18 May ExploBear travels across the Trans-Siberian Railway
I’m an ExploBear and as a true mascot of ExploRussia I love to travel. I also like trains a lot so once I decided to make this legendary railway ride – the Trans-Siberian Railway trip. I want to share my Trans-Siberian Railway Tour impressions with you! Well, avid traveler I bet you have it on your bucket list 🙂
I know there are some hesitations to take this trip. Sure, this is the biggest country in the world with big bubble of stereotypes. So follow me to explore its real stunning nature and vibrant diverse cities going through several time zones. I hope it will show Russia from totally different perspectives.
Let the world’s greatest train adventures to explore Russia’s complexity and diversity begin!
Day 1: Welcome to Russia!
The first day in Russia arriving in Moscow! From the first minutes you feel the beauty, energy and dynamics of the capital. It is monumental and is always ON.
In the picture there is a monument of Alexander Pushkin and the square itself is called after him. Why did he deserve the honor?
Alexander Pushkin is Russian most popular poet and playwright. He is the founder of Russian literature. Our guide Elena told us so many interesting facts about him, e.g. Pushkin’s matrilineal great-grandfather was a black African page brought over to Russia as a slave. He also wrote fairy tales and I like them so much, I want to read “The Tale of the Golden Cockerel”.
And did you read Pushkin?
Day 2: Is it Moscow or a candy land?
Number one landmark of Russia is Red Square with famous St Basil’s Cathedral (in the picture). It seems to us that Domes of St. Basil’s Cathedral look like ice cream cones or like a CANDY LAND, aren’t they?
The story about this Cathedral is rather shocking one. There are two theories as to who designed the cathedral.
One is that it was designed by architects Barma and Postnik. According to the legend, Ivan the Terrible ordered that the architects be blinded after they completed work on this beautiful cathedral so that they could not replicate it elsewhere. It is known that Postnik was later involved in the construction of Kazan Kremlin, so it might be only the legend. There is another theory that the Cathedral may have been built by an Italian architect who was working in the Moscow Kremlin.
It is worth seeing for sure!
Day 3: Moscow is so imposing, let me stay here for a month!
And again so much new information that it can make you giddy.
Today I was in Moscow metro which looks more like a palace than the transportation means. To be honest Moscow metro is the most beautiful in the World and surprisingly efficient too! During Metro tour I saw some of the Stalin’s skyscrapers that also known as Seven Sisters. This one in the picture is the 172-metre, 27-storey skyscraper known as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. All skyscrapers are designed in Stalinist Empire style or Socialist Classicism. There are many interesting and even mysterious facts and legends around the construction of the Skyscrapers all were shared by ExploRussia guide during the city tour!
BTW have you ever been in Moscow? If yes what is your favourite building here?
Day 4: Kazan. There are at least 2 presidents in Russia!
12 hours on the train and you are in Kazan. I saw a totally different Russia – its Muslim side. My guide Ildus took me around the city and showed Kazan Kremlin with a mosque and orthodox church standing next to each other! It’s amazing!
What is more, you thought that there is only one president in Russia, but there are at least two of them! Kazan is the capital of the Republic of Tatarstan, and there is the president of the Republic of Tatarstan.
In the picture you see Qol Sharif Mosque the one on the territory of the Kazan Kremlin, its citadel was declared UNESCO Heritage Site in 2000. It is huge! And can include over 1500 people.
Russia is getting more and more diverse even about religions. Many Orthodox in Moscow, Muslims in Kazan. It made me think how many religions are there in Russia? Any idea?
Day 5: Sviyazhsk. Am I in a fairy-tale?
The best day trip from Kazan, I have visited Sviyazhsk. Yes, I’m in a fairy-tale! The island town of Sviyazhsk is that same fairy-tale island of Buyan, that magical land which Pushkin wrote about in one of his fairy-tales. Yes- yes that very Pushkin the monument to whom you could see it the Day 1 post.
It’s marvelous, a XVI century Russian fortress that was built by Russian tsar Ivan the Terrible before the Siege of Kazan. There are numerous monasteries along the way. And they are pretty old! One I loved is John the Baptist (Ioanno-Predtechenskiy) Monastery which dates back to 16th century!
Day 6: Maly Turysh. When I retire, I will move here!
Once I will move to Maly Turysh! Why? Because it is a heaven for me! And the reason is honey. Maly Turysh is a tiny village (with less than 20 houses), green in summer and snowy in winter, close to the Ural mountains. A local young entrepreneur Guzel and her father launched there a micro-production line of honey-products to make great products and give a job to elderly villagers. Guzel has invented a cream-honey with berries, and empowered locals to work where they live.
I learned about bees, nectar, honey popsicles, willowherbs, I picked up berries and mushrooms, I visited Russian banya (sauna). Now I became even more Russian than I was before
What was the most unique local experience you made during your trips?
Day 7: Ekaterinburg. World-famous metal is here!
Ekaterinburg is located right in the middle of the Ural mountains which is the fourth biggest city in Russia tying together East and West Russia.
Unfortunately, Ekaterinburg is famous for the unhappy ending of Romanovs dynasty who were killed by the Bolsheviks. It is a great historical drama and my local guide Lyuba made the story come alive, telling me the historical background of this story. We visited the place where now is The Church on the Blood to commemorate the Romanovs after the Russian Orthodox Church made them saints and drove to Ganina Yama (Ganin’s pit). This is where the Bolshevik hit squad tried to get rid of the bodies of the Romanov family and the remains were only discovered in the early nineties and verified by DNA testing.
Apart from this sad story, Ekaterinburg with its broad boulevards, its literature quarter, lots of young people and a big broad river is a wonderful city with a lot of places to visit. For example, the new modern Yeltsin-center a museum of the history of modern Russia and there are also a number of unusual monuments: a popular landmark Keyboard monument and a monument to Michael Jackson.
What impressed me most is that metallurgy is one of the most developed industries of the city. So, the symbol of America, known to the whole world – the Statue of Liberty – has a skeleton made of Ekaterinburg metal.
For a long time, the roof of the building of the Parliament of Britain was also covered with Urals metal.
Day 8: Time to dream and enjoy the scenery…
Now I will share my tips how to spend 38 hours and not go crazy! Just enjoy your time! I thought it would be a challenge but it’s not! I liked it so much.
Take your time to read. Great idea is to read something about Russia or books by Russian authors to understand the cultural types better. I am totally in for Dostoevsky! But simple guide-book about Trans-Siberian trip is also not a bad choice.
Try getting along with fellow travelers. Who told there is a language barrier? Share some tea (“chai”) and a chocolate. As a reverse, you can be proposed to share stronger drinks 🙂 Enjoy the intercultural conversation and use your body language
Use these rare moments to be with yourself, watch the scenery and sleep!
Any more questions about life on the train? Now I’m totally an expert and ready to answer.
Day 9: Krasnoyarsk. Siberia is not a separate country or city!
So today I arrived in Siberia!
The city of Krasnoyarsk is the geographical center of Russia and lies on both sides of the Yenisei River, which divides Siberia into the eastern and western part. I have seen no bears, yet no snow, only super welcoming people and rich and empowering nature. Siberia is, definitely, on the list of the must-see places to visit in Russia.
I enjoy Krasnoyarsk and offer you to get a glimpse of the most stunning Yenisei River view. It has a drainage basin of 2.5 million square km, covering a large portion of Siberia. Yenisey River is the largest river in Russia in terms of volume. The name of this river comes from the Evenk language. “Yenisei” from the Evenki language is translated as “big water”. A sharp name, you can not argue.
Guess what country has the same large territory as Siberia?
Day 10: I did it without ropes!
Today is a super-day! First I went straight to the Stolby (Pillars) Nature Reserve. It is an example of Taiga a pine forest surrounding a set of unique volcanic extrusions called Stolby.
The up to 96-metre high rock pillars are not only home to local rock-climbers and hikers, but also to a variety of endangered animals and plants that have found entry to the Red Book of Russia, a collection of the rarest species native to the country. There is even the ethics of climbing at Stolby-essentially free climbing i.e. without ropes as protection.
And in the evening I visited dacha of my local guide Mikhail! It is what I call unique experience: exotic, interesting and very local!
Dacha is something very Russian. It is a summer country house with a small garden. I would say that for Mikhail’s parents it is a place where they spend summer time and they really work hard to grow all that enormous harvests and then to save it for the winter pickling vegetables and making jams from all kinds of berries and fruit. I felt how important this place was for them and again want to stress that Russian people are very hospitable! I tried vegetables and berries of course! it is very yummy!
Do you want to visit local typical Russian dacha and try pancakes with a homemade jam?
Day 11: Trains will be trains!
19 hours in train and late in the evening I was in Irkutsk.
But let’s speak about trains. Trains in Russia are the most reliable mean of transportation: they can get you almost to any part of the country, they are always on time and they are safe. Despite the charming and old-school atmosphere, this is clearly the greenest choice for traveling. Unless you walk or ride your bike, train remains the most eco-friendly transport due to their energy-efficiency per passenger mile. Yes, we do care about our Planet and if possible travel by train too.
What can happen that you would prefer train to plain?
Day 12: Amazing! You can drink water just from the lake!
Here I am on an island! Like a real adventure-pro. That’s the only inhabited island of lake Baikal out of 26.
What a view! Out of the 26 islands of the lake, Olkhon Island is the only inhabited one, but it’s so much more than that. Olkhon is also the historical, cultural and archaeological center of Lake Baikal with many many important findings that make the history of the lake a bit less of a mystery. Olkhon is located close to the middle of the lake not far from the lake’s deepest point (1,642m) – that also makes the Baikal the deepest freshwater lake in the world.
The iconic sight of the island – cape Burkhan (in the picture), one of the nine famous Asian sanctuaries, said to be the place to feel the true spirit of the island.
Day 13: Have you ever seen a “Holy nose”?
In the picture you see Svyatoy Nos (Holy nose) peninsula from the magnificent cliffs. Ritual ceremonies of worshiping nature spirits were held there by Buryat shamans. Later in the XVII-XVIII centuries the Russian explorers called the cape – a nose and the Holy Nose was originally called the south-western Cape of the peninsula.
Lake Baikal is so powerful place! It is the world’s largest freshwater lake in terms of volume. It is also the deepest lake in the world and if we calculate the depth of Lake Baikal from the top of the mountains surrounding Lake Baikal down to the solid bottom of the lake, it will be equal to 12,977 meters!
When the lake freezes during the winter, an amazing phenomenon takes place: the ice is transparent, giving the amazing appearance of turquoise ice.
These are some incredible facts about the Lake, for some people these facts are not as important as the feeling of infinite freedom, unity with the wildlife and contemplation of the eternal realm of primeval wisdom that can be found while traveling across Lake Baikal.
What facts do you know about Lake Baikal?
Day 14: Irkutsk. Urban Adventures!
I spent a day in Irkutsk and explored the old Siberian city. I like walking with local guides so much! They always share not only historical information but also the city from the local perspective. I could never know from just walking myself where better to eat or some facts such as in the 18th century, for example, 30 percent of the population consisted of people living in exile due to e.g. the revolt against Nicholas I and the December Revolution.
Do you like urban adventures?
Day 15: Ulan Ude. Whose head is in the picture?
My journey started from the heart of Ulan-Ude – its central Soviet square where the largest head monument of famous Soviet Russian communist revolutionary stands. (in the picture)
Ulan-Ude is the capital of Buryatia Republic. It is a piece of Asia in the middle of Siberia. It borders with Mongolia and includes a half of Baikal. It is not one of the biggest Russian cities, yet it is really fascinating with its own unique architecture and hospitality.
A lot of locals follow Buddhism, so I visited the Ivolginsky datsan which is the heart of Buddhism in Russia and also home to a phenomenon that continues to intrigue scientists and attract believers by the thousands — the preserved body of the Khambo Lama Itigelov, who died in 1927 and is still sitting upright in the lotus position. Wow!
I spent my evening with a real local family of my guide Tumun. I ate so much tasty food and listened to sincere stories, old legends and funny tales from this hospitable family. I recommend this activity very much!
So whose head is in the picture?? Do you know the history well?
Day 16: Choo-choo! 50 hours in train.
It was a 50h train ride to Khabarovsk.
And I want to tell you a bit about provodnitsa!
In each carriage there is a train assistant, which main role is to look after the specific carriage. This person will check your tickets when getting into the train, then after the train starts may offer you a cup of Russian tea (‘tchai’), near 25 RUB. I asked my provodnitsa million questions and she was very friendly to me I even asked her to wake me up at the stop at night time. Train assistant takes the separate compartment, where you can find him/her anytime, I also bought some snacks from her.
BTW what was your longest train ride in your life?
Day 17: And what did I eat in train?
The whole day on the train is a great opportunity to sort out your memories and get some rest. I have already covered 6000 km along Russia on the legendary Trans-Siberian route! I talked to my fellow travelers, read a book and I ate a lot!
In each carriage there is a big kettle of hot water, so any time you can have tea. As for me I bought quickly made noodles and potatoes and made them ready with water from this kettle. So before your train go to a supermarket to buy some food for the train. Think how many meals you are going to have on the train and depending on this buy some cheese, bread, salami, smoked chicken, tea or coffee, water and of course instant food, like noodles, note that smoked food can stay long without the fridge. And keep in mind that on a train you are always hungry, or just want to chew something, so take some snacks with you.
What is more, every train has a carriage with restaurant, in many cases quality of food there is not excellent and prices are above average, so think twice before going there.
Do not forget that you can buy some food on stations where train makes long stops or in the coach-restaurant and do not miss a chance to make a great Instagram picture with coffee in a traditional Russian train glass in a tea glass-holder (“podstakannik” in Russian)!
In general, people behave nicely on a train and looking forward to communicating, because they have a long way and not much of entertainment. So be ready that you will be asked about your life, and where are you going and what not; and be ready to listen to the stories of other travelers. It is normal if someone proposes you to share food, and it is okay to say “yes”. So enjoy your time on the train! It can be fun!
Guess how many hours does it take to travel along the whole Trans-Siberian Railway without going out of the train?
Day 18: Khabarovsk. Very comfortable city!
Finally, I arrived in a wonderful city of Khabarovsk, located just 30km away from the Chinese border.
Unlike Vladivostok, the city has never been closed to foreigners and retains a distinct international feel, rare for the Russian provincial centers – a feeling propped up by an increasing Asian presence with arrivals from Asian countries now numbering over a million each year. Asians come here to experience a piece of Europe close to home, with the fortunate effect that the city is spending huge sums of money renovating.
It has everything for a good city tour: squares, museums, churches, and the magnificent Amur river.
Day 19: Vladivostok. 9,288 km distance is done!
I proud of myself that I went that far! At this point, I have passed about 9 000 km counting from Moscow to Vladivostok and I can honestly say that I have successfully done the legendary Trans-Siberian adventure tour!
Vladivostok is located at the far eastern side of Russia, on the Sea of Japan. Moscow feels very far away in this part of Russia. The name Vladivostok literally means “Rule the East”, and indeed, economically and culturally, the city looks more to its Eastern neighbors than to Europe. Korea, Japan, and China are both important trade partners and tourist destinations for the inhabitants of Vladivostok, and vice versa.
Vladivostok is a vibrant city. Walking around, you discover many unexpected sights.
So for now it is Day 19 and you might have been already inspired to make one of the greatest train travels in the world. Have you?
Day 20: Finally I cooked Borscht and felt that I will tell about this trip to my grandchildren!
Well, it is time to say goodbye to Vladivostok, the most eastern point of Russia and the Trans-Siberian Railway.
And today after my flight to Moscow ExploRussia prepared something for a dessert for me. It is a cooking class with a local family! Reilya who is a local guide in Moscow hosted me at her home together with her husband. It is such an unforgettable experience, I would say a cherry on top of my Trans-Siberian tour. What did we do? First of all, we cooked Russian food. It was borscht, a traditional Russian beetroot soup. It was so yummy served with rye bread. And of course, we talked a lot about culture, traditions, stereotypes about Russian people.
It seems to me that such an opportunity should be taken in every new country you visit because only when communicating in such a home atmosphere you feel the spirit of the country and the people who live there.
If anybody asks me whether I liked it, I would definitely answer more than just like, I’m impressed, shocked and very pleased!
It was an ideal summer Trans-Siberian Railway trip. Now I think I should make a winter trip.
There are so many things to be mentioned about the Trans-Siberian Railway, this is for sure the minor part. But I hope that I highlighted interesting facts you might not have known and inspiration to take this intriguing trip is already there!
I’m open to all questions and requests to make your ideal trip! Feel free to contact me and read our Essential guide for Trans-Siberian Railway tour.