Tag Archive for: Trans-Siberian

Trains are somehow magical. They fit so well in some of the most beautiful stories. Or at least that’s how I always used to perceive them. Some of the most enchanting journeys in the world are done by train and some trains go where other transportation methods are not offered a chance.

After a short stay in the Russian capital, we started our big adventure on board the Trans-Siberian line, a 9.289 kilometers long network of railways that connects Moscow with the Russian Far East and probably the best option to choose when it comes to crossing a wilderness of snow and ice-cold temperatures like we did.



The Trans-Siberian journey begins

Our journey with the Trans-Siberian started on the 17th of March, late in the night. Feeling full of excitement and curiosity for how our trip would feel like, we waited patiently inside a coffee place at the station when the time table displayed the arrival time of the train that would bring us to Irkutsk, in the heart of Russia. The train happened to be full of friendly people that didn’t speak any English, or just a few words, but with whom we were still able to communicate and share at least a bit of our story.

It felt somehow hard to be trapped in a train for almost 4 days, but we enjoyed the warm temperature, the hot tea and the instant noodles that could be prepared right in our tiny cabin. We remembered how small our cabin onboard the cruise ship was and were laughing how small it became now.




There are a few things worth mentioning about the ride onboard the Trans-Siberian.

  • Every carriage has two responsible persons, called Provodnik (male) or Provodnitsa (female). They provide passengers with bed linen, answer questions if there are any, provide food and sweets or souvenirs on request, keep the carriage clean and they even wake you up before the arrival at the destination point.
  • There is always hot water available, so bringing tea, instant coffee or instant food with you is a good idea.
  • They have a restaurant. We cannot say much about prices and the quality of the food because we weren’t tempted to try it, as we have bought all the necessary things before departure. Still, in the second part of our trip, from Irkutsk to Vladivostok, we were offered a meal which was quite good.
  • Hygiene might be considered a problem, especially if the trip is longer than a day. There is no shower available, only a small toilet where you can use a small towel provided by the Provodnik to clean yourself.
  • It is safe to travel with. The Provodnik always makes sure that everyone boarding the train has a ticket and that everyone respects the other passengers.
  • It is fun. The landscapes are amazing and the experience itself is entertaining. For us it really felt like a trip to remember.

After our stay at Baikal Lake we boarded the train again. The trip to the end of the line lasted only three days and we had a bit more comfort because the train was newer and standards were higher than in the first one that brought us to Irkutsk. It was early in the morning and the first hours were probably the most entertaining of the whole trip. The part from Irkutsk to Ulan-Ude goes around the Baikal, offering amazing sceneries.

At the end of our trip we arrived in Vladivostok, the largest Russian port on the Pacific Ocean. The city offered a cold and grey landscape when we arrived, but the afternoon brought a blue sky and a bit of sun which made our short stay in the city feel pleasant.

The Trans-Siberian has been just the start of a long journey. It brought us far away from home and much farther we will continue going from here. A few pictures should help you get an idea of how it felt traveling across Russia by train.


Would you like to see some more pictures of Russia? Click here.

After three days in the Russian capital, other three in the middle of Siberia, exploring the mesmerizing landscape offered by the wilderness of forest, plains and cold semi-desert that surrounds the Baikal Lake, and another seven days onboard the Trans-Siberian, we finally arrived at our last destination in the Russian Federation, Vladivostok, the largest Russian port on the Pacific Ocean.



The unofficial capital of the Russian Far East is located around the Golden Horn Bay, not far from the Russian borders with China and North Korea and is one of the main access points to Japan. Our initial plan was to cross the Sea of Japan onboard of a ferry departing from Vladivostok, but then we found out that the price for the flight to Japan from the city’s airport was much more convincing, so we decided to travel by air.


What to see in Vladivostok

We had a short stay in Vladivostok, but enough to explore the city and get a feeling of what the Russian Federation looks like at the other end of its wide territory. You can easily observe how different cultures get mixed here. Multiple shops and signs in Asian alphabet made us feel the presence of people from East Asia, other than Russians (it is worth mentioning that before two centuries ago the city used to be a Chinese province and after the end of First World War it became a Japanese enclave for a short period of time).

We spent the night at a small and cozy hostel that offered also a beautiful panoramic view of the city and we shared the moments of walking outside in the cold with the ones hiding in coffee places, to refresh and warm-up.

One of the pleasant experiences that we had there was the re-encounter with the ocean. The port is not one of the biggest that we have seen, but the few ships that could be spotted in the area, including a passenger ship, made the general atmosphere feel very familiar to the ones we experienced in the past.



The last morning in Russia happened to be very cold, which helped us get easily over our nostalgia of leaving Russia behind. We took a minibus to the airport (the 107), because of the lower price, but we had to endure a bit more the cold than we were supposed to, as local buses don’t seem to respect their schedule. So, if any of you are planning a future trip leaving from Vladivostok, we suggest choosing the probably more comfortable option, and taking the train to the airport, even if a few rubles extra will have to pay for the extra comfort.



Would you like to see more pictures? Click here.

At the end of our 4 days trip onboard the Trans-Siberian we arrived at a busy train station. It was cold and dark outside. Traveling by train across the Russian Federation is entertaining enough to compensate for the limited space and comfort, but at this point of our journey we were happy to finally sleep in a more comfortable bed and enjoy a proper shower. We crossed already the border into the Asian continent towards the wide Siberian steppes and finally arrived in Irkutsk, our gate to the Baikal Lake.



The city of Irkutsk

Irkutsk is the sixth-largest city in Siberia, the capital of the Irkutsk region and the commonly named capital of Eastern Siberia. This historically important city is, by far, the most popular stop on the Trans-Siberian Railway between Moscow and the east border of the country, but also the connection point with the road towards Mongolia.

We were lucky enough to find sunny weather there, but even so we needed to hide quite often from the -14 degrees that were making our walk through the city a difficult challenge. It all felt very different from Moscow. We observed how much the architecture changed compared to the buildings in the capital and we could see a deep contrast between the old and new Irkutsk. Old houses, old buses and monuments of the past were taking us back in time, to the years when historical facts made the life of the people living here change a lot. In the early 19th century, during and after the Decembrist revolt against Tsar Nicholas I, people of varying backgrounds were sent into exile in Siberia, influencing the cultural and educational development of this city. Colorful motifs are widely spread and easily visible, especially on the old houses, that are considered historical monuments. But these houses don’t look like they are being taken care of, as if people are just waiting for them to fall so that new buildings will take their place.


We could see people moving everywhere, from the very early hours of the day till later in the evening, making us understand how busy and crowded the city is. Luckily we had to deal only with the local crowd, as the touristic season was still far in time from starting. We wanted to experience Siberia and the Baikal during winter, but, if locals had it easy to adapt to the extreme temperatures, we felt like being more vulnerable to it than we previously thought. So we didn’t feel sorry for leaving the city just three days later and embark again on the train that would bring as to our final destination in Russia.


What to do in Irkutsk

What we enjoyed most about Irkutsk? First of all the cold, hard to bear but beautiful winter. We wandered for several hours on the busy streets, but we admit that winter in Russia looks more beautiful from the window of a warm room or coffee place. But, despite the low temperatures, the sun was kind enough to show itself from time to time, which was enough to boost our determination to continue walking and discover as much from the city as we could.



We also found joy in exploring the city, the busy streets, the colorful houses and the touristic spots without tourists.

We visited several landmarks, like the Epiphany Cathedral, the Kirov Square, the Academic Drama Theater, the Clock Tower, the Red Catholic Church and the Church of the Saviour. The best view of the city we got from the bridge above the Angara River, that separates the city into two parts, customarily referred to as the “left bank” and the “right bank”.



One of the three days spent in Irkutsk we dedicated to exploring the Baikal Lake, which was only 69 km away from us, easy reachable by bus. More about our experience at the Baikal Lake you can read here or if you would like to see more pictures click here.

While Irkutsk is one of the most important Russian cities in western Siberia, it is a popular destination mostly because it offers easy access to the famous Baikal Lake, the oldest, deepest and largest freshwater lake by volume in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Baikal is a rift lake in Russia that contains 22% of the world’s fresh surface water and it is home to diverse fauna and flora.



It is not just the beautiful nature that makes the Baikal Lake such an interesting destination, but also its history and importance in the Russian culture and traditions. Referred to also as the sacred lake, The Baikal is part of the Russian folklore and plays an important role in many local creation myths.



How to get to Baikal Lake

We took the bus in our second day in Irkutsk towards Listvyanka, the closest point to reach the lake, a popular winter and summer tourist village. We happened to be some of the very few tourists in the area, so we got to enjoy the deep silence of the place. We found houses covered in snow and we were offered to see the breathtaking view of this gigantic and, at that time, frozen lake.



The cold temperatures produce a layer of surface ice as thick as one and a half meters, making the lake a playground for people and, in some areas, even for cars. We found out that in winter the Baikal Lake connects the settlements at its northern and southern ends, making it possible for cars to drive on its frozen surface. Driving on the ice road, that links Listvyanka to Bolshoie Koty, can be a beautiful experience but also a frightening one. Not to mention that it is also against the law. Actually, it is legal to drive on the lake only on the route to Olkhon Island, the road being prepared by specialists every year and it opens when the ice conditions allow it. This road through the lake is 12 kilometers long and it goes from the village Kurkut on the mainland to Irkutskaya Guba on Olkhon island. But we saw car tracks in many places, which made us understand that people are not afraid to enjoy a spectacular ride on the frozen lake, elsewhere than where they are admitted.



The magical village of Listvyanka

Listvyanka is a beautiful place that offers a spectacular view of the lake and refreshing hikes when the weather makes it possible. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the opportunity to go hiking, but the surroundings clearly convinced us that it is worth coming back a second time. We tried walking on ice, together with many other people that came to enjoy ice sculptures on the lake and a rink, surrounded by colorful lights that made the frozen landscape look less frightening. These frozen waters are home to the famous Omul, a fish that is endemic to Lake Baikal and also the object of one of the largest commercial fisheries on Lake Baikal.

We said goodbye to the Baikal the next morning, after enjoying good coffee and tasty Russian pancakes at the Sval restaurant, where, the previous evening we were served grilled Omul and Omul soup, which is part of the unique cuisine of the settlements that surround the Baikal.


We arrived back in Irkutsk in the afternoon, where we packed again our backpacks and continued our trip to Vladivostok, the last city on the Trans-Siberian line and our departure point towards Japan.

Would you like to see more pictures? Click here.

The Russian Federation is the largest country in the world by area. The 17,125,200 square kilometers wide country is home to more than 144 million people. During our 14-days trip through Russia we have learned many curious facts about this country. 

Fact #1

We took the train from the capital Moscow to Irkutsk, a city close to the famous Baikal Lake. While taking this train we went along the longest railway line in the world. The Trans-Siberian Railway connects Moscow with the other end of the country (Vladivostok) since 1916. The line consists of 9,289 km that is equal to 5,772 miles. There are several other branch lines leading towards Mongolia, China or South Korea. The Railway is not only used to carry passengers, as well as around 200,000 containers per year are brought towards Europe.
It passes a total of 8 time zones, which brings us to fact number two. 



Fact #2

Russia has 11 time zones and is the only one that has 10 of them in one landmass. The zones stretch from UTC +2 to UTC +12. Since 2011 there is no more Daylight Saving Time. Imagine New Year’s Eve there ?. 


Fact #3

Russians are well known for their feeling for fashion. Especially young and elderly women can be found even in extreme winter conditions well dressed and with perfect makeup on.  One thing we were wondering still, how can you wear a short dress or skirt when it is so cold? Really ladies, how do you manage that? Maybe the aspect of fashion is more important than we thought. The next fact is about men fashion.


Fact #4

Already during the first days I was wondering why most of the men were wearing their traditional hat above their ears, instead of using it to keep them warm. So I made some researches. This, especially in winter worn hat is called Ushanka and leads from the Russian word “Ushi”, that means ears. It is said that the ear flaps are worn to crown the hat and they are only pulled down when it gets colder than -20 degrees. And indeed we have seen many men wearing their Ushanka with the flaps ahead, an interesting tradition carried out by young and elderly men.  



Fact #5

Omul, the specialty from Baikal Lake. The Baikal Lake is the largest freshwater lake in the world, by the volume, and the world deepest lake. This area is home to the Omul Fish. It is part of the salmon family and traditionally served with pepper, salt and onion in all kinds of ways: cooked, grilled, dried in form of a soup or a salad.
We stay in the culinary corner with the next fact.  



Fact #6

In Russia and even outside of Russia you will always find them drinking Tea. Next to Vodka the tea plays an important role. The tea culture in Russia is not only about the drink, but it’s also an essential piece of social life. Usually, black tea is served. In small supermarkets you can find most of the time only black or green tea. Other kinds of tea exist in pharmacies or big supermarket chains.  


Fact #7

One thing Russia is very proud of is the world-famous Metro line in Moscow. I personally haven’t seen anywhere else such charming Metro stations. It’s not only known for its beauty but also plays an important role in the daily life of many inhabitants of Moscow. It connects 12 lines with 207 stations.  


Fact #8

The next curious fact is about transportation as well. We have seen several cars with the steering wheel on the right side. First we thought only the older cars have it but with a deeper look you can find almost the equal amount of cars with the steering wheel on the right and the left side, older and newer cars. Especially the more east you come the more you find them. The simple explanation is that many cars are imported from Japan and there they drive on the left side of the street.  



Fact #9

Everything is translated into Russian. And everyone that has ever seen a Russian word knows that they are using a completely different alphabet. This is also the reason why sometimes it was very difficult to orientate ourselves, as even names were translated and due to the different alphabet it’s not even possible to find a connection between words. In some areas as airports or some train stations you could find some English words. What I found weird is that even the names of big brands like McDonalds or BurgerKing were translated. But don’t worry, this should not be a reason not to travel to Russia as we found everywhere some friendly people in case we needed help. And if you want to communicate there is always a way!  



 Would you like to see more pictures of Russia? Click here.


Our trip around the world started on a cold morning with a road trip to Memmingen, near Munich in Germany, from where we took the flight to a much colder destination, Moscow. But Moscow felt cold only because of the weather. Instead, we felt the warm welcome from friendly people and the incredible atmosphere that was surrounding the city. We did not see smiles everywhere, but we got enough positive reactions from people, we found good food and good coffee to brighten our days and beautiful places to visit, altogether making our three days stay in the Russian capital feel pleasant.

But the thing that we enjoyed most was meeting our friend and former colleague from the ship, Victor. And we felt lucky to find him there since he proved to be not just a good friend, but also a wonderful guide, a warm host and skilled cook (because after coffee, some good food is essential for a good day :)


Discovering Moscow

We stayed the first two nights at a hostel close to the city center and less than half an hour walk to the main touristic attractions. Communicating was the first difficult thing to do because of the different alphabet and the fact that not many people spoke English. But being a traveler in 2018 is always made easy by Google Translate and for the time we had Victor at our side we didn’t need to worry about anything.



We made it easy for others to understand that we are tourists with our appearance. Dressed up in multiple layers of clothes, we realized that the contrast between us and the others was very noticeable. One thing that is worth speaking about when describing Moscow is the approach of the locals to fashion. You can see many Russian women dressed beautifully in colorful motifs. Probably “color” is the best word to describe the city. Impressive buildings and charming Christmas decorations (yes, Christmas lights were still around), covered in snow and accompanied by traditional songs, made the city center a place for people to feel good, to dance and to joyfully say goodbye to winter. But for us Russian winter didn’t feel like it is planning to go away soon, mostly when thinking that in just a few days later we would find ourselves lost in the wide Siberian landscape, crossing the country on board the Trans-Siberian train towards the heart of Russia.



What to see in Moscow

We found out that Moscow needs time to be discovered and enjoyed, more than the three days that we spent there. Being home to 12.2 million residents, it is among the world’s largest cities and it is the northernmost and coldest megacity and metropolis on Earth. But we were still happy with everything we discovered. Moscow’s architecture is world-renowned. Most of the important places and monuments are located in the center area, in the Red Square: the colorful Saint Basil’s Cathedral, which is a masterpiece of Russian architecture, together with the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, Lenin’s tomb and the Spasskaya Tower of the Moscow Kremlin.



While exploring the city center part, we went into the most famous GUM in Russia, a large store in the Kitai-gorod part of Moscow, facing Red Square. We’ve visited also the Bolshoi Theatre, the State Historical Museum, the main building of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia, the Tretyakovsky Proyezd, the Seven Sisters and other small monuments and beautiful streets, ending with the Komsomolskaya Square, known as Three Station Square thanks to three ornate rail terminals: Leningradsky, Kazansky and Yaroslavsky, the last one being our departure point towards the other side of this big country.



One tip for panoramic viewpoint lovers, go up on the Children’s World Department store, from where you can get a beautiful view of the city.



Would you like to see more pictures? Click here.