The Trans-Siberian Express is renowned as one of the world's greatest rail journeys and our Trans-Siberian Express tour by train from London to Vladivostok has proved to be popular with Great Rail Journeys' customers for many years. But what is it really like to undertake this epic adventure? What do you see during the journey and what is life like on board our hotel train, the Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express?
To give you an insight into this fantastic tour we asked four Tour Managers who have all escorted Great Rail Journeys customers on the Trans-Siberian Express to share their experiences with you. John Gordon and Alan Peats both undertook the tour in 2009, Grant Lindsay managed our winter tour in February 2010, and Dan Makin escorted a group in 2007.
A Trans-Siberian adventure
The journey on the Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express from Moscow to Vladivostok, which takes us across seven time zones on the longest continuous railway track in the world, is more of an adventure than a journey. If you begin your adventure in London at St Pancras International, you will cross ten time zones and travel on five trains directly to the Pacific coast!
"I don't know how anybody could fail to enjoy it!" says John. "One has a pre-conceived idea of what it will be like but there are surprises. It is not as remote as I expected; there are signs of life all the way across, albeit only within a few miles of the railway line, the lifeline of Siberia."
"I had dreamt of travelling on the Trans-Siberian Express for many years as I considered it to be the most romantic and adventurous of all rail journeys", admits Grant. "I particularly wanted to do it in winter as Siberia and winter have always been synonymous in my mind. I was not disappointed... the trip met all my expectations and much more. When we reached Vladivostok, I could have happily stayed on the train for the return journey! It was really an adventure in every sense of the word."
The landscape passing by
"Life on board is never dull" says John "And many passengers seemed to enjoy just standing outside their cabin watching the world go by!".
As Alan notes, "You cross the country at roughly the same latitude so the temperature and climate remain similar throughout the trip. It seems almost impossible that you have passed across the top of Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and China without seeing any great changes in flora or fauna."
"You will be passing through vast areas of forest and wild landscape", he adds "And you will visit cities and towns that only a few years ago were prohibited areas even for Russians. This means that the people are very welcoming and proud of where they live."
"There are a range of activities to become involved in as you while away the time", says Alan. "On my train there were Russian lessons, films about the Mongols and inevitably about the Tsars! There were also discussions led by the on-board staff - who were university lecturers - about how they coped with the changing times in Russia."
"I had worried that the journey might become boring" admits Grant. "but the truth is that the activities both on and off the train meant that I never had time to be bored. As well as the film shows, lectures and Russian lessons, the Bar/Lounge car had a small library. There was also a library of DVDs which could be borrowed for use in the DVD players installed in the Silver and Gold Class compartments."
Catching up on a bit of reading in the Lounge/Bar car and chatting to fellow travellers is also a popular pastime onboard, whilst members of Dan's group set up a Russian choir and they all performed on the final evening!
Excursions from the train
A full programme of excursions is included to help you get the most out of your holiday. The outward journey includes sightseeing in Warsaw and a full-day tour of famous sights such as the Kremlin and St Basil's Cathedral in Moscow. At each stop the Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express makes as we travel across Russia, there are city tours, visits to museums, concerts and a barbeque by Lake Baikal, to name but a few.
The norm is for the train to travel overnight. "During the day we stopped in the major cities and were taken to see the principal tourist attractions" says John. "The schedule of the visits was very well planned as the train timings had to be adhered to very rigidly - we were normally attached to, and then detached from, one of the long distance expresses. This was fascinating as they stopped regularly so that the passengers could purchase food from the many ladies who lined the platforms and sold all sorts of edible items"
"In each of the main cities we stopped at on the way across Russia, the sites visited were well-chosen and gave an insight into the colourful past of this vast region. The visit to Lake Baikal and the trip into Mongolia were perhaps the highlights. Riding in the open air on the front of the diesel engine, skirting the lake as the sun rose was something special and something I will never forget. Mongolia was unique and the journey through the open countryside out to the settlement of yurts was amazing."
Eating and relaxing on board
Meals on board the Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express are prepared by the on-board chefs using mainly local ingredients and are enjoyed in one of the elegant dining cars. "The meals served on the train are excellent", says John. The dishes are complemented by an extensive wine list and, as Dan notes, "the vodka flows!". There is also a cosy Lounge/Bar car which is a great place to relax both during the day and in the evening and a service car with facilities such as a hairdresser.
The Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express was unveiled in April 2007, offering a standard of accommodation unrivalled by other trains plying the route. This private train has two classes of sleeping accommodation, Silver Class (included in the tour price) and Gold Class.
"This was my first tour on a luxury hotel train" says Grant. "So the standard of comfort came as a very pleasant surprise - especially following two nights on the 'normal' sleeper services en route from London to Moscow." As John notes, "the facilities on board the train are excellent, as you would expect for a journey lasting 12 nights. The cabins have recently been refurbished and all cabins in Silver and Gold Class have en suite facilities. The seating in the cabins converts into two beds, one above the other - the lower berth being broader than the average single bed."
Each carriage has an attendant on duty - their cabin is situated at the end of the carriage - and Dan felt the service given by the attendant to his charges was very attentive.
"If you want to make the longest rail journey in the world, to visit places not on the normal tourist trails and to learn about how the Russian people are coping with the collapse of communism, as well as having the opportunity to spend time on the train watching the scenery pass by, catching up on your reading and chatting to your fellow travellers, then this is the trip for you!"
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