Real Russia Blog

Trans-Siberian Zoom backgrounds

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

Plan your Trans-Siberian tour with Real Russia

Plan your Trans-Siberian tour with Real Russia

Explore, Discover and experience Real Russia’s range of personalised Trans-Siberian tours

Ever wanted to travel the Trans-Siberian, but been unsure of how or where to start? There is certainly plenty to think about from the trains and hotels you need to book to what you should do when you have a bit of time and reach your city of choice. Our tours have been designed for those of you thinking ‘where do I begin?’ Created by travel-lovers for travellers from all walks of life, whether solo backpacker, couple or group.

Everyone is different when it comes to holidays, and we understand that this means you may want more or less help along the way. With this, we have categorised out tours based on the level of involvement you want from us with our Explore, Discover and Experience packages.

What do the different tour packages mean?


Our Explore tour packages allow travellers total control over their own tour and is perfect for backpackers who like to go it alone or visit places away from the usual tourist hotspots. We will arrange transfers to and from the train station and arrange 2* to 3* accommodation for you. We will also be there to advise you on the best places to eat, stay and visit on your journey.


Our Discover tour packages are designed for tourists who want a balance between self-directed exploration and those that need some help choosing the best places to visit. These tours include 3* or 4*accommodation, transfers to and from the train station and a selection of half-day excursions.


Our Experience tour packages provide tourists with a complete personal service tailored to you, with the option of having as little to arrange as possible. Aside from arranging 4* accommodation, transfers to and from the train station, and any trains you need, we will curtate an itinerary of places to eat and visit for you based on the things you like. Allowing you to sit back, relax and enjoy your trip!

The benefits of booking a tour package with Real Russia

  1. A complete personal experience – You will have a guide with you 1 to 1 and will not be part of any other group. You are free to customise your tour to suit you!
  2. Itineraries are chosen based on past customer experiences – We want to make sure that our tours are the best, that’s why we only include tours that have tried, tested and enjoyed by past customers of Real Russia.
  3. Years of experience – We have a significant amount of experience booking and arranging trips through Russia and beyond, so we can offer guidance and recommendations from experience every step of the way.
  4. Expertise of staff – hand in hand with our years of experience, we have built a solid team of staff with expertise on a range of travel areas from visas and trains to hotels and excursions. Any problems you encounter on your trip can be dealt with efficiently with minimal stress.
  5. All our tours include accommodation and transfers – We will arrange accommodation and transportation for you, so you don’t have to!

Book your Trans-Siberian tours with Real Russia!

Window View from Train

With over 15 years’ experience in Russian and Trans-Siberian travel, we are confident that we can offer a tour to suit your needs and budget. All our tours have been tried and tested to ensure that they maintain the quality and level of enjoyment we expect.

Visit our Trans-Siberian tours page to learn more or book a tour with us today!.

Real Russia Blog

Win a copy of Matthew Woodward’s new book, ‘The Railway to Heaven’

Win a copy of Matthew Woodward’s new book, ‘The Railway to Heaven’

Share your Trans-Siberian stories with us for a chance to win a free copy of expert travel writer, Matthew Woodward’s book, ‘The Railway to Heaven’

Have you been on the Trans-Siberian and have an interesting story to tell? If so, we want to hear from you!

From now until the end of November we will be running a competition for past travellers of the Trans-Siberian for a chance to win a copy of travel expert, Matthew Woodward’s new book ‘The Railway to Heaven’.

To enter the competition, we will need:

  • 2 photos taken from your Trans-Siberian journey with one of these featuring you in it. (If you have a video from your journey or would like to send a video entry instead, we are happy to accept this).
  • A minimum of 300 words describing your Trans-Siberian experience (you are more than welcome to write more!).
  • One word or sentence that sums up your experience.

Where to submit your entry

All entries should be sent by email to by 30th November 2019, any stories we receive after this date will not be entered. Once we have received your entry, we will send an email response confirming that we have received this.

Please note: We may feature some of the stories sent to us in blog posts leading up to the winner being announced, therefore by sending your story and photos to us you will be accepting that this information can be used on our website and social channels.

We cannot guarantee that all stories sent to us will be featured.

Announcing the winner

The winner of the competition will be announced a week or so after the deadline, no later than the 13th December.

If you have any questions about the competition, please feel free to contact us directly at

Best of luck!

Real Russia Blog

A beginner’s guide to Russian train travel

A beginner’s guide to Russian train travel

An essential guide answering the most common questions regarding Russian train travel

Train travel is one of the simplest ways to navigate the vast expanse that is Russia, from speedy domestic trains connecting major cities such as Moscow and St. Petersburg to international sleeper trains operating on the Trans-Siberian train route.

In this post, we will equip you with the essential facts you need to know about Russian train travel from planning, booking and understanding your train ticket to what you need to take with you.

Are Russian trains reliable?

Perhaps the most frequent question we get asked is, ‘are Russian trains reliable?’. Simply put, yes. Russian trains are often on time so you should always aim to get to your platform a good 10-15 minutes before you need to leave.

What types of Russian trains are there?

Russia has a variety of trains in operation including high-speed, firmeny, skory, Elektricha, passenger and more. Therefore, it can be useful to read up on the different types of trains available before planning your journey.

You can find a comprehensive list of Russian trains and some information about these on our website.

How do I understand Russian train classes?

Russian train classes can be quite tricky to understand, moreover, you may even find that some facilities differ depending on the age of the train.

View our ‘Classes of Russian Trains’ poster below for a brief overview of Russian train classes and what to expect. For a downloadable version, please click on the image below.

Russian Train Classes Poster
Classes of Russian train carriages

Onboard . . .

Since we provide train tickets for Russia ourselves, we often get asked questions that are not concerned with the usual booking procedure and understanding of train classes. With this in mind, our train experts have picked out some of the most common questions which should help alleviate some of that pre-travel angst.

Russian Train Interior Seating
Seating on a Russian train

Is it possible to pay with card on trains?

This largely depends on the type of train you take. Newer domestic trains may now take card payments for products or food purchased on the train; however, most older commuter trains may not have card payment facilities. When taking Trans-Siberian trains from Russia, it is important to note that other countries such as Mongolia, have a currency that often cannot be acquired easily prior to entering the country and may not have card facilities. Therefore, you should adequately prepare yourself with supplies for this leg of your journey.

Are showers available on the trains?

This depends on the type of train and class you choose. Some privately-run trains that operate between Moscow and St. Petersburg may have showers provided in certain classes. First-class cabins may have a shower shared between two cabins although these are usually shower heads connected to a tap on the wall rather than conventional showers. Luxury trains such as the Golden Eagle offer private en-suite bathrooms with a power shower.

Which power sockets are used in Russia?

Russia operates on a 220V supply voltage and 50Hz; they have two plug types which are the C and F. Both plug types use two round pins as standard in Europe.

For Trans-Siberian travellers passing through different countries, we recommend packing a multi-adapter as the power mains may change if you need to swap trains in a different country. UK travellers will need an EU converter plug to convert the 3 square prongs into the standard EU two prongs.

Is vegetarian food available on Russian trains?

Vegetarians shouldn’t have too many problems finding things to eat on the train. Vegetarian dishes are available on most menus and bread, fruit and vegetables can be purchased on many train station platforms. Trans-Siberian travellers may find themselves restricted for choice if visiting countries such as Mongolia which are prolific meat-eating countries, although you should still be able to find something.

Bar and Snacks on Russian Train
Bar on a Russian train

Are there disabled facilities on Russian trains or stations?

It is possible to find disabled facilities on certain trains, such as the Sapsan, that travels between Moscow and St. Petersburg. Unfortunately, disabled facilities are not widespread yet, however, newer trains are starting to challenge this. It is possible to find a lift at the carriage entrance on these trains to aid wheelchair-bound passengers on these trains and the cabins will have wider corridors and cabins. Plug sockets, call buttons and switches will have braille instructions for passengers with visual impairments.

Most train stations have facilities for disabled passengers including toilets and wheelchair ramps.

Are pets allowed on Russian trains?

Pets are allowed on Trans-Siberian trains although you must buy a specific ticket that allows a pet to accompany you. Any pets you take must be small and need to be kept in a cage or carrier of some kind that will easily fit in the spaces provided for regular luggage. Exceptions are made for guide dogs who are allowed anywhere onboard free of charge.

If you have any other questions regarding Russian train travel, please see our Russian trains FAQs.

Booking made simple with Real Russia!

If you plan to travel by train around Russia or on the Trans-Siberian, our website can help! We show live train schedules, average ticket prices and have our own simple and straightforward booking process should you wish to book your train tickets with us. If you are unsure about the type of ticket you need or have any questions, please contact our dedicated train travel experts.

Planning a whole Trans-Siberian journey? Use our Trans-Siberian planner to help align your train journeys side-by-side!

Real Russia Blog

3 ways to explore Russia by train

3 ways to explore Russia by train

Sit back, relax, and discover Russia with these inspirational train routes.

Russia is a huge country spanning 17,125,200 square miles and consisting of approximately 1/8 of the earth’s inhabited land. From vast freshwater lakes to huge rocky mountain ranges, Russia’s unprecedented size and dramatic landscapes cannot be understated. So, how do we even begin to think about exploring a country that is almost twice the size of the rest of Europe combined? Well, by train of course!

Why travel Russia by train?

The pros and cons of Russian train travel

Travelling by train in Russia is not without its problems. For one, train stations, especially in larger cities such as Moscow or St. Petersburg, are notoriously crowded and deal with both domestic and international passengers. In rural areas, navigating trains can be difficult since timings, place names and information is mostly in Russian with very little English available. Aside from this, train travel across Russia will take you hours which is understandable for a country of its size.

Moscow Train Station Train Board

Despite these difficulties, travelling Russia by train is an enriching and albeit rewarding experience for any traveller that wants to really see what Russia is about. While planes may take you across Russia in a fraction of the time, trains allow you plenty of opportunity to really immerse yourself in Russian culture from your seat. What’s more, travelling by train has less impact on the environment than other forms of transport, so what’s not to love?

3 awe-inspiring train routes you must take when exploring Russia

Baikal-Amur Mainline (BAM)

Around 2680 miles long, the Baikal-Amur mainline was built as an alternative to the Trans-Siberian railway, officially starting from Tayshet (although western travellers often join at Irkutsk) and travelling east towards the Pacific Ocean. Much of the BAM is constructed over permafrost so highly durable materials that can withstand severe terrain and weather conditions have been used as part of the track design.

The route:

  • Tayshet
  • Bratsk (crossing the Angara River)
  • Ustkut (crossing the Lena River)
  • Severobaikalsk (northern tip of Lake Baikal)
  • Tynda
  • Khani
  • Komsomolsk-on-Amur (crossing the Amur River)
  • Sovetskaya Gavan
Things to experience on the Baikal-Amur mainline

Lake Baikal – One of the most popular tourist spots in Russia, Lake Baikal is the largest and deepest freshwater lake in the world with a maximum depth of 1,632m and measuring 23,000 cubic km in size. Aside from spectacular views, the lake is home to the only freshwater seal in the world.

Lake Baikal, Russia

Kirov railway

The Kirov railway is a Russian rail network linking Murmansk with St. Petersburg. Although a relatively short railway journey (around 900 miles) compared with the Trans-Siberian, the Kirov is still a popular journey for tourists wanting to explore The Northern-most parts of Russia. The line was originally known as the Murman railway and has been of strategic military importance since Murmansk is one of the few ice-free ports on the Arctic Sea.

The route (ARKTIKA):

  • St Petersburg
  • Saint Petersburg Ladozhski
  • Volkhov
  • Volkhovstroy 1
  • Lodeynoye Pole
  • Podporozh'ye
  • Svir’
  • Petrozavodsk
  • Kondopoga
  • Kyappesel'ga
  • Medvezh'ya Gora
  • Segezha
  • Nadvoitsy
  • Idel'
  • Belomorsk
  • Kem'
  • Kuzema
  • Engozero
  • Ambarnyy
  • Loukhi
  • Chupa
  • Knyazhaya
  • Kandalaksha
  • Polyarnyye Zori
  • Apatity 1
  • Olenegorsk
  • Kola
  • Murmansk
Things to experience on the Kirov railway

Mumansk – Murmansk is a port city located in the northwestern part of Russia close to the Norweigian border, now home to numerous naval monuments and even a museum ship, Lenin. Aside from the city’s impressive military history, Mumansk and the Kola peninsula is one of the best destinations in Russia to see the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) with over 40 days of clear night skies.

Soviet Era Steam Train


As the longest railway in the world at around 5772 miles, the Trans-Siberian is without question one of the most extraordinary engineering achievements of recent times. Renowned for its ability to connect Western and Eastern Russia (Moscow to Vladivostok), the Trans-Siberian is an icon for train enthusiasts and travellers alike. This major route works as an artery for traversing Asia and splits into three main routes, the first, official route leading to Vladivostok, the second starting from Moscow and heading to Bejing, China (Trans-Manchurian), and the third starting from Moscow and heading to Bejing via Ulaan-Baatar (Trans-Mongolian).

The route (Trans-Siberian)

  • Moscow
  • Yaroslavl
  • Kirov
  • Perm
  • Yekaterinburg
  • Tyumen
  • Omsk
  • Novosibirsk
  • Krasnoyarsk
  • Tayshet
  • Irkutsk
  • Ulan-Ude
  • Chita
  • Birobidzhan
  • Khabarovsk
  • Vladivostok
Things to experience on the Trans-Siberian

Kazan – A major tourist destination located on the banks of the Volga River, Kazan is known for its multi-ethnic history and was the capital of the Tatarstan Republic. This city boasts a multitude of cultural delights including the only surviving Tatar fortress in Russia, the Kazan Kremlin and the Qol Sharif Mosque.

Ulan Ude – Ulan Ude is a vibrant city close to the border of Mongolia, and home to the Buryats an indigenous people with a proud heritage spanning many generations. Today, the city is known for being the centre of Buddhism in Russia.

Ulan Ude Ivolginsky Datsan

Get your journey started – book your train tickets with us online today!

Why people choose us for Russian train travel

At Real Russia, we pride ourselves on being able to deliver a fast, stress-free service to our customers. Our live train schedules highlight any days that trains are departing between your selected cities and the scheduled trains section will list all trains running for your chosen month. We also offer a secure order tracking process so you can double-check your train tickets before you travel. Need help planning your journey? Our destinations page will go through some of the most popular Russian cities to visit. For more information on how to understand and book your Russian train tickets, please visit our dedicated Russian trains page or contact us directly.

If you are interested in booking any supplementary tours along the way, why not take a look at the Russian tours we have on offer? We have a range of excursions to suit any budget.

Real Russia Blog

Customer Tales: The Ultimate Trans-Siberian Adventure

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, 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.


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.


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.

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

Taking the Trans-Siberian Railway into Kazakhstan

Taking the Trans-Siberian Railway into Kazakhstan

Why taking a detour to Kazakhstan can be surprisingly good idea for those who embark on the Trans-Sib

Many travellers enjoy going off the beaten path, searching for unexpected experiences. German travel blogger, Patrick, approached us with just this idea, wanting to take an often-overlooked detour on his Trans-Siberian route.

Patrick’s Journey

Most tourists on the Trans-Siberian Railway travel across Russia before continuing to Mongolia and further into China. However, the possibility to take a detour to Kazakhstan is often overlooked. Let me tell you why it’s worth including Kazakhstan in your Trans-Siberian Railway experience!

I didn’t know anything about Kazakhstan when I started planning my Trans-Siberian Railway experience, but when looking on the map I realized how close I would actually come to the country on my journey. That’s when I contacted the helpful staff of Real Russia, asking if there was an opportunity for a detour into Kazakhstan. Real Russia's staff adapted my schedule to lead me from Yekaterinburg into Kazakhstan, with a stop in the futuristic capital, Astana, and the eastern city Semey, before continuing up north into Russia towards Novosibirsk. I was super excited to discover another new country and learn more about Kazakhstan!

Fast forward a few weeks, I found myself in the middle of my Trans-Siberian Railway experience on the train leaving Yekaterinburg and heading towards Astana. I was a little bit nervous about the border crossing, which happened in the middle of the night. We first had to pass Russian immigration to get an exit stamp and a few kilometers later the Kazakh immigration to receive an entry stamp. Luckily, immigration procedures happen on the train with border police making their way through the compartments, checking and stamping passports. Despite the complete language barrier the process was smooth, Germans luckily don’t need a visa for Kazakhstan.

Futuristic architecture in Astana

I made it to Kazakhstan! The train took me through the Kazakh countryside until I finally reached Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana. It was one of the biggest surprises of my journey. I didn’t know what to expect, but I certainly didn’t expect to find myself in such a modern and futuristic city! Astana has developed at an incredible speed in the last few years with the most futuristic architecture I’ve ever seen. I spent 3 days in Astana, walking through the city and marveling at the buildings. From the top of Bayterek tower, I could see the whole city, and the no man’s land between Russia and Mongolia. I saw the beautiful presidential palace and visited the National Museum, where I finally learnt more about the countries’ history. Astana is a surreal place and therefore certainly one of my big travel highlights – I recommend anyone to visit!


From Astana, the train took me further into Kazakhstan’s east and I had another stop planned in Semey. Semey is a big contrast to futuristic Astana. The area around the city was used for nuclear experiments in the Soviet regime, leading to big health issues in the population. The city is a lot poorer, less developed and less modern than Astana. It was interesting to see a different, probably more realistic, part of the country. Although there’s not much to do, I enjoyed my time in Semey. I visited the most shocking and unusual museum I’ve ever been to – the Anatomical Museum in the Medical University. A variety of disfigured fetuses are exhibited, showing the horrible results of nuclear exposure. Visiting this museum is certainly not enjoyable, but it’s part of the history and therefore a very interesting place to explore.

The Stronger Than Death monument in Semey

From Semey, I took another train up north, crossed again into Russia and continued my Trans-Siberian Railway experience to Novosibirsk – the capital of Siberia!

I certainly recommend anyone to include Kazakhstan in their Trans-Siberian railway itinerary. It is still one of those unexplored, non-tourist heavy countries which offers so much to see and do. People were extremely friendly and helpful, and it offered a unique experience. Put Backpacking Kazakhstan on your bucket list, you won't regret it – I will certainly be back!

I’m Patrick, a travel blogger from Germany with the goal to visit every country in the world. Make sure to check out my travel blog to read more about my adventures!
Read more about Kazakhstan in our blogs and contact our travel specilists for expert travel advice and they will be happy to assist!

Real Russia Blog

I travelled 5,793 kilometres on the Trans-Siberian railway

I travelled 5,793 kilometres on the Trans-Siberian railway

Read excerpts from an article by Javier Sinay, recently published in the Argentine newspaper La Nacion.

Javier Sinay travelled 5,793km across the iconic Trans-Siberian route (the whole thing measures 9,288km!), seeing unrivalled natural beauty, and finding himself equally entranced by the locals and travellers the route attracts. Here are a few excerpts from an article he originally published in La Nacion, telling the tale of his Trans-Siberian adventure.

The Trans-Siberian Route and how it came to be

The Tran-Siberian Train, sometimes called The Tran-Sib, isn’t a single journey. Its central route is 9,288km from East to West Russia, ending in Vladivostok, the great Russian port of the Pacific Ocean. The route is a collection of unforgettable images showing the changing and varied cultures of Russia. Moscow, Kazan, Yekaterinburg, Omsk, Krasnoyarsk, Irkutsk, home to the awe-inspiring Lake Baikal, and Ulan-Ude are some of the most memorable stops on the train. Ulan-Bator and Beijing appear beyond, like two intense epilogues.

The train was created at the end of the 19th Century, under the government of Tsar Alexander |||, to unite St. Petersburg and Moscow with Sibera, a giant region rich in resources, and the Pacific Coast. In 1891, some 90,000 workers, soldiers and prisoners, began the work of cutting roads, cutting down trees, digging tunnels and building bridges. It took 25 years to complete.

The rail foundations to Vladivostok cost around 330 million rubles, equivalent to 7,000 million dollars today. It was too much for a disappearing empire but China was expanding in the South, and though half the Russian territory was almost empty, the Tsar could not idly stand by. The train was inaugurated in 1916 and by then a war with Japan, in 1904 and 1905 had served as an early trial for rail utility.

With the passage of time, some 4 million people arrived in Siberia from the West to work in the new stations and in the budding infrastructure of a new steppe. Russia built the Trans-Siberian railway, and in return, the Trans-Siberian railway helped build Russia.

Discovering Russia through its people

I’m travelling in a Platskartny car, the third class. The wagon has 54 bunks, without doors or divisions, a single plug to share, and no WiFi. There are almost no foreigners, instead local families, workers and soldiers travel. I carry a Russian to Spanish phrase-book and when I say “Ya iz Argentiny”, there are surprisingly long talks.

Zina is my travelling companion for the 900km journey between Yekaterinburg and Omsk. She’s a quiet, shy girl who studies Geography and lives in Omsk, near the Kazakhstan border. She was, in fact, raised in Petropayl, a city in Kazhakstan. I ask about Petropayl and her face lights up, she tells me it’s quiet with lots of trees.

We have the simple, nostalgic melody of the train as accompaniment while we talk, play chess and share sandwiches. Although one of the most repeated tips I heard was, “Do not accept Vodka from strangers on the train”, I do. On the last leg of my Trans-Siberian journey, I am the one with homemade vodka, a gift from a muzhik from Irkutsk, and offer it to strangers.

Anton, another neighbor, cannot believe I’m Argentinian and travelling on the Trans-Siberian train; Zina acts as our interpreter. It’s past 10PM and the train lights have gone out. We use our cell phones for light, and the sudden intimacy makes it seem like we’re huddled around a fireplace. Anton works in a river port processing fish. He tells me about his village, Ust-Ilimsk, where a hydroelectric dam operates. The nearest large city, Irkutsk, is 650km away. “Only a few hours’ journey”, he says, accustomed to the enormous Russian dimensions.

The Trans-Siberian verdict

The forests we see occupy almost half of Russian soil, and here, in the middle of Siberia, they appear like an incessant image through the windows. We watch the spectacle of nature, hypnotized. The sights merge with the clank of the train in a small fragment of our lives that, with the reddish colours of the morning, look like a movie. I have learned to say, ‘Krasiva Siberia’.

Experience​ the journey yourself

The trains run along the Trans-Siberian railway all year round, as well as the Trans-Manchurian and Trans-Mongolian railways. Whether you want to experience Ulan-Bator on the way to Beijing, or take in the immense natural beauty of Lake Baikal before heading to Vladivostok, Real Russia will be able to help. Who knows what friends you might make on the way?

Real Russia Blog

Meet the team: Andrew Glenister

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?


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.

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

Experiences interacting with locals

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.
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

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!