As a director of Trans-Siberian railway specialists The Russia Experience, Odette Fussey’s stock-in-trade is sending travellers on a journey that can more than hold its own against those well-worn ‘once in a lifetime’ cliches. We asked her to tell us why it’s such a travel icon, why it features on so many wish lists, and what you really need to know before embarking on the 9,000 km adventure.
If you’ve been transfixed by the action taking place in Sochi and fancy some winter magic of your own then the Trans-Siberian railway may well be the vehicle from which to savour a little of the wild, natural outdoor life.
That is one of the great joys of the Trans-Siberian. It may not quite boast something to entice absolutely everybody (you might want to head elsewhere if perfecting a tan tops your holiday check list) but its sheer scale, vast expanses of land covered and cultures unlocked means it gets pretty close.
Russia, not surprisingly, does winter rather well. And although temperatures regularly plummet to skin-tingling levels, transport continues to work (take note British trains), central heating is efficient (sometimes too much!), and is there anything more enticing than sipping on a hot drink – or knocking back a shot of fine vodka – from a cozy café, hotel lounge or train carriage as snow falls and landscapes sparkle under their winter veil.
But if you do want to head outdoors and get stuck in you won’t be disappointed. How about wrapping up warm and being drawn across Siberian landscape on a husky sledding expedition? If you like things a little more adventurous, then taking to a snow mobile combines speed with a great sense of fun. And if you’re a keen angler than you might like to add ice fishing to your repertoire.
You can do all of these things as part of a Trans-Siberian railway journey – and more besides. I’ve done this trip of eight time zones and five and a half thousand miles many times and I never fail to be enchanted by staying with a Mongolian family in a traditional felt ger. Overflowing in their welcome and generosity, you’d have to be a hard-nosed cynic not to be captivated by the charm and warmth of these delightful people.
And if you like history, culture and the arts then the optional starting points (or finishing points; you can just as easily go east to west as west to east) of Moscow and St Petersburg offer up two fascinating cities with museums, galleries, fine architecture and world class music, opera and ballet.
One of the most common things I get asked is “what’s it actually like on board the train?” It’s a good question, especially as it could be your ‘home’ for anything up to two weeks.
The answer is as diverse as the journey. A lot of our clients travel on the “original”, working trains (the “Trans-Siberian” refers to the route rather than a single train) where you share compartments with both locals and fellow travellers and where, typically, accommodation is in four-berth cabins (don’t panic, a supplement dispenses with the need to share with potential strangers if that’s not your thing).
For many, this represents the authentic Trans-Siberian experience of long sojourns between stops, retiring to the restaurant car to raise a glass of vodka to new friends, or simply lazing in your cabin and watching the world pass by as you tackle that Tolstoy or Dostoevsky you always meant to read – and now have to time.
Or if this is not for you the chartered trains that operate as group departures – like the Tsars Gold or the Grand Trans Siberian Express – are designed to try and suit all pockets.
If, however, your Trans-Siberian vision is one of plush private cabins and champagne quaffing in red velvet-lined, wooden-panelled carriages – and budget is less of a consideration – then the Golden Eagle options are all about luxury, fine service, a la carte dining and pampering.
Whichever choice you opt for you are embarking on an adventure; you are being a traveller rather than a tourist and you are, hopefully, rediscovering all the romance and magic of rail travel (who needs airport and airline stress?) while adding to your travel repertoire a journey that can truly justify its “once in a lifetime” tag.
For further information visit www.trans-siberian.co.uk or call 0845 521 2910
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