Real Russia Blog

Trans-Siberian Zoom backgrounds
27
April
2020

Trans-Siberian Zoom backgrounds

Call your friends and colleagues from along the Trans-Siberian railway!

Remote conferencing and video calls are more necessary than ever, but many of us do not want every to see inside our homes or offices. Thankfully, both Zoom, and Microsoft Teams allow you to change your background so you can be anywhere from the beach to the moon. We at Real Russia are missing our travel, particularly, and so we decided to do the next best thing, imagine that we are travelling! So, we put together a small selection of Zoom and Microsoft Teams backgrounds and thought we would share them with you guys too. Scroll on for the images and instructions on how to use them!

How to change a Zoom background

All our images have been set to the recommended size for Zoom, so all you need to do to ‘visit’ Russia while on a call, is follow these instructions … Please note: this will change your default image.
  1. Log in to Zoom online here.
  2. Select ‘Room Management’ and then ‘Zoom Rooms’.
  3. Click ‘Account Settings’.
  4. Go to your profile and under ‘Background images for Zoom Rooms’ select ‘Upload New Image’.
  5. Select the image you want as your background and click ‘Open’.
If you would like to change your background image for just one room, floor or location, check out the instructions over on the Zoom website.

How to change a Microsoft Teams background

Changing the background on your Teams account is slightly different to Zoom, but just as easy.
  1. Open File Explorer on your computer.
  2. Copy the following address into File Explorers address bar and press enter: %APPDATA%MicrosoftTeamsBackgrounds for Windows, or ~/Library/Application Support/Microsoft/Teams/Backgrounds on a Mac.
  3. In this folder you will see another called ‘Uploads’.
  4. Drop the photos you would like to use in here, and they will be accessible next time you make a Teams video call.

Trans-Siberian Zoom backgrounds

Now for the reason you are here, some Trans-Siberian backgrounds to help you feel like you can travel across the Trans-Siberian railway at any time! Just click on whichever image you would like as your background to download it and it will be ready to use on Zoom or Teams. It is as simple as that!

Lights along Arbat Street in Moscow

Take a night-time walk through the artistic quarter of Moscow with these beautiful archways. Lights on Arbat Street, Moscow

The walls of the Kremlin in Moscow

Take a trip to the halls of power, the imposing, and beautiful, Kremlin. The walls of the Kremlin, Moscow

A Tartar style village in Kazan

Step back in time to Russia’s past in this recreation of a typical Tartar village. A Tartar style villae, Kazan

The border between Europe and Asia outside Yekaterinburg

Pretend you are calling from two continents at once, Europe and Asia! The border between Europe and Asia, Yekaterinburg

A steam train on the Circum-Baikal railway at Lake Baikal

Relive the golden age of steam by posing with this incredible Soviet steam train. A steam train at Lake Baikal, Russia

A Mongolian train on the border with Russia

Not looking your best? Call alongside this train on the Russian border and pretend you have just been making repairs, so looking a little scruffy is to be expected. A Mongolian train on the border with Russia

Beijing Railway Station

Tell people about the Trans-Siberian journey you definitely didn’t just imagine, while stood on the platform in Beijing. Beijing railway station, Beijing

The Great Wall of China at Mutianyu

Get away from it all atop one of the most famous walls in the world, the Great Wall of China. The Great Wall of China at Mutianyu near Beijing

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Real Russia Blog

Naadam Festival 2018
13
April
2018

Naadam Festival 2018

The Naadam (Наадам) festival in Mongolia is the biggest festival of the year, celebrated nationwide from 11th to 15th July.

The Naadam festival, also known as Eriyan Guryan Nadaam, means ‘the three games of men’ and is celebrated annually in July.

Celebrations kick off with an opening ceremony which includes music, a parade and a march by Mongolian soldiers. The soldiers march commemorates the revolution of 1921 when Mongolia declared itself an independent country.

The rest of the festical celebrates three competitions: wrestling, horse racing and archery. Each of these capture the ancestral roots and cultural heritage of Mongolia but have also modernised as more and more women are now competing.

What is the cultural significance of wrestling, horse racing and archery?

Wrestling signifies the belief men, and in particular soldiers, need to remain in peak physical condition. Unlike modern amateur or Greco-Roman wrestling there are no weight classes or time limits. This means all competitors need to be well rounded and able to adapt to a variety of opponents and styles.

Horse racing plays homage to what a vital part horses have played in all aspects of Mongolian history. Traditionally, horses made it easier to travel for trade and socialisation and were also an important part of Mongolian diets where due to their nomadic lifestyle and harsh winters it was not easy to grow sustainable crops. Even in modern Mongolia, many rely on horses as transportation and to support their work. Children learn to ride horses from a very early age, even some toddlers will be getting familiar with horse riding.

Archery showcases the strategy and precision of Mongolian soldiers. Over centuries, soldiers have developed their combat skills using archery and fed themselves through hunting. Archery allowed Mongolians to establish their place as great warriors and this pride continues, showcased through the Naadam festivities.

The Naadam festival features many events alongside the trip-sports, including folk dancing, exhibitions and craft fairs showcasing locally made goods. Many will even wear traditional costumes allowing you to immerse yourself even further in Mongolia's cultural heritage.

If you are planning an adventure in Mongolia and would like any travel advice or assistance booking, then do not hesitate to contact a member of our travel team who will be pleased to help.

You can rest assured that all of your travel plans will be taken care of efficiently by our dedicated team of experts. If you require visa services, train tickets, accommodation, a professional guide or internal transfers then look no further.

Real Russia Blog

Customer Tales: The Ultimate Trans-Siberian Adventure
2
January
2018

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

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.

Beijing

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.

Xian

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.
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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

Meet the team: Andrew Glenister
29
November
2017

Meet the team: Andrew Glenister

Our Marketing Manager gives his insight into Russia, Kazakstan and Mongolia.

Introducing our team

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, Real Russia Marketing Manager

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?

1.Kazakhstan

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

3. Canada

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

The Trans-Siberian railway…

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!

…and beyond

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!

Otrar, Kazakhstan

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!

Let’s end on a good note

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.

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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.

Real Russia Blog

The Camel Festival in Mongolia
27
November
2017

The Camel Festival in Mongolia

Your Must-See Experience

The Thousand Camel festival takes place annually between the end of winter and beginning of spring in Dalanzadgad. Participating in this spectacular 2-day event is an amazing and unique opportunity to interact with the two-humped Bactrian camels and Mongolian camel herders. Every year the festival gathers more than a thousand camels, and over a thousand participants and spectators. The camels are especially pretty in winter when their fur becomes thick and lavish to stand the cold temperatures.

The Role of the Camel in the Nomadic Lifestyle.

The festival celebrates the endangered two-humped camels (Bactrian) and the role it played, and continues to play, for nomads in the Gobi. These amazing animals carry everything that a Mongolian needs to build and live in a ger (also known as a yurt). Camels are much tougher than horses and can cover 50 miles in one day, and run very quickly.

Nowadays camels have been replaced as a means of transportation by cars, but the popularity of camel racing reflects the admiration still given to them. There are approximately 500,000 Bactrian camels in the world, and 300,000 of them habit in Mongolia.

Mongolians eat camel meat, similarly to goat, and use camel wool for making clothes like jackets and socks, and blankets.

The Festival



Camel riders before the start of races

This exciting and fun event takes place in the Gobi during the time of the year when the desert is covered in snow and temperatures drop below zero. It features traditional music, costume competitions, dancing, polo competition and camel racing. After the festivities, the spectators can ride the camels and visit some of the Gobi’s unique sights.

The festival begins with a camel beauty parade where the big, fluffy animals parade in front of the crowd. They then embark on the race, where the herders drive the camels on a 15km race across the steppe. The average speed of camels is about 12 km per hour, which corresponds to the speed of a galloping horse. Racing camels is the most beautiful and popular competition of all the holidays and events of Mongolia attracting many visitors.

​ Un unlimited expanse of steppe

In addition to the race, another highlight of the event is a Polo match. Two riders sit on each camel; one controls the camel, while the second one hits the ball with a stick.

Other highlights of the festival are traditional performances of Mongolian folklore and a fair of products from camel milk and camel-hair.

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If you would like to experience this unique spectacle at the end of February – beginning of March, please contact our travel specialists and get first-hand advice.

Real Russia Blog

Experiences interacting with locals
7
November
2017

Experiences interacting with locals

Don’t let a fear of not speaking the language keep you from traveling.

Jessica from How Dare She is a ‘country collector’, completing trips in North and South America, Europe, Asia and Oceania; totaling over 50 countries so far. Through travel she wants to explore the cultures and peoples of the world, and change those, “I could never” moments into, “I can’t wait!“ moments. Writing exclusively for Real Russia, Jessica tells us all about her experience interacting with locals along the length and breadth of the Trans-Siberian railway.
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I don’t speak Russian. I don’t speak Mongolian. I don’t read Cyrillic. I don’t speak Mandarin and reading the characters is Chinese to me. With that in mind, one might think it would be difficult to interact with locals in China, Mongolia and Russia. Well, one would be wrong.

China – Flexing my muscles with an old lady in an alley

In China, interacting with locals can be extremely tough – the toughest I’ve found in my travels in fact. But once you break the ice, you’re in. Like anywhere else in the world, a smile goes a long way. I was walking in the hutongs of Beijing (small alley neighbourhoods) and wearing a tank top because I was fortunate to get a few rare sunny, blue sky days. An older woman was sitting in one of the alleys and she pointed at me, and then at her shoulders. Clearly commenting on my tank top. I pointed to the sky and flexed my biceps, laughing, and wondering how, “sun’s out, guns out” translates in China.

I don’t think the phrase translated, but it didn’t stop her from laughing. I wonder what she thinks I was trying to say? It doesn’t matter. For the rest of the week, every time I walked down the hutong, there she was, in her chair. And whether I was in a tank top or covered up, each time I passed, her face lit up, she started laughing and tossed her flexed biceps in the air. Sometimes you don’t even need to speak a word to create a memory.

Mongolia – An offer for marriage, and baby goats

You would have to work extremely hard to get a cold reception in Mongolia. Everyone is smiling and everyone is happy to welcome you, especially into their gers (mobile homes, like a yurt). When looking for a place to stay in the desert, you don’t call ahead. You just turn up to a ger, if you can find one, and knock on the door. Mongolian culture values guests, and you will be taken in. But it doesn’t stop there – you’ll first be greeted with camel milk tea and a type of fried sweet cookie. I was with a group and every family that we stayed with was beyond generous, sharing their homes, food and spirit. I don’t think I’ve ever seen people smile so consistently, and for so long.

One Mongolian in particular, smiled just a little extra as I cuddled one of his baby goats. The family had never hosted foreigners, so I’m sure they were amused at our fascination with the animals that surround them every day. He laughed at me with our guide. She told him how much I liked the goats and sheep and he perked up, quickly chatting to the guide. “If she likes the animals, she can have some! I have a son her age. She can move to Mongolia and she’ll get the animals AND a husband!”

Both the family and the group burst into laughter and I told him that I had to think about it. It’s not what I’m looking for, but aside from how tempting the landscapes and animals of Mongolia are, people who are as happy as Mongolians are the kind of people I want in my life.

Russia – Playing stupid


Relaxing on a stationary train

On the train from Novosibirsk to Omsk it became clear to me quite quickly that I was the only English speaker in the car. And over the course of the first few hours, it became clear that everyone else noticed too. If I’d bump someone while walking to the bathroom, an instinctual, “excuse me” gave me away. By the next few hours, people were eyeing my every move. The looks on their faces said, “who is this girl and why is she here??” The stone-cold facial expressions hid whether this was curiosity or irritation.

Then, one passenger came over and sat across from me. “Hello, where are you from?” he asked, with a very focused effort on his English. I looked up and smiled and greeted him back, and told him that I’m from the United States. The rest of the car perked up like prairie dogs. He asked where I was going. When I answered his second question, six other passengers rushed over.

Third class on the Novosibirsk-Omsk train

Apparently, they all wanted to practice their English and to chat, but they were just afraid to try.They saw that I had a deck of cards and asked if I knew how to play, “the Russian game.” I did not. The remainder of our ride together was consumed by playing this game. While it isn’t ideal to learn a card game without being able to explain the rules, I eventually got it. Then I realized I was wrong. Then I got it. We laughed and spent the next four hours playing and working through what English they knew and what Russian I did. Most of them were in the army, going home from an assignment. They talked about their jobs, their friends and their families.

The icing on the cake? I asked the name of the game. “It’s called Stupid, because if you lose, you are the stupid one.” Can’t argue with that logic. I don’t know that I’ve ever been happier to be the stupid one in the group.
Restaurant carriage on the Novosibirsk-Omsk train
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Thanks Jessica, for your insights into your experiences with locals across the Trans-Siberian railway. Make sure to follow her inspiring global adventures on her travel blog How Dare She, her Twitter, Facebook and Instagram jess_ismore. Click here to read more of her blogs on the Trans-Siberian!
And if you want to follow in Jess’s footsteps, Real Russia offer a comprehensive range of tours, taking in the three different ‘Trans-Siberian’ routes, between Moscow and Vladivostok, and Moscow and Beijing.

Click here to take a look and book now!

Real Russia Blog

Perceptions on Mongolia
17
October
2017

Perceptions on Mongolia

In this first blog, Jessica shares her opinion on Mongolia and its incredibly friendly people.

Last summer, Real Russia were lucky enough to work with Jessica, an American travel writer that has visited more than 95 countries in the last few years, sharing her experiences with the world through her blog How Dare She, her Facebook and her Instagram page jess_ismore.
Alongside writing two fantastic, and informative, guides about planning a Trans-Siberian adventure (Travelling solo as a female on the Trans-Siberian and Making the most of the Trans-Siberian), she has put together a few blogs exclusively for Real Russia, going into more depth about her incredible experiences travelling the most famous railway in the world.
In this first blog, Jessica shares her opinion on Mongolia and its incredibly friendly people.
Take it away Jessica!

On the road to Mongolia

When I thought of the Trans-Siberian railway, I honestly never thought of Mongolia. I thought of cold days in Russia huddled around a bottle of vodka. More on that in my upcoming blog about Russia. But as I started to investigate the Trans-Siberian journey, I was excited to find out it could be started from Beijing. Which meant that the previously mysterious Mongolia would be on my route.
On the train from Beijing, you know you’ve arrived in Mongolia when the cars start clanging around. At the border, the wheels are changed for the different tracks and I should have had a few more beers from the dining car if I wanted to sleep through it.

Bogie changing at the Chinese-Mongolian border

Despite the somewhat restless night, I woke up at about 5:30 as the sun started to rise. Taking advantage of a train full of snoozing passengers, I grabbed my camera and searched for the best spot to see the sunrise. Soon, light was pouring over the landscape of the Gobi and I knew I was going to get what I came for.


Sunrise over the Gobi desert

Before I knew it, we were arriving in Ulan Bator, as was a snow storm. In May. But I guess they don’t call it the coldest capital in the world for nothing. Luckily, I just had one night in the cold capital before heading back out to the desert to see the real and raw Mongolia that had been so hyped. Off to 8 days in the desert.

Smiles, landscapes, animals and meat

So, what was Mongolia like? Four words: smiles, landscapes, animals and meat.

Smiles. Mongolians are known for their hospitality, and for good reason. We went ger (pronounced like ‘gear’) hunting to find a place to stay at night, and it was expected that you could show up to any ger, unannounced, and be taken in. Every family greeted the group with warm smiles and tea. At one home, the father of the family even hinted he had a son for me if I liked Mongolia and wanted to stay.

Landscapes. Going around the country was a constant battle of charging my camera because I just couldn’t put it down. The variety is wide – from ice gorges to sand dunes, lakes to sparse deserts – but absolutely stunning all the same. The summer made for long days and incredible, late, sunsets.


The Flaming Cliffs

Animals. The nomadic culture of Mongolia stems from the need to make sure the animals are fed. If you don’t like cuddling baby goats, then maybe Mongolia isn’t for you (then again if you don’t like cuddling baby goats, you may need to re-evaluate life). Don’t try to cuddle the baby camels though, mom doesn’t like it and she’ll be sure to let you know. The cows are fuzzy and the horses majestic. And you’ll see more than just livestock – mountain goats and rare birds take as much advantage of the landscapes as humans do.

​ The smiling goat

Meat. While I’m no vegetarian, I am not a big meat eater. Which was a challenge in Mongolia. Mutton, horse and camel are common staples of the Mongolian diet. Don’t cringe away just at the sound of it though. It is worth a try, and some like it more than others. But it can be hard to think about it when you’re having dinner in a ger surrounded by the family’s livestock. We even got the chance to see a camel slaughter, which is so rare to get a peek into that our guide had never seen one in her whole life living in Mongolia. Two families came together to take on the huge task, which was completed far from the other camels who are smart enough to get a sense of what’s going on.

Food in a Ger Camp

Back to city life

Back from the desert, I had one more day in Ulan-Bator before hopping back on the train to Russia. While I waited for the laundromat to wash the entire Gobi out of all my clothes, I wanted to check out the bustling capital, and couldn’t help but notice the stark contrast between the traditional and humble (and massive) black market, with the shiny tall buildings housing the country’s business side, all with towering mountains in the background. How could a country be so modern, and just kilometres away, so authentic to their origins? It’s truly impressive.
Luckily, the train from Ulan-Bator to Russia offered the same views and time to reflect on the previous week.
I expected to like Mongolia, but I didn’t expect for the warmth of the people to so wash over the cold of the landscapes. I expected beautiful sites, but I didn’t expect for the vastness and diversity of the countryside to keep my jaw perpetually dropped.

Happy camels in the desert
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Thanks Jessica, for sharing your experiences in the incredible Mongolia. Be sure to come back soon to read more about Jess’s adventures along the Trans-Siberian railway, and make sure to follow her inspiring global adventures on her travel blog How Dare She, Facebook, Twitter and her Instagram jess_ismore.

If you want to follow in Jess’s footsteps, Real Russia offer a comprehensive range of tours, taking in the three different ‘Trans-Siberian’ routes, between Moscow and Vladivostok, and Moscow and Beijing.
Click here to take a look and book now!

Real Russia Blog

12 of the best Russian travel Instagram accounts
26
September
2017

12 of the best Russian travel Instagram accounts

Russian Instagrammers revealing the beauty of Russia

Russia is a country with a rich cultural and historical heritage, as well as being home to extraordinary natural diversity.

From Moscow’s iconic views to the wilderness of Siberia and Kamchatka, here are 12 Instagram accounts to explore the world’s most fascinating country. Some of them are not translated into English, but a language barrier should not stop you from being able to admire the beauty on display!

While we are very proud of our own Instagram page, we have chosen to focus on the efforts of others on this list. Also, if we included ourselves the list would number 13, and 13 is considered unlucky in Russia.

However, we encourage you to follow realrussiatravel to check out images taken by our team on their travels through Russia and along the Trans-Siberian railway! From time to time we also share the photos others have taken; if you would like us to share your own stunning images from Russia, the Trans-Siberian railway, or the neighbouring counties, use the hashtag #realrussiantravel!

1. pollirusakova


Based in Perm, Polina is a true explorer. Among her collection, there are the breath-taking photos of the Ural Mountains, as well as Georgian, Crimean and Nepalese mountains, among many other beautiful landscapes.

2.Russianexplorers

This account consolidates many travel photographers who are inspired by Russian nature. Expect many incredible views of snow-capped mountains, idyllic scenery, wild animals, arctic wonders and dreamy lakes.

3.anna_zagaynova


A Siberian photographer who takes utterly captivating architectural shots while travelling in Russia. Hit up her Instagram account to find some hidden gems and wonderful examples of provincial buildings, and structures, in Russia.

4.alex.mazurov


A landscape photographer, whose images of the turquoise rivers of the Altai region, arctic landscapes, starry Caucasus nights, Crimean coastlines and misty mountains near Sochi will make you want to book your next trip immediately!

5.lake.baikal


It seems that Alexey Matveev, an enthusiastic Baikal fan, never gets tired of shooting the fascinating Lake Baikal and its fantastic scenery. Comments in Russian should not deter you from following this account, as on these spectacular photos, nature speaks for itself.

6.ted.ns


Planning a trip to Moscow? Then you must follow this incredible photographer’s account with ‘futuristic’, and sometimes dreamy, photos that will give you a look at one of the world's best cities from every angle. And as a bonus – you will find photos of other curious places in Russia, including a frozen Lake Baikal, the ‘Winter Wonderland’ of Kazan, and the wide-open spaces of the Altai Republic, all in one place!

7. Onlyminimal Dmitry Malkov


Finding the extraordinary in the ordinary, capturing fields and forests, endless lakes and rivers, Malkov asks us to appreciate the wonder of everyday life. Minimal and simplistic, yet charming, Malkov’s images are mesmerising and beautiful.

8.Damedvedev

Великий Новгород

A post shared by Дмитрий Медведев (@damedvedev) on


The Russian Prime Minister travels a lot across Russia, and apparently his camera never leaves his hands. Beautiful landscapes and urban photos will give you a glimpse of Russia, and the main Russian events.

9. elenakrizhevskaya


The winner of Best of Russia 2016 photography, Elena captures Moscow in many different angles and places. From underground to the sky, from metro stations to the fireworks over the Kremlin, and everything in between, this photographer tells us a wonderful fairy tale about Moscow.

10.village.ru

Рыбинск, Ярославская область Фото: @vrybinske

A post shared by Русская деревня (@village_ru) on


This wonderful project is dedicated to traditions, way of life and nature of the Russian countryside and province.

11. rozanov.mikhail


Mikhail Rozanov is a Moscow-based photographer whose journeys all over the world, including untouched and distant spaces, have resulted in a collection of gorgeous images, from black and white photos of architectural forms and landscapes to minimalistic and refined photography. He goes even further, capturing stunning sculptures and industrial objects in Russia and abroad.

12. Russia.travel.official


This Russian-speaking account led by National Tourism Portal of Russia is an online guide that encourages people to open their eyes to all of Russia, with no exceptions; including its unrevealed corners and small towns, as well as its culinary masterpieces. There are endless photos of natural and man-made wonders found in various places across Russia. The English version of their website is a true treasure-cave for those with wanderlust – https://eng.russia.travel/.


If you think that there are other Instagram accounts worthy of being mentioned on this list, please feel free to comment below, or share them with us on social media!

And don't forget to check our the Real Russia Instagram page!


Feel inspired? Contact our travel experts to book your dream adventure!

Real Russia Blog

Golden Eagle Festival
21
July
2017

Golden Eagle Festival

Take an opportunity to experience old Kazakh traditions and ways of life, and coincide your trip with the fantastic Golden Eagle Festival.

If you are looking to experience a traditional way of life, with a scenic and diverse landscape, and awe-inspiring wilderness, then a visit to Mongolia will give you a fascinating insight into invigorating eastern culture. Why not take an opportunity to experience old Kazakh traditions and ways of life, and coincide your trip with the fantastic Golden Eagle Festival.


Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Cultural Event, the Golden Eagle Festival is annually held in Mongolia during the first weekend in October. The festival was founded in 1999 to preserve the Kazakh's unique heritage, a tradition that has been practiced thousands of years, and to protect golden eagles. The Golden Eagle Festival is one of the best opportunities to catch a glimpse into the area’s unique culture.

Place: Bayan-Ölgii, the highest Mongolian province
Location: the Altai Mountains of Western Mongolia
Date: 15 – 16 September 2018, 6-7 October 2018

This province is a home to ethnic Kazakh nomads who train Golden Eagles for hunting. While enjoying breathtaking scenery of the Altai mountains that offers endless opportunities for photography, you can observe an ancient and disappearing art of eagle-hunting.

Mongolian Kazakhs, who honor the tradition of hunting on horseback with Golden Eagles, continue to hunt with trained Golden Eagles today. Once a year, dozens of them, from teenagers to old men, gather in a valley of the Altai Mountains to celebrate the Golden Eagle Festival and to participate in the hunting competition to the view of locals and tourists. The Eagle Hunters compete with each other in catching animals with specially trained eagles, who follow commands of their owners.

What the tourists can’t see, though, it’s the hard work of the eagle domestication that comes before. To tame the eagle, the eaglet is starved of food for days, until it begins to accept food from humans, and then the hunter can start training the eagle. As the bond between the hunter and eagle develops, they head to the mountains, sometimes for days, to hunt their prey – usually foxes, hares or wolves – during the winter months, when it is easier to see the animals against the snow.


Eagle huntsmen compete in the hunting skills, eagles’ agility, speed and accuracy as well as in huntsmen’s clothes: the more extravagant the coat the more respected the hunter is. The hunters are dressed in traditional Kazakh costumes, with fur coats made of marmot, fox or wolf skins which have been caught by their eagles.

The festival includes an opening ceremony, parade, cultural exhibitions, demonstrations and handcrafts taking place in the centre of the town of Ölgii, followed by sporting activities and competitions outside of town towards the mountains. The other activities held during the Golden Eagle Festival include horse racing, archery and Bushkashi, where horse-mounted players attempt to place a goat or calf.

Keeping with the tradition, no women can participate in it. However, in 2014 the 13-year-old Kazakh girl Aisholpan, who was taught to hunt with her eagles by her grandfather, challenged a male-dominated tradition and became the first female to enter and won the competition. It was featured in the documentary ‘The eagle huntress’.

Tourists, coming from all over the world to participate in the Festival, help to keep this ancient tradition alive and thus support the local community, where people still live in harmony with nature, practicing the lifestyle that ancient Kazakhs lived centuries ago.


If we inspired you to visit this spectacular event, contact our travel experts to arrange you visa, tickets and accommodation.

Real Russia Blog

Meet the team: Igor Skorodumov
19
July
2017

Meet the team: Igor Skorodumov

Our Travel Expert in Volzhsky, Russia

Introducing our team.

We have a well-established team of highly experienced travel specialists, who are happy to assist with your travel needs, or find your perfect destination within Russia and the surrounding countries. These are the people who make our company so special. Today let us introduce Igor, a Tour Operations Supervisor.

Igor, a Tour Operations Supervisor at Real Russia

Igor Skorodumov joined Real Russia team in 2007. Igor has a Specialist’s Degree in Economics and, in addition to his native Russian, speaks three foreign languages, English, French and German. Whenever he has free time, he reads books, works in his country house (dacha), makes crafts at home, practices sports, takes photos etc.

He likes to travel and often travels with his family within Volgograd and Astrakhan regions of Russia, as well as further afield.

As Igor is a well-known enthusiast of travel within Russia, a fan of history and simply a ‘human encyclopaedia’, we decided to get straight to the point.

Igor's favourite destinations in Russia

Which city in Russia is the most appealing for you ?

It’s a difficult question, because each city has its own authentic beauty, history, population, dialect etc. The further one goes away from Moscow, the more vivid the local character of the city becomes.

Apart from well-loved Moscow and St.-Petersburg, I would like to accent here four cities along the Trans-Siberian railways: Kazan, Yekaterinburg, Novosibirsk and Ulan-Ude.

Kazan

Kazan is a mixture of past and present, Muslim and Christianity, with many stunning monuments on the Volga River. It is surprising to see how the different cultures, religions can coexist peacefully for several centuries. I think this is one of the “must-see” cities in Russia for those who want to dig deeper and see the 'real' Russia.

​Against the Kazan Kremlin wall

Yekaterinburg

Yekaterinburg is one of the cities that played the most important role in the history of the country. It is the city where the last tsar’s family was executed putting an end to Imperial Russia; it is the city where the first President of Russia, Boris Yeltsin was born; he was the one who put an end to the Soviet Union; there is a border line between Europe and Asia; it is the city that culturally can challenge St. Petersburg in the number of rock bands, musicians, composers and actors it has produced. The city is beautifully located South of the Ural Mountains. If you are making a stopover in this city, don’t miss a chance to taste Ural dumplings and walk along the streets that have preserved the style of the former Soviet Union.

Novosibirsk

Nestled along the Ob river, Novosibirsk depicts the grandeur of the Russian Empire: the biggest buildings being the railway station and the Opera House. Nowadays it is the scientific and intellectual centre of Russia. Siberian culture shows itself through the authentic meals, the way they are served and the way people communicate. There are lots of places to visit, for example, the Trans-Siberian railway museum, an Open-air Museum of locomotives and carriages, and the beautiful embankment of the Tsar Alexander III.

Ulan Ude

Ulan-Ude is the capital of Buryatia, and is striking to its visitors, with its colourful Buddhist buildings and traditional clothes. People here are very hospitable and friendly. The city has lots of featured buildings that absorbed both the local, and the Russian, cultures.

Where did you spend your last holiday?

My family and I went to the Russian analogue of the Dead Sea, the lake Baskunchak. We had a tour at Bogdo Mountain, a sacred mountain for people who believe in Buddhism (Kalmyks, Buryats, Mongols etc.).

The Trans-Siberian: A taste for the ‘real’ Russia, Mongolia and China

Last year you embarked on the Trans-Siberian railway with other members of the Real Russia team. How could you describe your experience on the Trans-Siberian in three words?

Contrasts, knowledge and history.

What was the most impressive in your trip?

We had a chance to witness the contrasts between two continents- Europe and Asia, between three countries along the Trans-Siberian – Russia, Mongolia and China, and observe a variety of cultures and lifestyles, as every place we visited has its own character and story to tell. After an intense and history laden two weeks in Russia, Mongolia was very quiet and sparsely-inhabited. And then, just one night away by train, we were in heavily-populated China; another incredible change again.

Why do you think Mongolia captured you?

I expected it to be a totally new experience for me, however, it is there, in Mongolia, where I felt more like at home than anywhere in Russia. This feeling was intensified when we came to Terelj National Park. I enjoyed this authentic atmosphere of simplicity, hospitability and friendliness. This country has the authentic values and is developing at its own pace, thoroughly keeping its character.


Igor in Terelj National Park, Mongolia

What advice would you give to customers that are planning on travelling to Mongolia for the first time?

Well, I would suggest they be prepared for lots of walking (take comfortable sport clothes, sneakers etc.), exchange their currency for the local one to be able to give tips or buy some sweets to share (for example, when visiting Nomads).

For vegetarians, I suggest searching in advance for the restaurants or check with Real Russia travel specialists about places serving vegetarian food or, if tour is booked, then it should be noted beforehand, because meat is the main food in the country.

Why do you think the Trans-Siberian route is so popular among foreign travellers?

It is the longest railway in the world stretching through two continents, several time zones and different landscapes. It is the best way one can experience Russia, Mongolia and China, admiring through the window, sitting in a comfortable compartment on a train.

What don’t we know about Igor

What would people be surprised to know about you?

I like to listen to Rock music at a high volume when I am alone at home.

What are your favourite books?

Les Misérables’ by Victor Hugo, ‘The Brothers Karamazov’ by Fyodor Dostoevsky, ‘Great Expectations’ by Charles Dickens, and ‘The Adventures of Werner Holtv’ Dieter Noll.

What do you love the most about Real Russia?

I love the most about Real Russia that it is a real team. Many of team members are from different backgrounds, cultures, and countries, and, nevertheless, we have the mutual supportiveness and dedication that make every day at work great. For me, we have a team of professionals that have been awarded the World Travel Award for being Russian’s Leading Travel Agent for last four years not by chance, but by hard work.
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We thank Igor for squeezing us in, and look forward to introducing you to another member of our amazing team soon. Click here to find more series of our interviews!

Let us help you with your next adventure, contact our travel specialists.