2016 is a special year in the calendar as it marks the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Trans-Siberian line through Russia. Undoubtedly the world’s greatest railway journey, the Trans-Siberian Railway runs like a steel ribbon across mysterious Russia connecting east and west from Moscow over the Urals, across the magnificent and endless steppe and alongside the shore of the world’s largest freshwater lake.
|Taken From Adam Travelouge|
How To Do It?
Express a penchant for train travel and the next question is almost invariably, “Have you done the Trans-Siberian?” It’s the journey nearly everyone wants to do, perhaps because it’s commonly said to be the longest you can make on a single train: the longest of the three trans-Siberian routes, between Moscow and Vladivostok, covers 9,258km (6,152 miles) and takes seven days. There is a longer one, from the Ukraine to Vladivostok, but as an introduction to the immensity of the world’s largest country and its landscapes, the Trans-Siberian experience is unrivalled.
To enjoy the longest hours of daylight and the chance of fine weather, it’s best to go between May and September, though it’s cheaper during winter. The journey can be broken into sections with overnight stays in hotels, the preferred option of many travelling on the Vladivostok route, with Irkutsk for a single stop (to see the city’s churches and museums, streets of log cabins and the preserved English-built steamship Angara) and Kazan and Yekaterinburg if time allows. The upmarket option is pampered comfort in the hotel-train style of Golden Eagle Luxury Trains, which operates a variety of itineraries each year.
The principal attraction of the journey is, of course, the Russian landscape – the vast panoramas and sense of immensity so vividly captured by such artists as Isaac Levitan and Ivan Shishkin. The taiga is mesmerising. Looking out at the panorama of larch, silver fir, pine and birch induces the kind of reverie that is one of the pleasures of train travel, a random stream of thoughts and images that drifts on like the forest. In clearings, villages that could have come from a Levitan or Shishkin painting break the spell and make one wonder what life must be like in such remote fastnesses.
There are three routes:
Moscow to Vladivostok (9,258km/6,152 miles). The longest and least popular with western travellers, taking seven nights. It runs every other day, with first-class (spalny vagon), second-class (kupé) and very basic third-class (platskartny) coaches and a restaurant car.
Moscow to Beijing via Harbin, Manchuria (8,986km/5,623 miles). The older of the two routes that reach Beijing, this was completed in the 1900s and is served by one train a week taking six nights, using Russian first- and second-class coaches. Both routes to the Chinese capital require the bogies under the coaches to be changed at the Russian/Chinese and Mongolian/Chinese borders, where the track gauge changes from 1,520mm (4ft 11 5⁄6in) to 1,435 mm (4ft 8 1⁄2in).
Moscow to Beijing via Mongolia (7,621km/4,735 miles). This is considered by many to be the most interesting of the routes, yet there is only one train a week, taking six nights. Leaving Siberia, the train of Chinese coaches, with first and second class only, crosses Mongolia via the Gobi Desert to enter China.
For something really unusual, a more northerly route across Siberia from Tayshet to Sovetskaya Gavan on the Pacific coast known as the BAM (Baikal-Amur-Maestral railway) was completed in 1991, but few western travellers take this option.
All three train routes share the same track between Moscow and Ulan Ude. The favoured places to break this section of the journey are: Kazan, to see the only surviving Tatar fortress in Russia – the huge Kremlin, which has been designated a World Heritage Site on account of the many historic buildings erected between the 16th and the 19th century within its 2km-long white walls; Yekaterinburg, to see the rather soulless church built on the site of the murder of the last Russian royal family (the city’s many pre-Soviet buildings are of greater interest); and Irkutsk, known as the “Paris of Siberia”, which has many neo-classical and wooden buildings, some of them decorated with fantastically ornate fretwork.
En route are the modestly high Ural Mountains, described by Colin Thubron as “a faint upheaval of pine-darkened slopes”. While traversing them, the train passes at kilometre post 1777 (from Moscow) a white obelisk marking the boundary between Europe and Asia. Some good pictures can be taken of the train snaking through the foothills of the Sayan Mountains to the east of Tayshet, an area of heavy logging industry, though the scenic highlight of the whole trip is probably the 180km section beside Lake Baikal. This 640km-long lake is the oldest in the world and one of the largest, its clear water populated by hundreds of species found nowhere else, and the railway winds along its cliff-lined shore.
On the Mongolian route, the empty undulating grassy steppes of the Gobi desert are the main attraction, occasionally enlivened by herds of Mongolian horses or camels and clusters of yurts.
Rolling steppes are a feature of the trans-Manchurian route, but the highlight along the way is passing through the Great Wall of China at Shanhaiguan, where the restoration work carried out on the wall is considered more sympathetic than on other stretches, where it has been too much rebuilt.
Obtaining a Russian tourist visa (valid for 30 days and available for single or double entry) is not a straightforward process, but travel agents can help or recommend a visa-support agency. Visas cannot be obtained at the border, so application must be made in advance. The necessary steps are set out at ru.vfsglobal.co.uk.
Reservations are required for all trains, so you cannot decide to hop off one and catch another without the necessary ticket. The cheapest way is to organise it yourself using a reputable specialist agent with offices in Russia, such as Real Russia (020 7100 7370; realrussia.co.uk), to make the reservations, but this can be time-consuming. Many prefer the simplicity of booking an all-inclusive package from such travel companies as:
Audley Travel (01993 838200; audleytravel.com), Railbookers (020 3327 1562; railbookers.com) or Regent Holidays (020 3553 3240;regent-holidays.co.uk).
If you want want a fully escorted tour, try one of the following:
Golden Eagle Luxury Trains (0161 928 9410;www.goldeneagleluxurytrains.com), which owns and operates a luxurious train and offers a variety of tours based on it through Russia, Mongolia and China;
Great Rail Journeys (0800 044 8844; greatrail.com), which offers escorted tours from London by Eurostar via Brussels, Berlin and Warsaw to Moscow on scheduled trains, then across Siberia by the Golden Eagle train to Vladivostok, with private en-suite sleeping cars, lounge and restaurant cars. There are stops and all-inclusive tours along the way at places such as Irkutsk, Lake Baikal, Ulan Ude and Ulan Bator in Mongolia. Prices start at £10,295.
Remember that trains run to Moscow time while in Russia, whatever the local time, so knowledge of the time zone you are in and a calculation are necessary when consulting the timetable.
For a one-way journey by service train to Vladivostok, allow £500 in second class and £800 for first class, including food. Both routes to China cost £600–£830 respectively, including food. Tickets are sold with or without service (meals). Fares for the Golden Eagle range from £9,895 to £21,195.
On the regular public trains, bedding is supplied in first- and second-class coaches, the berths being folded into seats by day. Each sleeping-car has at least two western-style toilets and a washroom with sinks. The only public trains with showers are the Trans-Mongolian Moscow–Beijing train (train 3/4), which offers a shower hose in the small washroom shared between adjacent pairs of deluxe first-class two-berth compartments. Some Chinese coaches offer a shared shower between two first-class berths.
Food quality is generally adequate, though menus are limited, in Russia typically ham and fried eggs for breakfast, schnitzel and potatoes for lunch or dinner, with soups and salads for starters. Beer, Russian champagne, vodka, chocolate and snacks are sold at the bar. The Mongolian Railways restaurant car normally serves rice and mutton, while the Chinese dining car has a good variety of Chinese dishes.
Stops at stations allow food to be bought from platform vendors or shops; fare depends on location and season, but usually includes fruit, bread, boiled eggs, pot noodles, beer and soft drinks. Be wary of cold meats and salads and always make sure you know how long each stop is (some are no more than than five minutes) before venturing far from the coach – people have been left behind.
Each carriage has a (male) provodnik or more usually a (female) provodnitsa who cleans, maintains the samovar and puts out steps at stations, so it’s as well to keep on the right side of them, but they are renowned for their taciturnity. As a rule of thumb, employ the usual convention of tipping for good service.
The experience on the Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian train is very different. Cabins have a double bed, wardrobe, TV and DVD, clever storage space and underfloor heating in the en-suite shower room. There are sumptuously appointed dining- and lounge-cars with harpist and pianist, and food and wine (included in the price) are to a very high standard. Off-train excursions are arranged at cities and places of interest along the way such as Kazan for the World Heritage Site Kremlin, Yekaterinburg and Lake Baikal, you can sample a barbeque of freshly caught fish, visit a museum of wooden buildings or join a cookery class.
What to pack
Thin clothes in summer; thick and warm in winter (when temperatures can fall as low as -40°C) with scarves, gloves, warm hat and even thermal underwear if you are planning to spend any length of time outside. But the trains are warm all year round, so you’ll want lighter clothing as well. If travelling by service train, be ready to make the most of the unlimited supply of boiling water from the samovar at the end of each coach – with your mug and spoon and chocolate, coffee, tea or packet soups. J-cloths are always useful, if only to clean the window. Also useful are a money belt (worn inside), gaffer tape, ear plugs, clothes pegs, sunglasses (even in winter), sterilised wipes, a small torch, a universal bath plug and a folding umbrella. Spare camera batteries/recharger are vital in winter as cold weather quickly depletes the charge.
What to look at online
google.ru/intl/ru/landing/transsib/en.html – for a “virtual” trip on the Trans-Siberian.
transsib.ru/Eng – an online encyclopedia dedicated to one topic.
trans-siberia.com – an independent site, based on a traveller’s experiences.
myazcomputerguy.com/everbrite/Page9.html – good advice from Ruth Imershein, an experienced and regular traveller to Russia.
Extra Info In Malay From Adam Travelogue
Apa itu Trans Siberian Railway?
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Useful Links for TSR
Get Inspire! Teaser Pictures That Caught My Attention!
Situated on the River Volga, the picturesque and historic city of Kazan is the capital of Tatarstan. Here you have the opportunity to see for yourselves its rich tapestry of history and culture. You also can explore the Kremlin Fortress, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Within the walls of this ancient citadel you will explore its stunning mosque and picture-perfect onion-domed cathedral. You will also have time to wander through the main pedestrian area of Kazan and immerse yourself in the atmosphere of the city.
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