Real Russia Blog

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

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.

Real Russia Blog

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

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

Overcoming language barriers and soaking up Russian life

To continue our series of customer tales from the Trans-Siberian over the summer of 2015, we have a three part tale taking us from Moscow, via Irkutsk and Lake Baikal to Beijing on a tailored version of our Discovery range Siberian Eye tour!

Read part one below to find out their thoughts on arriving in Russia and exploring Moscow, and then keep your eyes peeled to our social media channels and our blog page to read parts two and three over the next couple of weeks!

Arriving in Russia

Good Morning Alla

I wanted to mail you once I had fully settled back here and could think clearly as I am sure you will be interested to hear about every detail of our trip.

My head is half full of Russia as I go about my daily things, visiting another country give one an opportunity for adopting a different perspective and a better understanding of oneself and another culture. Just love it. We have taken so much from this trip. The Russian language, whilst I cannot fully read it I feel familiar with it when I see a Russian word. Charles was good about learning quite a few phrases and words which came in useful on many occasions. I liked the way we communicated and eventually managed to get the other person to understand what we were saying. I think the few hitches we had were mainly because of the language difference and looking back actually enhanced the trip.

Our arrival in Moscow was a little disappointing as any airport might be, the officials were extremely unfriendly and when we arrived in the main entrance hall and got to the Academ desk, the little girl behind it could not understand what I was trying to explain to her even after taking out my Russian itinerary, and it seemed we were not going to get through to her, but eventually she called a gentleman over and he seemed to understand and said because it was a Sunday they would not be able to organize a taxi. However, I persisted and eventually we got a taxi – and a long ride into Moscow.

The receptionists in the Maxima were very nice and helped us always, although once again not all of them could speak good English. The Maxima was perfect from a location point of view Alla, thanks for that, right next to the Metro, which we took twice, after asking a kind receptionist to put in English the station names next to the Russian ones so that we could recognize which station to get out at! We found a supermarket right there as well, with the prices very comparable to ours, and an Exchange Bureau which was very handy.

Exploring Moscow

Our boat cruise was a lovely introduction to Moscow and our guide Olga, although a little quiet, was suitable actually, as she was quite right, we did want to take a lot of photos and she did not interfere, but made herself available to any questions we asked. We realized the following day that we would be covering most of what we saw on the boat trip, again, with Rita, which on reflection was very good, as it helped us retain some of the facts given out. Rita was the complete opposite to Olga, brisk and very knowledgeable, we walked our feet off that day but felt exhilarated nevertheless.

Once we had recovered in our hotel room that night we felt keen to visit Red Square again and go into the Kremlin and get to Arbat Street, which is exactly what we did. This time we could take it a little slower and savour and re-inforce what we had learnt with Rita. The weather was perfect the whole time in Moscow and in fact the while trip through, we were lucky. Charles was very keen to visit the Armory in the Kremlin and disappointed we could not take photos in there! I had no idea how many cathedrals there would be in there – full of Byzantine art, and oozing with history, really beautiful. We had thought we would be allowed into the Kremlin itself and would have appreciated if the lady we booked the ticket with had been able to convey to us that that would not be possible, but once again the language was a barrier. Charles was disappointed!

We loved wandering the streets in the area around our hotel and explored almost every single shop, and especially a delightful bakery across the road. I liked listening to the Russian accents and watching their mannerisms. They all walked very briskly and upright, almost as though marching, very unlike our pace of life over here! Very few smiles, but a feeling of serenity on the faces of passers-by, as though they all live a good life.

We noticed how clean the streets were and even street cleaning machines. And we noticed stray dogs crossing busy streets, Charles had heard that there were packs of wild dogs that roamed the streets, but Olga denied this.

…to be continued…

Excited for the journey ahead?

What did you think to part one? Come back over the next couple of weeks to continue reading about this fantastic journey.

And while you wait, why not take a look at our Trans-Siberian tours?

Alternatively, why not tell us all about your Trans-Siberian tales in the comments below, or via email to

Part two can be found here.

Part three can be found here.

Real Russia Blog

The Kazakhstan Adventure, Day One: The Day that Nearly Wasn`t

The Kazakhstan Adventure, Day One: The Day that Nearly Wasn`t

A Delayed Beginning to a Unique Adventure

The Failed First Day

To say that my Kazakh trip did not get off to the most successful of starts quite possibly understates it a little. I was originally scheduled to arrive at Almaty airport, as per the tour itinerary, on Sunday morning. Due to a delay in my flight from Birmingham, though, it was going to be impossible to make my connection in Istanbul. To make things worse, the only flight that Turkish Airways could book me onto was a flight with British Airways scheduled to depart from Heathrow Airport a full 24 hours later, delaying my arrival in Kazakhstan until Monday morning.

This alteration of my flights meant that I had to miss several brilliant excursions in, and around, Almaty. I shall not spend too long on what I missed. In fact, I shall list them, as I cannot really pass comment on what I was not actually present to experience!

  • Panfilovtzev Park, a park dedicated to the heroes of the Great Patriotic War (World War Two).
  • The Ascension Cathedral, also known as Zenkov Cathedral, a building that is made entirely of wood; there were no nails used in its construction, so it is pretty unique!
  • The Kazakh Museum of Folk Musical Instruments, a museum that even offers music classes, including on the traditional Kazakh Dombyra.
  • Almaty Central Mosque, one of the largest mosques in Kazakhstan, standing 47 metres tall with a capacity of 7000.
  • Republic Square and Monument of Independence, dedicated to Kazakhstan’s rich history.
  • Big Almaty Lake, a stunning lake that is 2,511m above sea level and surrounded by mountains topping 4,000m.
  • Sunkar Falcon Farm, where guests are taught the importance of falconry in the lives of Central Asia’s nomads.

Arrival on the Actual First Day

With that out of the way, what I did manage to experience, once I had arrived, was two relative extremes. The morning was spent visiting the Shymbulak Ski Resort in the Tian Shan mountains, with five inches of snow on the ground, and the afternoon was spent half-way across the country, under a clear blue sky in a ‘semi-desert’ that left me wishing I was wearing shorts!

But first, I shall back up a bit.

Back to my descent out of the clouds over Almaty. I do not think I have ever had as stunning a view greet me while landing as I had that morning. Having expected ‘dry and arid’, as I mentioned in my introductory blog, I genuinely thought, if only for a moment, that the aircraft had taken a U-turn over Europe and flown back to the UK. To the north, the landscape was a rich green as far as the eye could see but, as lovely as this view was, it was not this that took my breath away. It was when I turned to look south that I was stunned. The northern section of the Tian Shan mountain system looms large over Almaty, covered in snow and rising to over 4000m. After the incredible flatness of the landscape leading up to them, one could be easily forgiven for seeing the Tian Shan and thinking that this is the edge of the world, that this mountain range, stretching as far as the eye can see, both east and west, is the wall that stops us from falling over the edge.

Almaty and Skymbulak Ski Resort

And what about Almaty itself? It seemed to me that they had decided to build a city in the middle of a forest. Every road appeared to be lined with trees on either side, making it one of the greenest, leafiest, cities I have had the pleasure of visiting. An opinion that only further cemented itself upon landing and being transferred into the city itself.

Unfortunately, though, I did not have much time in Almaty itself, as no sooner had I joined the tour group than we were whisked away to Shymbulak, our first port of call.

The thoroughly modern resort of Shymbulak is around 16 miles south of Almaty and was recently completely renovated in preparation for the 2011 Asian Winter Games. Shymbulak is perhaps the most ‘westernised’ of all the places that we visited in Kazakhstan. While I would love to tell you how good the skiing is there, we were limited to a short photo opportunity. Given the amount of snow on the ground though, particularly given this was the end of April, I can only imagine the skiing conditions are pretty good throughout the winter.

Shymbulak Ski Resort, Almaty, Kazakhstan

A very quiet Shymbulak Ski Resort

We were lucky to have the resort to ourselves that morning, so we were afforded a peaceful and serene view of the Medeo Valley with the whole of Almaty spread out below us. In the near distance we could even see our next destination, the Medeo Skating Rink.

View into Almaty from Skymbulak

The view from Shymbulk into Almaty

The Medeo Skating Rink is the highest rink in the world, sitting 1,691 metres above sea level, and is also absolutely enormous, with a surface area of 10,500 square metres. Unfortunately there is no ice coverage in April as, due to the weather, it would be too costly to keep it at the correct temperature as it is completely open air, so our view of it was less than spectacular. In fact, it more closely resembled a car park with spectator seating; though, given the quality of some of the driving I witnessed in Kazakhstan, watching people attempt to park could be quite an entertaining spectator sport!

We were then rushed down to the National Museum of Kazakhstan for a disappointingly brief visit. I won’t go into detail on everything we were told, this isn’t a lecture, but I will say that the museum itself seemed to be very good. It is relatively modern, open, spacious and well laid out, with a lot of items on display. The only negative really is the lack of world languages on any of the signage, so if you want to get the most out of your trip there I would highly recommend a guide to talk you through all of the exhibits.


Following our short time here we were back on our coach and heading to the airport for an internal flight to Kyzylorda. Upon arrival the airport is every bit the regional airport one would expect, lacking even a luggage conveyor; all the bags are left in a pile in the arrivals lounge, leading to a bit of a scrum as people try to get their bags as quickly as possible.

The slightly basic airport does not represent Kyzylorda as a whole though, as the town itself is very nice. There has obviously been a lot of investment here since Kazakhstan became independent and, alongside the many green spaces and colourful flower displays, the city has a very modern feel.

Camel Monumnet in Kyzylorda

A monument in Kyzylorda for which I apparently forgot to take down a name

After a quick refresh at our hotel, we were offered a quick drive around Kyzylorda, including a visit to the local train station which, in true Soviet style, is an incredible building, with a lovely large open square in front. This station offers journeys to both Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana, and its largest city, Almaty, both of which are easily accessible thanks to a direct train from Moscow; though I would recommend making the journey part of a tour, covering the distance in stages, as Moscow to Almaty alone can take over three days!

Kyzylorda Railway Station

Kyzylorda Railway Station

Our last port of call for the day was dinner, an official function that was being held for international businesses and tourism agencies. This was my first chance to try local Kazakh cuisine, though given the ‘silver service’ offered, it was not really offered to us in a traditional way! Of everything that was offered I had most been looking forward to trying the horse meat. I was also quite pleased to try baursak, a kind of fried bread. Our entertainment for the evening was a mixture of local folk singers, and folk music. Unfortunately my manners got the best of me in this instance, meaning I took no photos or videos, so I have nothing to show you, but rest assured, it was very good.

And so ended a 36 hour day for me; from the UK, through a frustrating inability to sleep sat upright on a plane, to a long day travelling half way across Kazakhstan. Sleep came very quickly, though I was not to get very much as it was after 11pm when we returned to the hotel, and we were expected to be up for breakfast by just after 6am the following morning for another busy day!

Real Russia Blog

A Word from our New Private and Luxury Tour Providers!

A Word from our New Private and Luxury Tour Providers!

Meet our new tour partners!

You may have spotted a theme to our social media this week. If you haven’t visited our social media this week, I shall give you a moment to go take a look …






Welcome back. Noticed the theme?

New for 2015, we have partnered with a, handpicked, selection of tour operators in order to offer you four new luxury and private tours.

We have had our say about these new partners already this week, but we thought it would be better if they introduced themselves to you directly.

So without further ado, here they are …

Imperial Russia

With our new exciting Trans-Siberian tour on a luxury train, ‘Imperial Russia’ you will feel the imperial spirit of the endless expanses of Russia, see the unique nature of Siberia with your own eyes, enjoy Mongolian hospitality, get inspired by the mysterious culture of China and make new friends from all around the world.

Our ‘Imperial Russia’ train is a ‘hotel on wheels’, having different classes on board; VIP, First Class Plus, First Class, Standard and also Restaurant and Bar Cars.

Experienced local guides perform tours in English, French, German and Spanish. You will never get bored as folk shows, cooking master classes and concerts are included in the tour.

Tsars Gold

Lernidee Trains & Cruises, established in 1986, is the world’s leading tour operator for private train journeys and boutique ship cruising.

Lernidee’s extraordinary private train journeys in more than 40 countries allow clients to discover foreign lands, incredible geographical features and the world’s most famous railway lines from the comfort of a train carriage e.g. on the Trans-Siberian Railroad or on Africa’s colonial tracks.

Most of our journeys are tailor-made for small groups, private tour groups and individual travellers, ensuring truly memorable experiences. We take our clients to natural wonders and significant cultural sites and provide them with the authentic flavours of local life. Fascinating lectures, exciting excursions and delicious local dishes allow our clients to get a genuine impression of the travelled regions thus lifting them into an enthralling world of pioneering exploration.

Golden Eagle Luxury Tours

What’s the best thing about a Golden Eagle train journey? Is it that feeling of luxury embedded into everything you touch? The romance of rail travel which has inspired a thousand stories? Could it be the companionship of fellow travellers or the friendly, expert service of our staff?

What ties all these things together is the sheer, unrivalled scope of the whole experience. Luxury, romance and friendship go hand in hand as you travel across some of the world’s most breath-taking terrain. Nowhere is this stunning variety more apparent than on our Trans-Siberian route across Russia and into Mongolia.

On this, our flagship journey, you’ll experience things that simply have to be seen to be believed. Sights and sounds which photography and the written word can only go so far towards capturing.

So there you have it, straight from the source.

Has this inspired you to hop on-board a train to travel across the incredible expanse that is Eurasia and the Trans-Siberian railway?

Or does this bring back memories of journeys past?

Either way, let us know in the comments below!