Past Travels - Trans-Siberian Railway

Trip: Trans-Siberian Railway
When: June 2005

The trans-siberian railway technically starts in Moscow, although most people begin their journey in St Petersburg, adding an additional "night" to the travel-time. There are three major routes over the continent:

Trans-Siberian: Moscow - Vladivostok
Trans-Manchurian: Moscow - Beijing, via northern China
Trans-Mongolian: Moscow - Beijing, via Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia

Whatever route you choose, it is a beast of a journey, the entire trip taking 7 days and 7 nights to complete. I did the trans-Mongolian stopping at Moscow (Day 2), Irkutsk (Day 4), Ulaan Bataar (Day 6) and Beijing. This is the only trip I have done with a tour group. I choose to use Intrepid Tours; we ended up being a group of eight people between the ages of 23 and 60 and all managed to get along well, although no lasting friendships were made. Travelling by myself it was the right choice, but I still have huge reservations about travel groups like Intrepid. It is now reasonably easy to organise the train tickets and visas yourself and with a little work it is not too difficult to arrange local guides to pick you up from the train station when you choose to disembark.

I'm going to skip over Moscow. Red Square is nice and the Kremlin, although very expensive, is fun to see but I never felt comfortable in Moscow. The place has a seedy feel and the people were, quite frankly, rude. But the Trans-Siberian...
Although the route has become somewhat of a tourist destination, it still has the romance and charm of old-style train travel. Bring a book and a map and watch as hills give way to steppes and tundra. Every four hours the train stops for 20 minutes and as the train guards walk up and down the train checking the train is still in working order, everyone disembarks for a stretch and to buy provisions from the stall holders. The stalls at these stations were one of my favourite things about the trip. Each station sold a different item - strawberries, bread, cucumbers - whatever was in season in the area. Apart from books and looking out the window there was plenty of vodka drunk with the locals on the train and the promise of delicious Brost, beetroot soup, from the dining cart at dinner.

After five nights and four days we disembarked in Irkutsk, eastern Siberia, stretched our legs and enjoyed the beautiful microclimate at Lake Bakal before heading onto Mongolia.

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