Top 10 Most Desired Winter Journeys – Part 2

In our latest blog, we began the countdown for the top 10 routes our customers were interested in last winter, in order to give you some ideas of where you could go this year!

If you missed this, head over to the Top 10 Most Desired Winter Journeys – Part 1now and then come back when you are finished, to enjoy… the final Top 5….

5 Beijing to Moscow

St Basils Cathedral In Winter

St Basil's Cathedral, Moscow

What to see along the way?

Starting in the Far East and ending in Europe, you will have the opportunity to see culture, scenery and architecture change before your eyes, between Beijing and Moscow, from the pagoda’s of China to the Orthodox Churches and Kremlins of European Russia.

What to do upon arrival?

  • You could take a city tour by day or even a city tour by night, each excursion will give you an entirely different experience and perspective. Uncover the glimmering buildings as twinkling lights illuminate the water of the Moskva River or simply walk along the beautiful river by daylight, absorbing the architectural wonders of Moscow; Red Square, Moscow’s classic St Basil’s Cathedral, Lenin’s Mausoleum, the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, as well as the intricately decorated Triumphal Arch, which is steeped in history!

  • Kuskovo Park and Estate offers the perfect opportunity to relax and enjoy the beautiful Russian gardens of this country house set on the edge of Moscow. Art and history lovers will be offered the opportunity to learn about its origins dating back to the 18th century, while those looking for a time out from the hustle and bustle of everyday life can simply appreciate the peace and tranquillity that the grounds possess.

4 Moscow to Vladivostok


Coastline in Winter, Vladivostok

What to see along the way?

Ending in Vladivostok, the only route on our list to find its way past the city of Chita, the most famous of the Trans-Siberian routes will eventually bring you to Khabarovsk and the Amur River. The Amur River marks the border between eastern Russia and northern China and will give you the opportunity to travel across the longest bridge on the Trans-Siberian.

What to do upon arrival?

  • While vodka may be the drink Russia is known for, they also make very good beer, so a beer factory tour in Vladivostok is an experience beer lovers will not want to miss. You will learn about how the beer is manufactured and even enjoy a sample of the local brew.

  • Following seven days on the rails, why not spend some time on the waves with a cruise tour with time for fishing. A local guide can take you out along the Vladivostok coastline, taking in the view that is Peter the Great Bay, and they will even help you to reel in a fish or two!

3 Saint Petersburg to Moscow

Kremlin In Winter

Kremlin on the river, Moscow

What to see along the way?

If you travel to St Petersburg on the Sapsan you will not see all that much along the way, as you will make the journey in just four hours – ideal for travelling by overland railway, with a time constraint, and you will certainly maximize your time exploring each city!

Though, if a more sedate journey is to your liking then you can choose another train to ensure you see the northern reaches of the Volga; the largest river in Europe and a river considered by many to be the national river of Russia.

What to do upon arrival?

  • Those with an eye for precious rocks and metals will enjoy visiting the Kremlin, Moscow Cathedrals and Diamond Fund. Among other items, you will be able to see the crown of the Russian Empire, Russian and foreign medals, the biggest gold and platinum bars found in the country as well as giant diamonds and numerous pieces of jewellery.

  • Away from the bustling atmosphere of Moscow’s centre, why not visit Suzdal and Sergiev Posad. With historic riverside convents, monasteries and fortresses, it is the perfect way to see into Russia’s past away from the traditional tourist areas.

2 Moscow to Beijing

Chinese Statue

Forbidden city, Beijing

What to see along the way?

Just after you pass Irkutsk and start to round Lake Baikal you will find the train stopping briefly at Slyudyanka station; the only train station in the world to be built entirely from marble! Be sure to have your camera at the ready for this one of a kind sight.

What to do upon arrival?

  • A favourite attraction among many visitors to Beijing is The Gongfu (Kung-Fu) Show. Astonishing martial arts displays are woven into the story of a young boy seeking to fulfil his dream of becoming a Kung Fu Master. Your jaw will be well and truly dropped as you leave.

  • Xingshan Park, also known as Fragrant Hills Park, is a beautifully tranquil Jin Dynasty-era park covered with lakes, hills and a forest made up of maple, persimmon, pine and cypress trees. The park is named for the highest peak in the park, Xianglu Feng; a peak that reaches an impressive 557m. It can be found close to the Forbidden City, so it is a great excursion to tie in together on one short stay to see the most of Beijing.

1 Moscow to Saint Petersburg

St Petersburg Hermitage

The State Hermitage, Saint Petersburg

What to see along the way?

As the best trains (such as the Grand Express) along this route all travel at night (leaving around 11.30pm and arriving around 7am) why not enjoy your luxurious surroundings, get a good night’s sleep, and prepare for a day of exploring what Saint Petersburg has to offer.

What to do upon arrival?

  • If you take a city tour through Saint Petersburg you will have the opportunity to visit, among many other wonderful places, the Peter and Paul Fortress; learning all about the history of the city formerly known as Leningrad.

  • The State Hermitage is one of the largest museums in the world. It stretches across six buildings and houses over three million pieces; ranging from pre-historic artwork through to medieval weapons and armour. While you are there, why not take a short walk along the Neva River.

If any of these journeys have inspired you to take a journey of a lifetime, visit our ticket booking page, our live schedules page or get in contact with one of our travel specialists.

Alternatively, select your own journey, and try it your own way. There are thousands of routes throughout Europe, Russia, Mongolia and China that you could travel along; let your imagination guide you to Explore, Discover and Experience Eurasia!

Real Russia Blog

Top 10 Most Desired Winter Journeys – Part 1

Top 10 Most Desired Winter Journeys – Part 1

As the summer comes to a close, and the long nights draw in, it is only natural to think of travel; visiting more exotic, or unusual, places to take a break from it all. Why not journey along the thousands of miles of rail track throughout Russia and beyond? From the comfort of a sleeper cabin, or the catered luxury of a dining car, travelling by train gives you the opportunity to see landscapes that you could never dream of seeing by air or road.

At this point, you may be asking, ‘…with so many wonderful journeys to choose from, where should I go first?’ In order to give you some ideas, we have looked into the journeys our Real Russia customers were interested in taking last winter, and have created a ‘'Top 10'’ for the most popular routes; highlighting points of interest along the way, and upon arrival.

10 Moscow to Ulan Bator

Ger Camps in Ulan Bator

What to see along the way?

Where to start? On a long journey such as this there are countless sights to take in. Look out for the boundary between Europe and Asia, marked by a monument, 1,777km east of Moscow, take in the awesome sight of the Ob River in Novosibirsk and relax as you watch the largest freshwater lake in the world, Lake Baikal, pass by between Irkutsk and Ulan-Ude.

What to do upon arrival?

  • Take a trip to visit a nomadic family for the day. You will have the opportunity to immerse yourself in how a nomadic family lives in, and around, Ulan-Bator, experiencing their culture as you dine with them and spend your day as one of the family.

  • Take a walking tour of the city. You can spend a full day discovering the delights of the city by traveling on foot, including the Choijin Lama Buddhist Monastery, which dates back to the 18th century, or the National History Museum with hundreds of Mongolian artefacts. If the full day seems a touch too long, why not just go for the morning.

9 Moscow to Berlin

Grunewald Forest

What to see along the way?

Of the four countries that you will pass through, the four capital cities, are the highlights of this journey; Moscow , Minsk (Belarus), Warsaw (Poland) and finally Berlin.

What to do upon arrival?

  • Take a stroll in the Grunewald Forest to see the man-made hill that offers an astonishing view of Berlin amongst the charming fields, trees and flowers.

  • Shop in Mauer Park, a real favourite among the locals. With market stalls and a flea market, you will have a great chance to really get to know the locals in Berlin in a natural and thrilling environment.

8 Ulan Bator to Beijing

Houhai Lake, Beijing

What to see along the way?

Your journey between Ulan Bator and Beijing will encompass many incredible vistas, chief among these is the Gobi desert, home to the Gobi Bear, the Bactrian Camel and the Gold Eagle. Before pulling into Beijing do not forget to look out for one of history’s greatest architectural achievements, the Great Wall of China.

What to do upon arrival?

  • Join the ShiChaHai Lake Bike Tour at Houhai Lake, where you can enjoy the traditional Chinese stone lions that overlook the bridge of the lake, and see the willow trees that rest between the edge of the water and a traditional Chinese house.

  • Pay a visit to an Evening Acrobatic Show that features the extraordinary balance and agility of Chinese acrobats. Their skills showcase a mixture of gymnastic skills, circus acts, martial arts and ballet; this show offers something for everyone to enjoy.

7 Moscow to Irkutsk

Frozen over Lake Baikal, Irkutsk

What to see along the way?

Passing through much of Siberia, the list of things to see is endless. One city to take note of, though, is Tyumen, built on the banks of the Tura River; the first city to be built in Siberia.

What to do upon arrival?

  • Get on board the Circum-Baikal Railway, a charming Russian railway that transports you around the shoreline of Lake Baikal; the world’s largest natural fresh water resource. Lake Baikal contains 20% of the earth's freshwater, and is teeming with an array of endemic life, such as Baikal seals, also known as nerpa. In the winter, Lake Baikal entirely freezes over making it a popular tourist destination for ice fishing and ice skating.

  • Visit a local Buryat Shaman and take the opportunity to learn about the inspiring Buryat culture that carry out fascinating rituals and serve traditional authentic food to their guests; helping you to become fully immersed in the community.

6 Berlin to Moscow

Christ our Saviour Cathedral, Moscow

What to see along the way?

Between Berlin and Moscow you will cross four separate countries across Eastern Europe. This will give you the chance to take in a great many sights, such as the Vistula River, the longest and largest river in Poland, while travelling through Warsaw.

What to do upon arrival?

  • Why not enjoy a city tour encompassing sights such as Novodevichy Covent & St Basil’s Cathedral. Visit two of Moscow’s essential classics, as well as other memorable sights such as the Kremlin, the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour and Moscow State University, taking a stroll up Sparrow Hills in the process for an astonishing panoramic view of Moscow.

  • There are many different ways to view the city, including Moscow’s Metro, Arbat Street, the Kremlin and the Armoury uncovering the depths of Moscow’s heritage. Visit the 19th century armoury that holds Russia’s state treasures and finery, absorb the beauty of Moscow’s delightful Metro (with stations that would not look out of place hosting ballet recitals or opera performances!), as well as indulge in shopping at traditional Russia craft stalls on Arbat Steet.

… Please click to see the final Top 5 routes on part 2 of our blog!…

It is important to remember that these are not the only routes available and, as we have customers who book with us, a wide variety of journeys; travelling all the way from Paris to Beijing and down into South East Asia.

If any of these journeys pique your interest, visit our live train schedules or our ticket booking page to take your first step towards a winter adventure!

Alternatively, create your own adventure, the possibilities are endless!

Real Russia Blog

Journey through Russia, Mongolia and China part 3

Journey through Russia, Mongolia and China part 3

Part 3a – into China

Restaurant carriage

We had an early dinner on this train in a very ornate Chinese restaurant car. We arrived at the Mongolian border station and we were there about 90 minutes for customs and clearance. It was interesting that the Mongolian police and the Chinese train attendants conversed in English. As is normal passports were collected and taken off to be checked. Then we crossed the border into China where we were due to be nearly four hours. The track gauge in China is the same as the UK and most of the world, but Russia and Mongolia are wider. So, after removing the restaurant car (not sure why!) the train was split into two and put into adjacent tracks in a long shed and the coaches separated. Then each coach was raised up using jacks leaving the bogies on the rails. These were taken out of the shed and the new bogies with the narrower gauge pushed under the carriages. The coaches were then dropped down, still with us inside, and the train was ready to run on the Chinese gauge. Going back into the station about midnight we found a shop still open selling beer at about 55p a half litre. As the train pulled out for its journey to Beijing we settled in our sleeping berths for the night.

I woke about 08.30 and found us passing through a much more populated country with large towns. In the distance we could see the Great Wall of China climbing a mountainside. Then we entered a long, high sided valley that twisted and turned overlooked by high mountains. We travelled through it on the original track but another line had been built mainly on the other side of the valley and we could see, while we were having lunch, a succession of freight and passenger trains using it. Also on the journey we saw the evidence of China's prosperity with new construction works and in particularly high speed lines and new ones being built. We passed the new station in Beijing built for the high speed trains. Amazing. We could see just on this journey, and in Beijing, how fast China has developed.

Tiananmen Square Beijing

We arrived at Beijing Main station on time, a very busy station, teeming with people. The temperature was 38 and our guide met us and led us to our road coach. He was excellent and told us many interesting facts about China and Beijing. 99% of the cars were built in China even if by joint Chinese/European or Chinese/Asia companies. Importing cars from abroad was subject to 300% import tax. Cyclists were banned from the main roads of Beijing now. The population of Beijing was 27 million and there were 260,000 CCTV cameras. Policemen were in evidence but not oppressively so. The coach dropped us off at a railway museum in Tiananmen Square that was in an old station. I thought the museum set out the history of Chinese Railways in a very logical and good way. From here we walked into the Square itself. A lady that seemed to be objecting to something was steered away by a street seller without the police getting involved. But I expected to find the Chinese friendly but was still amazed how friendly they were, many of the younger ones asking to take pictures with me, or agreeing to me taking their picture. This was in complete contrast to Russia where it was difficult to make people smile even.

After a ten course lunch at a very large jade shop we were taken to the Great Wall about 40 miles away. Part of the way we travelled on the No 6 ring road. (Yes there are five others, all seemingly packed with traffic.) After a steep walk from the coach a cable car took us up to the Wall very high on the mountainside. We could see it snaking into the distance in both directions. Arriving back at the hotel a few decided to try a brew pub a few metro stops (20p) from our hotel. Ten different beers were brewed on the premises. The two I tasted were excellent, up to UK standards. Burger and chips was quite sufficient after our eating previously. We caught a trolleybus (10p) back to the hotel and at 23.00 found ourselves in a traffic jam. It was a street full of shops and restaurants and the Chinese cars were parked two abreast so blocking the road to passing traffic.

Chris Lewis – Member of Locomotive Club of Great Britain


Real Russia Blog

Journey through Russia, Mongolia and China part 2

Journey through Russia, Mongolia and China part 2

Part 2 – Mongolia

National ParkWell we crossed the border into Mongolia, total time involved being 6 hours. Apart from two thorough searches of the train, presumably for stowaways, our passports were taken away for inspection. My pictures of the border police were very competently deleted from my camera by one of them but left the pictures of the border station. Then it was away to Ulaanbaatar, reached at the unearthly hour of 06.30 where our two guides met us to take us for breakfast.

There followed a very long day to a national park seeing Yaks and visiting Gers. That evening we had arranged to meet our friends travelling on the Golden Eagle. Being very late back from our day out one of our guides hailed a taxi. Well, not a taxi but a passing car! She negotiated a price which appeared was the equivalent 12p. He did not really know where it was we were going but rang around his friends, while driving through terrible traffic, until with a loud cheer he said he knew where it was. Needless to say, when he dropped us off he said it was the equivalent of £1.20 which I was very willing to pay. We eventually met our friends even if very late.

We are now crossing the Gobi Desert in southern Mongolia on our eighth day. Yesterday in Ulaanbaatar we visited a Buddhist monastery, the history museum and the central square. The latter was impressive. There was a wedding party present. In Russia and here it is customary for the wedding party to have photographs taken in front of a local building or landmark. In the early evening we were taking to a theatre to see a cultural show of various performers, the like I had not seen before. The acts ranged from regional dancing, an orchestra to various solo and duo acts. I had never seen most of the instruments but the orchestra could produce sounds we recognised as well as ones we did not. The strangest thing was throat singing!

Reaching our hotel rather early we did our packing as we were leaving the next morning at 06.10 to catch the 07.15 train for Beijing. It only operates on three days a week and was 18 coaches including a restaurant coach and all the rest were sleeping cars. The sleeping cars have seven compartments. In second class each compartment has four berths.

The first class compartments are the same size with two cabins sharing a small room with a sink and shower. There is always more demand for first than the numbers available but we were lucky to get one for this trip. This is a Chinese train and unlike Russian trains we are allowed to open the corridor windows. I am not sure yet whether it has air conditioning but each cabin has a fan and is pleasant. As is normal for these trains each coach has two attendants. Buddhist monastery, the history museum and the central square. The latter was impressive. There was a wedding party present.

In Russia and here it is customary for the wedding party to have photographs taken in front of a local building or landmark. In the early evening we were taking to a theatre to see a cultural show of various performers, the like I had not seen before. The acts ranged from regional dancing, an orchestra to various solo and duo acts. I had never seen most of the instruments but the orchestra could produce sounds we recognised as well as ones we did not. The strangest thing was throat singing!

We stopped at a small town station for 30 minutes in Mongolia and as usual, locals were on the platform selling food and souvenirs. The price stated for two bread rolls was about 2p in our money. She tried to give me change for 4p! She was full of thanks. Delightful people. The railway passes through mile after mile of deserted wilderness with the occasional Ger, small settlements, cows, sheep, goats and camels but normally nothing as far as the eye could see. It was much more desolate than on our last visit to Russia, to Vladivostok.

Chris Lewis – Member of Locomotive Club of Great Britain website:

Real Russia Blog

Journey through Russia, Mongolia and China part 1


Journey through Russia, Mongolia and China part 1

Part 1 – Russia

I am starting to write this on a train from Ulan Ude to Ulaanbaatar (there appears to be different spellings) as we approach the border from Russia into Mongolia. There had been the usual shouting match between those who wanted the windows open and the coach attendant who wanted them shut because of the air conditioning. We are travelling along a flat bottom valley with habitation now rare. With the temperatures of today it is difficult to realise that in winter temperatures drop to -25 and more.

Jennifer and I have a four berth compartment to ourselves which is reasonably comfortable by day and night. The journey is about 18 hours of which about four will be involved with the border crossing. Unfortunately our restaurant car is detached at the border but no doubt there will be sellers of beer and snacks later on the train to go with our TUC biscuits.

We flew very comfortably and cheaply, with EasyJet from Manchester to Moscow and stayed the night on Thursday, August 1st. The hotel was about 15 miles from the airport and was good, and even brewed its own beer. The taxi from the airport, after we halved the offered price, tailgated another car through the exit gates to avoid paying the parking fee!

Friday we flew from Moscow to Irkutsk in Siberia. We flew this section of the route as we had travelled it by train before. Irkutsk is a pleasant city so we spent the day walking, tram riding to see different areas and sleeping to get used to the time lag of 8 hours. Finding a brew pub helped with the latter. The weather was in the high 20s, Centigrade that is. We met our travelling companions in the evening (including many old friends) for the rest of the trip who had set out from London a week before.

Our day journey from Irkutsk started 45 minutes late, reached 90 minutes late because of Sunday engineering works, but reached Ude again 45 minutes late. It travelled for several hours along the shores of Lake Baikal. The hotel in Ude was not so good, particularly as it did not have air conditioning, needed for the temperatures. But we went out of Ude into the countryside for a traditional local meal with accompanying singing. Next morning we visited a local railway museum based in the locomotive works and shown round by a very enthusiastic lady and translated by our very attractive local guide. Following this we had a short visit to see the town centre with surprisingly attractive buildings before three of us had a short tram ride (25p) to our venue for lunch.

We have found most Russians in the streets look very dour and do not smile back. Younger people sometimes do smile. Very few speak any English in this part of Russia and in Ude people were perhaps shy of rare western visitors, one reason for going there. In Irkutsk the conductress came bounding down the coach when we got on, and had some English, so I amused the passengers taking pictures including Jennifer with her. Tram drivers and conductors are invariably women. One man asked Jennifer if the passengers on trams in Manchester could speak Russian!

Chris Lewis – Member of Locomotive Club of Great Britain website:

Real Russia Blog

Easter bank holidays

Easter bank holidays

As Easter approaches, this often means that we are exposed to reduced visa lodgement and visa processing capabilities due to the bank holidays.

On the 29th March and 1st April 2013, postal services will not be operating – which means that we are unable to receive any documents or passports and unable to send these back to our clients. To try to help with this reduced service, our London office will be kept open between 9am and 12pm for application submissions and passport collections.

In terms of consulate operating times, the Chinese consulate will be closed on the 29th March and the 1st April 2013; meaning that there will be no application submission or collection on these dates, plus, any applications submitted before this period will take an extra two days to process. The Russian, Mongolian and Belarusian consulates however will