The Trans-Siberian: The experience of a lifetime.
This experience was truly a once in a lifetime opportunity. If you like to be different and don’t want to take the conventional travel route, then this is for you! This comes at price though. It resulted in my savings pot taking a major hit….. but it was totally worth it!
Now I have to admit it would have been cheaper to have booked this myself however due to time limitations and to avoid any headaches I opted to use an agency. There are an abundance of agencies and a variety of route options to select from. It’s just a matter of selecting what’s appropriate for your budget and matching the route to what you want to see. For my partner and I the best option for us was called ‘Highway to China’. This was a 15-day tour terminating in the bustling city of Beijing.
If you’d like more information on the tour agency I used please feel free to contact me ☺ – email@example.com
If you’re from the UK, your opportunity to have this experience may be closer than you think. Have you heard the recent proposal of a Trans-Siberian link from London to Tokyo? What are your thoughts? Why not share below or send me a message.
Visas: The headache of a lifetime!
Sadly, the tour wasn’t just as easy as booking through an agency then writing a calendar countdown. It came with A LOT of paperwork. It involved filling out numerous forms and we even had to list all the countries we had visited within the last 10 years, the dates of these visits and their durations. Yes, you read it right, 10 years! To decipher the dates of the stamps in my passport this stage of the process involved the use of a magnifying glass.
It doesn’t end there either. For the 3 visa applications completed I needed to attach a recent ‘visa’ sized photograph. I didn’t even realise that ‘visa’ was a size specification and you guessed it, it costs more than a standard passport photo. For my Russian visa I also had to provide a copy of my bank details. In addition to this we also had to go to London to have our biometric data collected, which is a fancy way of saying – ‘have a copy of our fingerprints’ taken. Once this was completed, they took my passport and then it was a waiting game.
We opted for the ‘express’ option for the return of our visas and passport as we had limited time and were worried we wouldn’t get them back in time. The wait was definitely a nervous one. What would we do if we got rejected? Luckily, we didn’t and I could breathe a sigh of relief when we received all of our documentation including the return of our passports complete with our Russian and Mongolia visas. I even had a lovely photograph of my face on my Russian visa- scary stuff!
I had tried to pack some essentials I thought we’d need on the train. For example, I’d packed some: tissues, anti-bacterial gel, wipes, earplugs and a refillable water bottle. We knew that we would also need some food supplies and our Russian guide recommended we load up! So we did!
We went to a Russian supermarket and bought as many dry goods as we would. Our supplies consisted of:
- Noodles galore! You name a flavour, we probably had it!
- A variety of soups
- Dried fruits (dates, sultanas etc.)
- Breakfast bars
I thought our bag of supplies was big until we saw others boarding with those giant mesh plastic bags with zips.
On the track there was only one train so there was no chance of boarding the wrong one. Then it was just a matter of checking the
ticket to find the carriage number. Once on board the carriage it was a squeeze along the corridor to find the cabin.
After reading numerous reviews both my partner and I decided to upgrade to a 4-berth cabin for a small extra fee. I know that a 4-berth sounds spacious but do not be under any illusions here. The cabins are ‘cosy’! The 4-berth cabin has 4 beds that are a bunk bed style. The bottom two bunks were ideal as a seating area and the top two as storage/ sleeping areas.
There were lots of nooks and crannies for storage here. For those on the bottom bunk there was a space underneath the bunk which will fit a large travel bag like mine, a 45l, easily. For those on the top bunk there’s an overhead storage above the doorway, this part is a little tighter height wise but it’s nice and wide. In addition to this, there are also little pockets by your bed that you can put some essentials in. I often put my battery pack and other things I needed quick to hand in here.
The staff manning our carriage spoke next to no English but we made the effort to befriend her. Near the staff quarters in the carriage there was a hot water tank. No spoons or cups are provided unless you purchase food or drinks from the staff. By drinks that means coffee, tea or hot chocolate sachets and by food, I mean noodles (if available). Thanks to our befriending we managed to blag the use of some very cool looking glasses and a couple of metal spoons. These were luxury compared to the plastic picnic cutlery we had been using.
The Trans-Siberian Train diet…have you not heard of it?
Our daily diet consisted of:
Morning: breakfast bars, sultanas juice and water. With the option of a hot drink.
Afternoon snack: Soup with bread sticks.
I can safely say it’s not the finest dining experience I’ve had but I became strangely addicted to the noodles. Being someone who eats a lot and eats frequently throughout the day, I would find myself counting down to my next noodle fix.
It was only on our 2nd day aboard the train that we discovered there was a food cart on board! This title does make it sound like it offers more than it actually does. It was only open between certain hours and had a very limited selection of food and drinks, which were also overpriced.
The scenery is amazing! The scenery was like an ever-changing canvas. It was also amazing to see the change in seasons as we ventured through different areas. On our final train journey from Mongolia to Beijing we passed the Himalayan mountains. We also witnessed the transition of the types of land and houses. For instance, in the Russian countryside it was predominately wooden houses with tin roofs.
You can watch the world pass you by from your cabin or take a walk and stretch your legs. You are able to walk around the carriages freely though the corridors are narrow so you often end up getting in each other’s way. The corridors also had opening windows so you could catch a bit of fresh air whilst out there.
The corridors were also where the power supplies were located. These got snapped up quick! With no power supplies within the cabins many people came well prepared bringing their own extension leads to run the power into their room. I however, had not. So I had to watch eagle eyed for when a power supply came free, then would have to keep the door open to ensure that what I was charging was kept safe. I can safely say my battery pack was essential during this trip…. but when this ran flat I had to hope I could find an empty power socket.
The journey between Russia to Mongolia was the longest train stint, spanning 5 days with the occasional stop. Some stops were less than a minute with others for 20 minutes or more. You could tell by reading the timetable, which itself was also challenge. You also had to factor in the different time zones. We travelled through 7-time zones and I spent a lot of my time trying to work out where we were and when we would next be stopping (often getting it wrong -we learn from our mistakes right?). When there was an opportunity to stop and make an off-board purchase at a convenience counter I would pop out for some essentials, you know something healthy like a banana…or an ice cream (what a treat!).
** Top tip: Download Google Translate – I used the image translator to help me decipher the timetables! **
Sleeping: “I slept like a baby!’’
Now if you’re wondering what it was like to sleep on, in all honesty, I slept like a baby! I was able to lock the door to our cabin so, being a safety freak, I could sleep easy knowing we were safe. There were obvious background noises but I found them somewhat comforting. My partner however, found it much more difficult to sleep and had to resort to using earplugs in a bid to gain some Z’s. The beds themselves were very narrow, which is great for a petite person such as myself but for anyone of a normal size, I can imagine they were not the most comfortable. You’re also provided with a sheet and a blanket for those cold nights.
Could you work whilst on the Trans-Siberian?
If you’re thinking to yourself this sounds amazing, that’s because it was! I would definitely recommend it to anyone. It’s an experience for all ages, I even saw one mature couple bring their dog on board!
However, for working, it’s not ideal. It’s great to catch up on writing, reflecting or planning but obviously you would need to be prepared with numerous battery packs and chargers if you do this electronically. When it comes to the internet and connecting to the outside world you will struggle. You could ensure your mobile coverage plans covers these areas but some of the places you travel through receive no mobile signal. So in terms of teaching or working onboard, I do not recommend the Trans-Siberian but in terms of a holiday or escape from the hustle and bustle of reality…. Then most definitely!
Why not treat yourself? You deserve it!
What’s up next?
In my next blog I’ll be sharing my experience of my favourite stop along the Trans-Siberian – Mongolia! To date, this has been my favourite place EVER! I hope you’ll be just as won-over by Mongolia as I was!
I’d love to hear from you! Whether it’s sharing your travelling experiences or If there’s more you’d like to know please do not hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org