by charles
28 December 2019
General
Russia
85
russia, moscow, vladivostok, siberia, trans-siberian train, yekaterinburg, irkutsk, lake baikal, ulan ude
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In the fall of 2018 I flew to Moscow to ride the Trans-Siberian Railways all the way to Vladivostok. The journey was cited as being 9288 km long and taking almost 150 hours to complete. While this may sound like an excruciatingly long amount of time, it was, with the right people, very much a delight. I'd definitely recommend this to any adventurous traveler wishing to really appreciate what Russia has to offer.

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Here is a quick map I put together of the route. The letters mark the stops we made.

After departing Moscow our first stop was Vladimir (I've posted about Moscow here). Vladimir (letter B) was only two hours away and it felt funny stopping so soon when we had at least 9000 km to go. It was, however, worth the stop. Vladimir is a modest size town that has evolved into a time capsule of old Russia for the benefit of tourism and historical preservation. It also served as the Russian capital in the 12th and 13th centuries. There you'll find several beautiful churches, lovely old world Russian houses and a walled fortification called.

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Dormition Cathedral

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Traditional Russian house in Vladimir.

After a couple days in Vladimir we were on the train for a 24 hour stretch to Yekaterinburg. I came to appreciate train travel on this trip. Even though the amount of time you spend on a train is significantly greater than what you'd spend on an airplane the comfort level is much higher. The trains we were on, as you might expect, were utilitarian and offered only basic comforts but they were nonetheless pleasant to ride on. If you're accustomed to air travel, the ability to lie down or get up and walk around is priceless on a trip lasting any longer than a couple of hours.

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An example of a modern electric train of used by Russian Railways.

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The train berths were in a 2x2 configuration, two beds on top and two on the bottom. During the day you could fold the top beds up and sit comfortably on the bottom beds.

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  Fold down seats in the hallways allowed you to pass the time while reading or even knitting.

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Hot water was always available from this Soviet style cast iron boiler. Probably crucial for those long winter months going through Siberia.

As for food you can always eat in the dinning car. I, always trying to minimize my expenses, would pack food on. The train does make stops several times a day, sometimes for 20 or 30 minutes. There, vendors will happily greet you to sell you fruit, snacks and drinks to keep you going. Surprisingly, alcohol was not allowed on the trains, well except for the dinning cars. Russians have a reputation for enjoying their vodka and before the trip I was half expecting to be routinely clinking shot glasses together as we rolled through Siberia. That wasn't the case though, guards would routinely walk through and the open consumption of alcohol was penalized. I would sneak a beer every night but jovial groups of Russian swigging down vodka was disappointingly absent.

The next stop was Yekaterinburg ('C' on the map). It's one of the largest cities east of Moscow and was an important crossroads between western and eastern Russia as well as the rest of eastern Asia. 

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Yekaterinburg Administrative Building facing a wide street and open square. I've found this typical of Soviet cities, it enables military parades and over-the-top displays of nationalism.

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Here is the "Church on Blood in Honour of All Saints Resplendent in the Russian Land". This church has the dubious distinction of being built on the site of the mansion in which the Romanovs were shot in 1918. The basement of the church is dedicated to the Romanovs, there it describes there lives and last moments.

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Lenin statues are still proudly displayed. This is Yekaterinburg's and sits prominently on a busy street.

After a couple of days in Yekaterinburg we were back on the train for a 55 hour ride to Irkutsk. At this point we were already well into Siberia. The broadest definition of Siberia is all the Russian territory east of the Ural Mountains. The narrowest definition would be the territory limited to the the Siberian Federal District Therefore we'd already been in Siberia well before we'd arrived in Yekaterinburg. Now on our way to Irkutsk, we'd be covering territory that was peak Siberia. We'd cross by only small villages, many of which claim to be 100% self sufficient. Many small farming communities could be seen but most of this area was just forest. We had the great fortune to be going through in late September and the leaves had all begun to turn.

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A typical small village along the way. 

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Steam has long since been replaced by diesel and electric engines, however many rail stations feature an old steam engine proudly on display.

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I really have no idea where this guy was coming from or going to.

Finally after 2+ days on the train we arrived in Irkutsk (letter 'D' on the map). Irkutsk was a charming little city and was described as a cultural center for the arts as well as being an educational center with a clustering of colleges.

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 A decent shot down a busy street with lovely European architecture.

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Some street art dedicated to the first human in space Yuri Gagarin. A sanctioned memorial is located nearby.

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No Russian city would be complete without a Lenin and Soviet artwork. Irkutsk also had a typical full body Lenin statue nearby.

Our next stop would be Lake Baikal (between letter 'D' and 'E' on the map). Irkutsk is the most convenient train stop to Lake Baikal so we just drove the hour or so there. Lake Baikal is a pristine lake and boasts itself as the world's largest fresh water lake by volume. Being located in the middle of a very sparsely populated Siberia, it benefits from a very little pollution from its small neighboring local population. The water is almost perfectly clear and the fish that come out of it are delicious.

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 In the narrow direction you can just barely see the other side.

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A fish market severed as a nice little tourist trap. There you could buy some of the most delicious fresh fish I've ever had.

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 A local selling dried fish a stones throw from the lake they were caught in.

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A decent shot of the village that resides on the lake.

After a wonderful couple of days on Lake Baikal we had to head back to Irkutsk to get back on the train to continue our journey east. Our next stop would be Ulan Ude, which would be an easy eight hour ride.

Ulan Ude was another pleasant small city. I'm not aware of any particular significance it poses but there you could really start to see the transition from European to Asian people. Traditionally this territory would have been under Mongolian rule. The local peoples would have all been Mongolian. Ethnic Russians had only moved this far east in the past couple of centuries.

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Shopping district of Ulan Ude.

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Some nice river front property.

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Ulan Ude features the world's largest Lenin Head.

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 We took an afternoon and visited a Buddhist monastery. This isn't something you would typically think of in Russia but remember this really is Mongolian territory.

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A local monk out for a walk.

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The monastery features a nice collection of traditional homes that are well maintained and of course very colorful.

After Ulan Ude we found ourselves back on the train and headed for our final stop Vladivostok. This leg would prove to be the longest, almost three straight days on the train clocking in at about 65 hours. This leg of the trip was much like it had been so far. Small villages, brightly colored forests because of the season and modest rolling hills. The land there really was beautiful and I didn't tire staring out the window watching it go by.

When we finally made it to Vladivostok it was a delight to have made such a successful journey across the worlds largest country. Vladivostok reminded me of San Francisco. It was a port town built on rolling hills with a scurry of diverse people. After the fall of the Soviet Union it was considered a haven for outlaws and you could be stabbed for having a decent watch. These days it's quite tame and a novel place to spend some time.

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A monument marking the end of the Trans-Siberian Railway. 9288 is marked on it signifying the 9288 km it is to Moscow.

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 Streets of Vladivostok.

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One last Lenin statue.

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A neat decommissioned Russian submarine you can take a tour through.

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That's it! I know this was a long post but it was a long trip and I hope I did it justice. I would recommend making this trip to anyone looking for an adventurous trip. I did it with a guided tour but I met several people going it alone. I believe anyone can buy tickets on the Russian Railways website. However, going with a group is ideal since you'll have people to talk to to pass the time. If you go alone you'll likely be sharing a cabin with locals that won't be able to talk to you unless of course you speak Russian. Lastly, I happened to go in late September and as I mentioned several times the leaves on the trees had all begun to turn. This definitely added to the experience and made the pictures that much better.