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.
Another week and another great story from one of our customers of life on the Trans-Siberian! So without further ado …
Hoping you are all well down there at the bottom of the world. This is going to be a very incomplete account of things (as far as we are concerned anyway) as it has been basically a month since I sent the last “brag” and there is just too much to tell.
Anyway, as briefly as I can, we are basically winding up the Russian leg of our travels and it has been absolutely amazing.
The ship trip down the Chukotka/Kamchatka coast was quite fantastic. As a reminder – we were on the same Russian ex-research ship (Prof. Krohmov/Spirit of Enderby) as we were on over last Xmas/New Year down in the Sub-Antarctic islands so I won’t explain the boat life in any detail except that this time we only had 35 paying passengers as opposed to 48 last time and were only about 4 that some of us thought we’d like to throw overboard so a good time was had socially as well as the activities. Had great weather, mainly cool but only one bad day that was wet and really rough and couldn’t get out in the zodiacs, which was pretty good in a region that has a reputation of much mist and few views. We certainly got the views and couldn’t have been better for all the beautiful volcanos of Kamchatka.
Saw many animals – walruses, bears, arctic foxes (I want one!), a red fox, dolphins, 7 species of whales including apparently a rarely sighted Baird’s Beaked whale, sea otters, seals (yea well), Steller’s sea eagles, puffins, kittywakes and many more birds.
A bear enjoying a swim
The title of this image was 'Arctic fox – I want one!' … who wouldn't!
Whale watching near Kamchatka
And visiting some of the villages that Rodney (owner of the expedition company and leader of the arctic expeditions) has built up a trust and rapport with was pretty special and gave us a good feel of how life is way out in eastern Siberia – man it would be harsh in winter!!!
Really was a fantastic couple of weeks but pretty full on getting changed about 4 times a day, on and off the zodiacs once if not twice daily, lectures, debriefings – man we were busy!!
And the trip across Russia on the Trans-Siberian railway has been quite something. Disembarked the Prof. Krohmov at Petrapavlosk Kamchastky and flew to Vladivostok where we had a couple of nights to stop the lurching and loved it. Think we have both decided it is our favourite Russian city. From there we commenced our/the Trans-Siberian railway journey, getting off at Irkutsk and taking a trip down to Lake Baikal on a small hydrofoil which was pretty cool apart from it running aground, the hatch above our heads blowing off and then completely konking out in what seemed like the middle of the lake – we did a lot of bonding with our fellow Russian passengers that day!
Provodnista's gathering outside the train
The trains have been something else really. Our little compartment (admittedly we were traveling first class) with our seats folding into two beds, TV, towels and wee cubbyholes to put things, big windows with views both sides meticulous (shared) bathrooms that are regularly cleaned, a diner with really good food (contrary to what the Lonely Planet says). And then there are the Providnistas, the women that look after your carriage – VERY important people! Can’t talk more highly of the railway system here and although I know it is Russia’s life line, it leaves us for dead with the services! On time to the minute every time.
The scenery Russian past the train window (rushing, Russian, get it?)
Stopped again for a night in Krasnoyarsk wandering and getting a feel for things, a day stop in Novosibirsk, the only wet day so far so sploshed around the town for the day and back on the train for Moscow. I had been to Moscow and St Petersburg back in 1978 and couldn’t believe the difference – quite beautiful now, modern, clean and the buildings are something. Went to the Bolshoi Ballet one night (Giselle) as you do when in Moscow! And although we were probably the most underdressed in the audience (some people use it as an excuse to dress up and were certainly some Fab sights) and not thinking we were really “ballet people” we actually loved it and the atmosphere. Did the usual Red Square/Kremlin thing but also we had to experience another aspect of life in Moscow – a trip to the doctor. I had a bit of a tendonitis problem in my foot, compounded by a sprained ankle, and it finally got the better of me. An amazing experience it was as my Dr Denis was fantastic, spoke good English, X-rayed it and found the problem which unfortunately can’t be completely rectified just now a needs a little op but he gave a good diagnosis, instructions and gave me what seem to be wonderful Russian drugs & ointments and voila I am off bounding again!
The magnificent St Basil's in Moscow
Now in St Petersburg and wandered around doing the usual touristy things. Staying in a really neat boutique hotel (Rachmaninov Antique Hotel) which is very quirky with stark traces back to the Soviet era. And yes Rachmaninov used to board here once upon a time. And tomorrow we are off on the train to Helsinki, Finland.
We are both quite sad to be leaving Russia although it has been constant so are quite tired. Have been so lucky with the weather, the time of year that we are visiting is perfect coz the autumn colours really enhances the scenery in the countryside and most importantly the people just keep blowing us away with their friendliness, generosity of time to help us overcome the language barrier, and also in giving us little gifts, just all over the place is quite extraordinarily great and quite the contrary to what a lot of westerners would have us believe. When we were at the airport in Nome, Alaska an American who was assisting our ship group commented “beware over there [Russia] they are paranoid”. Well he couldn’t have been more wrong and are inclined to think it is America that is paranoid! We have had a very special time and love the country!
Well that is enough as have shed a tear for Russia and are now in Helsinki. Are about to hire a motorhome and spend 2 weeks motoring around Finland, Norway and Sweden.
So “dasvidanya” and my hearty congratulations to those that have gotten to the end of this epistle!!!
Me & He (Sarah & Barrie)
I am hugely jealous of this incredible trip, particularly the trip to Kamchatka. Did you know that there are no roads connecting the Kamchatka Peninsula’s main city, Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky and the rest of Russia, making it one of the most isolated and remote large cities in the world!
One of the best things about travelling along the Trans-Siberian is the opportunity it provides to socialise with locals, and fellow travellers. We receive many great stories of vodka shared, and friendships formed, from those who have travelled on this incredible railway. Today we thought we would share one with you that Alla in our travel team received from a customer this week.
I just want to thank you so much for all your help on my amazing journey. Without your help and support it would not have happened. I had a wonderful time, especially in Russia. I have to say that I have changed my opinion of Russia and Russian people since my all-to-short visit, I loved Moscow and Siberia. I was so lucky to meet so many lovely people who were all so kind and hospitable, explaining things and showing me places, providing information and making me feel so welcome.
It started when I was booked into a cabin on the Berlin to Moscow train with a Russian doctor…female…she works in Paris so we had to communicate in French, our only common language….then the marvellous Vova, a Russian neurosurgeon on the Moscow to Irkustk leg….4 days of so much fun and information, he will be a friend for ever…..although we might have over indulged in all the local vodkas we found along the way….it was just fantastic.
My time in Moscow was more than I could have wished for, I love that city! I have read so many books set in, and about Russia, it was surreal to actually be there and see all those places I had thought about…… In Listvyanka I had a wonderful local woman for my personal tour guide…there were only the 2 of us and she was such great company! In Ulaan Baator another one-on-one with my local tour guide. She was not very experienced but that made it even better for me, she was so open and friendly, giving me so much insight into Mongolia. In Beijing, another personal guide. Michael was so full of information I could hardly take it all in, but a wonderful experience.
And then the fast train to Guanzhou with a young, English speaking Chinese guy sitting next to me. A fascinating insight into China and how people think. Then to Nanning and finally the last train to Hanoi…probably the oldest of all the trains that I went on but by that stage it didn't matter and I was able to have some conversation in my basic Vietnamese with some students returning to VN.
This is why I love train travel…..meeting so many people and having time to really get to know them and find out so much about themselves, their lives and the countries we were travelling through. I'm so sorry that you couldn't be there with me to see and experience all this stuff….I hope you will have the chance to do this trip one day….and make sure you come and see me in VN when you get here!!
Once again, Thank You so much for all your help in getting this to happen…..as you know, I was in contact with several of your colleagues in the course of getting it all together but I always felt closest to you…..
I hope that I can meet you one day to try and repay the debt I owe you. Please pass on any of this email to your boss to let him know just how happy I have been with your work!
Thank you to Bill for that fantastic feedback.
If this has you eager to experience the Trans-Siberian yourself, follow one of these links: