The Big Adventure, our Trans Siberian Travels
The Golden Eagle Trans Siberian Express
Vladivostok to Moscow via Ulaan Baatar Mongolia...the worlds longest train journey of 10,651km across 7 Time Zones.
We had booked with GW Travel in the UK on The Golden Eagle, Day 1 of the 15 day itinerary commenced on Friday 20th May in Vladivostok, and Day 15 concluded in Moscow on Friday 3rd June. The Train consisted of the locomotive & 13 carriages:
From the Locomotive back...
1 - Generator carriage
2 - Passenger 1
3 - Passenger 2
4 - Passenger 3
5 - Library and Bar
5 - Restaurant Car #1
6 - Kitchen
7 - Restaurant Car #2
8 - Passenger 4
9 - Passenger 5
10 - Passenger 6
11 - Passenger 7
12 - Staff accommodation
13 - Staff accomodation
The Passenger cars were either "silver" or "gold" class cabins, and the train was pulled by different locomotives from 8 different Railway Companies on the journey.
Each cabin had an attendant to look after us, make tea/coffee, replenish our vodka bottles, clean and tidy our carriage, make up the beds, and clean the en-suite wet-room shower & toilet. All very civilized!
We left Sydney on Tuesday 17th May 2011.An early start for the 9.00am Cathay Pacific flight Sydney to Hong Kong, and then with Cathay on to Seoul.
It was my 60th birthday...not the first time that I'd spent a birthday on a plane.
We used Hotel points to stay 3 nights at the Grand Hyatt in Seoul....an excellent hotel in Itaewon so close to shopping, markets and touristy things.
The 18th & 19th of May were spent exploring Seoul. We took the local tour bus to the important sights,explored the markets, Myeong -Dong shops, and ate Korean BBQ at restaurants close to the hotel.
Day 1 Friday 20th May 2011
Another early start with a 5.00am taxi to the new Seoul Airport to get Korean Air KE981 Seoul to Vladivostok 0925: 14:05.
We were in the penalty seats...last row...but moved up 4 rows as the flight wasn't full.
The pilot took the long way..an extra 1.5 hours to the scheduled 2 hour duration as we could not fly over North Korea..they had been firing some wayward missiles a few weeks prior, so we had to divert in a semi circle over north east China.
A very bumpy flight so no food or drink..Heather said her worst flight ever.
Arrived into a decent Vladivostok Airport with very efficient Russian border control...a quick visa check and a passport stamp and we were on our way...a 2 hour drive to the Hyundai Hotel in downtown Vladivostok.
At 7pm all Golden Eagle train passengers meet as a group in the hotel lobby, and we went off to the Versaille Restaurant downtown for group dinner.
Day 2 Saturday 21st May 2011
Vladivostok Sightseeing; Yul Brynners original home, Museums, Submarine & War Memorial. Nice city, beautiful harbour views, cleaner and much busier than we had expected.
Lunch at a city restaurant "Joser" and then a travel briefing for the next 2 weeks, and then off to the main railway station at 1600 for boarding and train familiarisation.
Sent on our way by a Russian Naval band with an on time departure from Kilometre 0 Vladivostok at exactly 17:42 for an overnight to Khabarovsk.
Day 3 Sunday 22nd May 2011
Didn't sleep so well as we hadn't really experienced overnight train travel before.
Arrived into Khabarovsk 0750, breakfast on board then city sightseeing. Pleasant enough place given the harsh climate. The city is close to the Chinese border, you can see China across the border (over the Amur river). Bit cold and damp..then back on the train for 11.30am departure. Rest of the day on board marveling at the Siberian landscape and villages.
Day 4 Monday 23rd May 2011
One board the train through Siberia all day; several stops of 5 minutes or so at small well maintained and very colourful railway stations. Best not to stray too far from the train at stops..if you miss the departure, you are on your own.
Amazing scenery; villages, lakes, mountains,and a camouflaged airforce base adjacent to the track at one stage.
Day 5 Tuesday 24th May 2011
On board the train with an arrival into the city of Ulan Ude at noon, and then an engine change for the trip to Naushki which is on the Russian/Mongolian border. We stopped at Naushki from about 6pm till about 9.30pm and had dinner on the train while the Russian border folks checked our passports.
Then we put our watches back 1 hour to Mongolia time and the train crossed the "no mans land" border area to Sukhe Bator in Mongolia. From 9.30pm till 11.00pm we stayed in our train cabins while the Mongolian border folks came by and checked that everyone's passports and Visas were in order..then departed overnight for Ulaan Baatar
Day 6 Wednesday 25th May 2011
Arrived in Ulaan Baatar at 6.30am, and had breakfast on the train and 8.45 am departed for the touring!. We toured the city, including a visit to a Buddhist Monastery Gandan (Gandantegchinlen Khiid), Shukhe Baatar Square, and the Museum of Mongolian National History, then drove by bus to Terelj National Park which was only about 1.5 hour drive on a good road. Stopped for a demo of Eagle flying and rode a camel in the economy position. Fortunately I chose a good looking one, but I smelt of wet camel for the next day...
Excellent traditional lunch with dark Mongolian beer in a ger (or yurt). Also visited a nomad family ger and watched the nomads ride their horses at great speed and skill. Back in the city around 6:00 pm, we had some free time in downtown Ulaan Baatar.
At about 8:00 pm we meet for dinner in a ger restaurant with a folk music and dance performance,and a performance by a young female gymnast with a body that must have been made of flexible rubber.
At 10:50 pm, the train departed from Ulaan Baatar for Sukhe Bator on the Russian border.
Day 7 Thursday 26th May 2011
7:10 am Arrived in Sukhe Bator and the Mongolian authorities checked each person against their passport.
No photography allowed at all during the border crossing procedures.
8:30 am Departed from Sukhe Bator.
Russian border officials boarded the train at Dozorny, the actual border of Russia, and come through the carriages collecting passports. They were very friendly and we had no problems. Then we continued to Naushki and back into Russia again
For exactly 8 minutes, the train stopped in Shaluty. We got off there and on to a bus to visit an authentic village of Old Believers "Torbogatai" where we met some local people and visited their homes, and learned about the history of this culture. The Old Believers conducted a mock marriage ceremony using some passengers and fed us some traditional food which was yet another version of a Cornish pasty/Samosa/Curry Puff/Empanada etc. Very tasty...as was the beer. Also went to a small church and to a local museum with dinosaur bones..very interesting.
Then we bused to Ulan-Ude (about 1 hour drive) to tour the city on the way and make a stop at the central square...amazing Lenin statue in a very modern city. Free WiFi everywhere!
9:50 pm Train departed from Ulan-Ude
Day 8 Friday 27th May 2011
Today was amazing...a beautifully fine day around the Shores of Lake Baikal
From 03:50 to 7:10 our train parked at Slyudianka Station by the Lake, and then it left to travel along the Lake Baikal branch line.
Stunning scenery as the line winds its way around Lake Baikal- the world’s largest freshwater lake holding 20% of the worlds fresh water.
Being Russia, we had a rather special opportunity to ride on the locomotive and stood on the engine’s catwalk as the train travelled round the Lake edge.
At about 11:30 am we arrived at Polovina (‘half way’) Station, which was a very scenic lakeside spot..lots of flowers and some friendly villagers who we talked with and understood each other well enough to exchange names. We had an outdoor barbeque lunch on the shore of the lake with the local fish "Omul" which is only found in Lake Baikal. Some hardy folks went for a quick swim; the water was only 4 degrees and had been frozen over only 3 weeks prior.
At 2:00 pm the train departed for Port Baikal
We visited a small Circumbaikal Railway Museum and then crossed Lake Baikal by boat to Listvyanka Villagem and then buses took us to and open-air Museum of Wooden Architecture and to the Lake Baikal Museum where we saw the strange looking Lake Baikal seal.
Day 9 Saturday 28th May 2011
Irkutsk (Moscow time +5 hours)
The train travelled back along the shores of Lake Baikal to the main line and from 2:49-8:26 am we were stationary in Slyudinianka and then departed for Irkutsk, arriving at 10:32. We took a city tour and saw the Gagarin embankment (Yuri Gagarin, first Russian Spaceman), the icebreaker Angara and Alexander III monument, commemorating the building of the Trans-Siberian Railway
In the afternoon, we visited Decembrist Prince Volkonsky’s mansion with a private concert..which was very very boring! Luckily they had free WiFi so I politely listened while playing with my phone and reading the Australian news!
Dinner at a local restaurant with copious amounts of Vodka, with a stop by the bus on the way back to the train to flirt with a party of Russian "brides" at a wedding dress exhibition...all who seemed a bit desperate for a husband.
Day 10 Sunday 29th May 2011
All night, day and most of the next night on the train. Counting down the kilometer markers to Moscow!(It was 2500km between Irkutsk and Novosibirsk...)
Day 11 Monday 30th May 2011
1:56 am The train arrived in Novosibirsk, and we slept on board until the touring started after breakfast.
We visited inside the Opera and Ballet House, one of the largest in the world and I managed to sit in President Putins allocated chair! A bus trip to Akademgorodok to visit its Mineralogical Museum where we tried to hold a small rock about 20cm * 10cm that was extraordinarily dense and very heavy...then we went off to the Railway Rolling Stock Museum to see various vintages of Russian trains and railway equipment.Amazingly well maintained for an outdoor museum in Siberia.
At 3:59 pm the train departed from Novosibirsk - dinner on board tonight.
Day 12 Tuesday 31st May 2011
Yekaterinburg (Moscow time +2 hours)
Yekatarinburg was the home of the Tsars so there was a 1 hour documentary about Nicholas II and his family Russia’s Last
Tsar before the Train arrived in Yekaterinburg about 1.30pm.
Sightseeing included a visit to the church and memorial, and a wander around the city
At 6:53 pm the train departed from Yekaterinburg with dinner again on board the train
Day 13 Wednesday 1st June 2011
At exactly 8:31 am the Train arrived in Kazan, the capital of Tartarstan region.We are now on Moscow time’ and by 9:00 am we left for a city tour including a visit to the Kazan’ Kremlin and the Kul Sharif Mosque; and then had a a cruise on the Volga river. Widest river Ive ever seen..amazing.
We had lunch at a local restaurant in the downtown area followed by some free time in the pedestrian area of Kazan
Lovely city, beautiful buildings..only spoiled by the first McDonald's that we had seen on our travels.
At 7:10 pm the train departed from Kazan’ and we met in the train restaurant for our final dinner on board.
Day 14 Thursday 2nd June 2011
Between 8:32 and 9:15 am the Train stopped in Cherusti, and a huge Russian steam engine was attached to our carriages to take us the final 156km into Moscow.
At 12:20 pm and again exactly on time, the Golden Eagle Trans Siberian Express arrived in Moscow at the Kazansky Station.
By 1:30 pm we were having lunch at the Sudar’ restaurant in the city. We then took a ride on the Moscow Metro (subway) to look at the stunning architecture, visited
the Red Square and St. Basil’s Cathedral
and then Checked in to the Marriott Aurora Hotel before dinner. Heather almost fainted in the heat at the entry to St Basils Cathedral so we didn't get to see very much of it; a bottle of water splashed around sorted her out quite quickly though.
Later that evening we had a Farewell reception and dinner in the Petrovsky Room of the hotel..more Vodka and great food.
Day 15 Friday 3rd June 2011
After breakfast, we wandered around central Moscow; very busy, very modern and far nicer than we had expected. Then off to Vnukovo Airport for Germanwings Flight 4U 8157 at 4.00pm for Berlin.
It was definitely a big adventure; we hadn't really known what to expect of Russia, but it exceeded any expectations we had many times over. Friendly people, beautiful scenery, amazing buildings, a railway system that works and is nearly always on time, and much more "modern" than the TV will tell you. I'm just glad we didn't take the trip in Winter...but you can if you wish!