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?
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?
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 relaxing on his travels
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.
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 didn’t, let’s continue this tale!
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 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.
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.
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!
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.
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!