Real Russia Blog

Real Tales: Lotte Eschbach from Phenomenal Globe
10
June
2019

Real Tales: Lotte Eschbach from Phenomenal Globe

How does having children change the life of a travel writer?

Lotte Eschbach is the force behind Phenomenal Globe, a Netherlands based travel blog about combining full-time work and a family with the travel bug. Lotte has travelled to over 40 countries and lived in Barcelona and London.

She currently lives in her native Netherlands with her husband and young son and has been blogging since 2015 after taking a 5-month trip around the world.

We worked with Lotte when she took the Trans-Siberian, through Mongolia, with her husband and nine-month-old son. It was a great opportunity to share with the parents of the world the amazing places you can still visit with a little one in tow.

When did you first get the travel bug?

From a very young age actually! I’m very lucky as my parents took me and my sisters on great family holidays in Europe. We went camping most of the time and changed places every couple of days. I still love this style of travelling, back to basics and being able to pack up your things and leave for the next destination. I have so many fond memories of these holidays! Since these family holidays I’ve continued traveling, with friends but mostly with my husband and since 2018 with our baby boy.

What made you want to write about your travelling experiences?

I started Phenomenal Globe Travel Blog in 2015, after we got back from our first long-term trip. We had traveled around New Zealand and Southeast Asia for 5 months and had an amazing time. However, when the five months were up, I was nowhere near ready to go back to work…

I remember crying my eyes out at the airport in Bangkok on the night of our departure as I didn’t want our trip to end. However, my sabbatical from work was up (and so was our money?). I started writing about our travel experiences as a form of self-therapy. Writing about the adventures we had made me relive and process my experiences. One thing led to another, I fell in love with travel writing and my blog kept growing. It’s been almost 4 years since I wrote my first post and I still love sharing my stories. It really makes my day when somebody leaves a comment or sends me an email thanking me for a post that helped them plan their trip!

How have the places you travel to changed since having a child?

Health and safety have become a bigger concern when deciding where to travel. While we love Southeast Asia, I didn’t want to take our young baby there because of the risk of malaria. Similarly, I now check the government foreign travel advice to see if there are any safety concerns in the country we intend to travel to.

We also make slightly different decision during a trip. For example, on our Trans Mongolian Express trip we decided not to go on an excursion to the Gobi Desert because driving there would be too long and the road too bumpy for our baby.

Also, instead of sightseeing for an entire day (like we used to do as a couple) this trip we often only did half a day of sightseeing and half a day of playing in the swimming pool/letting our baby nap.

What’s the biggest difference in preparing and planning for a trip pre and post children?

For us the biggest difference is actually planning. When we were traveling around the world as a couple almost never booked any accommodation ahead. We were confident we would find something; our standards were not very high, as long we had a bed we’d manage (sometimes not even that and we would just sleep in our car). However, now that we have a kid, good accommodation had become much more important as we spend more time there. Also, our needs have changed: we now value a bit more space and luxury facilities like a bath, swimming pool or a kitchen so we can prepare some food for our baby.

What would your advice to parents about to travel with children for the first time be?

Relax! I know that can be very hard, but kids pick up the vibe of their parents so the more stressed you are, the more they will react to that. Travel is awesome, but sometimes often things don’t go as planned.

On our Trans Mongolian Express adventure, we ended up lugging our luggage around Beijing for an hour in the blistering heat as we couldn’t find a bank and the metro could only be paid in cash. We were tired from the Mongolia-China border crossing the previous night and craving a coffee (which we couldn’t find either). In short, we were not happy. However, instead of stressing out, we found a bench in the shade and played with our son for half an hour. Little D had been stuck in his stroller for quite a while and was getting cranky as well. After our little play intermezzo, we were all a lot happier and the subway ride to our hotel was a lot more enjoyable because or son wasn’t trying to escape his stroller the entire time (eventually we did find a bank?).

Things may take a little longer this way, but you are on a holiday, so is that really such a big problem?

You can find Lotte at www.phenomenalglobe.com & follow her on facebook, twitter and instagram.

Real Russia Blog

Interview with travel writer Jamie Tinklepaugh
14
March
2019

Interview with travel writer Jamie Tinklepaugh

Read from the writer of Wheeling East: London to Hong Kong by wheelchair and train about taking the Trans-Siberian as a wheelchair user

Travel writer Jamie Tinkepaugh, and his father Peter Davies, decided to take the Trans-Siberian as countless travellers have before them. However, their trip was slightly different to the majority of travel experiences as Jamie is a wheelchair user.

We sat down with him to discuss his book about his Trans-Siberian adventure Wheeling East, his travel inspiration and advice for fellow travellers looking to see the world's grandest rail journey.

What inspired you to take the Tran-Siberian?

I have always been interested in exploring since I was very young.
As a small child I was given a globe that lit up, I would look at it and see the many countries and think when I am asleep, people on the other side of the world are starting their day, the light on the globe showed the equator, the vastness of the world. The U.K. seemed to be just a little dot, the sheer distance between the countries, the amount of blue struck me, the oceans, the rivers, running my finger along the unfamiliar names trying to get my tongue around them.
At the same time I loved going to the unknown, which at that age meant going with my father to a big train station on a Saturday, searching the destination board for a name that appealed to me and then boarding the train onto adventure.
When I was eighteen, my father and I went interrailing around Europe. We didn’t book hostels or trains in advance, which sometimes caused problems. I remember the staff at Bologna station were very unhelpful as we were supposed to have booked at least 24 hours in advance. This is one of the ways that disability can get in the way of spontaneity.
I have always loved travelling by train as I can watch the landscape unfold before me and observe the huge variety of people that share our space. So naturally, since I learnt of the Trans-Siberian railway I have wanted to travel on it.
What was your expectation travelling the Trans-Siberian as a wheelchair user compared to your actual experience?
Real Russia gave us invaluable assistance in reserving a wheelchair space – the only one that was available on the whole train. Without it, I would have been unable to travel as the corridors are too narrow for a wheelchair and so I couldn’t have reached any other compartment.
I had no expectations prior to the journey. We had spent so many years, dreaming, thinking planning that at times it seemed more like a faraway fantasy, there were so many components that had to come together so much uncertainty. I will not pretend that the journey was easy by any means, the height of the train above the platform meant that I couldn’t get off for the entire eight day journey. Also, without the assistance of an able-bodied person (my father) to forage for food, I would have got very hungry; the restaurant car was unreachable and there were no food sellers on the train. I had imagined that local would board the train at the longer stops to sell us local delicacies, but it didn’t happen.
What was your favourite part of the Trans-Siberian?
There was something marvellously relaxing about the whole trip. I loved the steady pace of the train. High speed trains are all very well, but they distance you from the landscape and make you perhaps restlessly urge the train to its destination. On such a long journey time slips away – helped by crossing innumerable time zones, while station clocks, sticking to Moscow time, became increasingly adrift- and you can slip into a wonderful reverie. Seeing Lake Baikal in the morning light was a privilege, the almost mythical largest fresh water lake in the world was outside my window, the sun frim azure sky glinting on azure water. Siberia, is hugely important in Russian history and imagination. To travel through it brought home something of the sense of what it may be like to have to try and survive there, exiled amongst the bleak landscape of birch forests in the depths of winter.
When we stopped at stations I loved to see the people, the little girl being reunited with her mother on a station platform, rushing towards each other, the family announcing their arrival with a whirl of arms and legs, the laughter and warmth that emanated from the carriage, the people using the train to travel for a few stops, others using it like us to travel thousands of miles, it still feels unbelievable that we were able to travel by train to another far continent.
Had you planned to write about your experiences in a book before you travelled, or did the inspiration come afterwards?
I had always planned to write a blog to detail the journey of a lifetime although that phrase is often overused in this case it was true, I wanted to inspire other disabled people that they could take a trip of whatever length and distance; it was not a competition but that they could get out there, be full members of their communities, be active and achieve what they wanted to. I had such a positive response to the blog people kept saying it should become a book so that it might reach a wider audience.
What would be your advice for someone looking to do the Trans-Siberian?
I hope that my book might encourage others. Of course every disabled person is disabled in their own way. Some, like Ade Adepetan, have good upper body strength and can weight-bear enough to get on and off the train. Others with less muscular control, needing, say, an electric wheelchair, perhaps might not be able to make the trip at all. But without exploring the idea you will never know what is possible. And many dangers that loom huge in prospect are later seen as not so difficult.

Real Russia Blog

Customer Tales: The Great Trans-Siberian journey!
13
June
2016

Customer Tales: The Great Trans-Siberian journey!

From Beijing to Moscow on the incomparable Trans-Siberian railway

Some journeys just stand out as something different, something special. For many people, such as Real Russia customer Paul, the Trans-Siberian railway is one such journey. The ‘Trans-Sib’ crosses both Europe and Asia, taking in many cultures and locations that have helped shape global history, as well as some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. Real Russia aim to make taking this journey as easy as possible, from working with you to create an itinerary, to ensuring that fantastic accommodation, excursions and rail travel is included. Here Paul tells us about his experience.

Paul’s experience

We had a wonderful time on this trip, it really was the trip of a lifetime. That’s a lot to say for us, as we have been all over the globe, and have ridden many trains. Trains in the USA, Europe, Asia, Japan, all over the place, and none will compare with this trip. Here are a few notes about the trip.

Russian Trains

Train awaiting departure on the Trans-Siberian railway

Provodnistas awaiting travellers on the Trans-Siberian railway

Modern, clean, well maintained, and vastly underrated. Ok, we travelled 1st Class, but in the end, it isn’t that expensive. Russian trains have chemical toilets, so that they are available at all times. The dining cars are clean, have a good menu, and if you like soups, salads and such, you can find a good meal. Each carriage has two attendants, and they keep the place clean, vacuum the floor, the carpet, and clean the WC’s two or three times a day. They also keep track of who gets on and off, and help maintain security.

Each compartment has its own air-con, so that you can regulate the temperate as you wish. Also, you can stand in the corridor, and open the window.

We rode on some iconic trains:

  • Train 003 (Trans-Mongolian Express) from Beijing to Irkutsk 54 hours.
  • Train 001 (Rossiya) from Irkutsk to Novosibirsk for 30 hours.
  • Train 029 (Kuzbass) from Novosibirsk to Yekaterinburg, and on to Moscow, 20 hours, and 30 hours respectively.
  • Finally we rode the great train 002 (Krasney Strella – or Red Arrow) from Moscow to St. Petersburg in 8 hours.

Get on these trains, and the attendant will come by and ask you what you want to eat for dinner. You have a choice of two mains, and several other minor dishes. Order a nice soup with your meal, and you will have plenty. The attendant will deliver your meal on chinaware, and come back later and pick up the dishes.

Dinner along the Trans-Siberian railway

Dining on the Trans-Siberian

The tickets are issued as E-Tickets, and are registered. You just show the ticket and your passport to the attendant, and you are ushered on to the train. This all works very smooth, without drama.

The Tours

This was a semi-guided tour. In other words, we were on our own on the train, and for parts of the excursions. Having said that, I have to add that we had ‘door to door’ service. We were met at the airport in Beijing, and taken to our hotel. We were then taken to the train station, escorted through the station, and out to the platform and into the carriage!

But there were no busses with 40 other tourist to contend with! No busses! No 40 other passengers to have to wait for while they got lost shopping. No hearing about someone’s grandkids back in Nebraska. It was just the 2 of us, with a guide, and driver, in a nice motorcar.

Beautiful scenery on the Trans-Siberian railway

The beautiful Lake Baikal

We toured Beijing, Irkutsk, Lake Baikal, Novosibirsk, Yekaterinburg, Moscow, and St. Petersburg. The guides knew what they were talking about, knew the history, knew the art, the architecture, and all the little things. All were fluent English speakers, had worked for the Russian Foreign Ministry, or even one had worked for the KGB. All were ardent Russian patriots! Even the Chinese guide in Beijing had been trained in Russia, spoke Russian, (and Mandarin) and knew her history.

Real Russia Tour Company

They did a great job, from start to finish. They help with visas, with tickets, and throughout the journey, they checked on how things were going. We worked with Alla. And she is brilliant. She kept up with us all the way, and she was in Volgograd (Stalingrad) and was there to offer assistance if needed. She even organised a free guide of the Moscow Metro Stations. You can’t go past Real Russia for this kind of thing, and they even organised good hotels, usually located in the heart of the city. I would use them again.

Russia

Russia is prosperous! Everything is freshly painted, clean, and kept up. Stores are well stocked, supplies are easy to get. Streets are cleaned, washed, and rooms also clean and fresh. Russians are helpful. There isn’t a lot of English being spoken, so it was a good thing that I had taken the time to learn to speak a few words, and read Russian as well. But Russians are helpful, and kind people. They will go out of their way to assist you even when they don’t really know what it is you’re after!

Ah Russia: if you go there looking for the good, you will easily find it. If you go there looking for the bad, you can find that too, but it isn’t as easy as finding the good. Don’t trust what you read in the western press and media. It’s all self-serving nonsense.

We had a great time. A genuine ‘Trip of a Lifetime’.

Paul

A happy Real Russia customer

Paul relaxing on his travels

Experience the Trans-Siberian yourself!

Thanks Paul!

Trains run along the length of the Trans-Siberian all year round, so whether you want to bask in the sun along the shores of Lake Baikal, or gaze at a Siberian winter wonderland, Real Russia can help you get there.

Click here to browse Real Russia’s Trans-Siberian tours

Click here to book a train anywhere in Russia

Click here to speak to one of our fantastic travel team

Real Russia Blog

Customer Tales: Trains, and banyas, and exploring! Oh my! (Part two)
6
November
2015

Customer Tales: Trains, and banyas, and exploring! Oh my! (Part two)

Through Siberia and on to Lake Baikal!

Part two of this ‘Customer Tale’ takes place as our intrepid customers leave Moscow and head east into Siberia, visiting the beautiful Lake Baikal and the city of Irkutsk.

If you missed out on part one, catch up here!

If you didn’t, let’s continue this tale!

Boarding the train number four

By the time our departure day arrived we had begun to feel a part of Russian life in that area, and knew we would miss it. However we were excited for the next leg which was on the train of course. We were impressed and grateful for Rita getting us to the station and even onto the train with our luggage before leaving us. We would not have managed this alone. A big thanks to her. I have emailed her in the meantime, as well.

Dining car on Trans-Siberian train 4, Russia

Dining car aboard train number four

I had an idea what to expect from the train from pics you had sent me, so was not surprised to find the compartment quite small, but the wooden panelling was nice and we had our own shower hand basin attached and a flask in our cupboard to fill at the samovar. A disappointment that the water came out at a trickle in the hand basin which also meant we could not shower either. I was not too fazed about this, but I think Charles was! We brought along a big supply of wipes and found we did not really get dirty on the train, I liked the fact it was not exactly as we expected and found it added to the adventure, but I think for some that would have been a problem. I needed to unwind from the time before we left on the trip and catch up on some daily notes and just feel all pressures fall away. I loved the movements and sound of the train, which incidentally reminded me of my school days when I attended a boarding school far from my home. We used to catch the train to school each term. I was interested to note that we travelled on both electric and steam trains. The dining car on our first train was nice, and we had a taste of Russian matriarchal dominance, but once Natalia had gotten used to us I think she quite liked us! I was able to take a few pictures on the train through a partially open passage window and was grateful for that. Managed to capture a few nice ones that will forever remind us of this train trip. I enjoyed our neighbours in the other compartments of our carriage, all of them going straight through to Beijing without a break in-between as we were doing. I imagine they may have been a little envious when we got off after 3 days. I think 6/7 days at a stretch without a break could have become tedious.

Welcome to Baikal

Our driver was waiting for us with a sign saying MRS ALLEN & 1! And we were whisked away for an hours’ drive through Irkutsk to Listvyanka. I had visualized being right alongside Lake Baikal in what I consider to be a chalet, but equally nice was Nikolay’s Cabin, which is actually a part of his house, and about a kilometre from the Lake. We were well looked after, meal wise, and Erene even did two big laundry washes for us. A lovely setting in a small valley with forests on either side. The front to Lake Baikal and the small town was not terribly interesting except for the Lake itself and the boats.

Lake Baikal, Russia

A walk along the shores of Lake Baikal

Little did we know we were to experience some beautiful views of Lake Baikal and endless birch forests on our ‘Easy Hike around Listvyanka’ – a complete surprise as it was not an easy walk at all, but quite a strenuous hike. Alex was very professional and accommodating and went the extra mile by carrying with him the food and utensils he would need to provide for us what we would consider a 5 course picnic, with typical Russian fare, including soup and tea! We were astounded. And, I was so hot after the 5km hike through the forest that I decided then and there, as we got to the beach that I was going to swim in Lake Baikal, no matter how cold it was. What an absolute highlight for me. How many people can claim to have swum in Lake Baikal! We were very tired when we got back and Alex had said good-bye, almost too late to catch the bus back to Irkutsk. And then that night we experienced Banya – my word! We assumed it would be a regular sauna the way we know it from our gyms over here. Not at all, Nikolay led us through the whole process in great detail. Without resisting we followed through and were quite alarmed to know the temperature was over 90 degrees in the Banya, unheard of in our part of the world. How wonderful to experience something truly, uniquely Russian. Never to be forgotten! I was covered in bright red blotches overnight but did not feel worried, and in the morning it had cleared!

Exploring Irkutsk

Ivan drove us back to Irkutsk and launched straight into our tour of the city. Once again very intense and informative, luckily I can look up names and dates on the internet of cathedrals and statues which were pointed out, as we could never have absorbed all the facts given out. Different architecture and feel to the city compared to Moscow, and we learnt of the importance of Irkutsk in Russian history.

Our hotel was well situated too Alla, thank you. We did a lot of walking in Irkutsk and almost got lost once. Luckily we had a map and Charles was good at getting us to where we wanted to be. Very interesting was the statue of Alexander III who commissioned the building of the Trans Siberian Railway, that was pertinent to me. And the Angara River, deep and faster flowing that the Moskva, was interesting to know that it linked with the Yenetsei, which we crossed while on the train, and then on to the Arctic Sea.

The story continues…

And part two comes to a close. If this has inspired you, why not take a look at the tour that Helen and Charles took through Russia, our Discovery Range Siberian Eye tour.

Check back soon for part three, as the train draws ever closer to China’s incredible capital, Beijing!

Part one can be found here.

Part three can be found here.