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Thursday, August 29, 2013

9 Things to Know about Riding the Trans-Siberian

Cyrillic for Train Station 
For those of you who heard my segment this week on Around the World Radio (August 29 edition), here are nine more things to know about the train route that spans the breadth of Russia.

1. Most people think that there’s one train called the Trans-Siberian Express running along a lengthy railroad between Russia’s eastern port of Vladivostok and Moscow. But contrary to popular belief, there is no such train. The Trans-Siberian is actually made up of a network of domestic and international trains crisscrossing countries and borders. Yes, a Trans-Siberian journey can start in Vladivostok. But it can also start in Beijing or Ulan Bator. These itineraries, sometimes dubbed Trans-Mongolian routes, follow Trans-Siberian track once they hit Russian territory.

Lenin's Giant Head in Ulan-Ude
2. You can opt to rub shoulders with the locals on Russian train or you can travel in a private train. The latter is certainly the easier and more comfortable way to go. But it is also the more expensive option.

3. The Golden Eagle runs the classic 5,772-mile route between Vladivostok and Moscow. In 2014, The Golden Eagle 15-day trek across Siberia starts at $15,495 per person double occupancy in Silver Class to $29,995 for top-of-the-line Imperial Suites.  All compartments have bathrooms en suite.  

Tsar's Gold by Lake Baikal
4. The 15-day Zarengold or Tsar’s Gold, running between Beijing and Moscow, is less expensive, mainly because it provides a larger selection of compartment types. 2014 prices start at $9200 per person for a Classic compartment (which share toilet and shower facilities). For a compartment with private bath, prices start at $15,820 in Bolshoi and go up to $19,520 per person in Bolshoi Plus.

5. Don't forget to obtain a visa before you hit the road...or the track. Americans need visas for travel in both Russia and China.

6. I recommend traveling East to West. That way, you end up getting more sleep and more daylight along the way, as you go back in time across nine time zones.

It may look cold, but I'm quite comfortable in
Kazan wearing long shorts in May.
7. Load your iPad with lengthy tomes good books and epic movies. Good Russian reads include Travels in Siberia by Ian Frazier, The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn , and Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (although you may want to skip the ending, where Anna tosses herself under a train). Appropriate flicks include Dr. Zhivago and the lesser-known Transsiberian, starring Woody Harrelson. Cheers.

8. Most Trans-Siberian private trains run between May and early October. Be forewarned: Siberia can be surprisingly hot. Leave your parkas and your mukluks behind.

9. Tsar’s Gold trips can be booked directly through Lernidee at www.lernidee,com; through MIR at www.mircorp.com, or via Smithsonian Journeys www.smithsonianjourneys.org. More information on Vladivostok to Moscow trips can be found at www.goldeneagleluxurytrains.com.

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