Old fart planning to do TSR trip---advice please
Replies: 13 - Last Post: Oct 9, 2012 10:01 PM Last Post By: everbrite
Oct 4, 2012 2:43 PM
Old fart planning to do TSR trip---advice pleaseHi folks,
I'm planning on trying to tick the Trans Siberian Railway (TSR) trip off my bucket list in the next year or two.
I'm a middle-aged Canadian traveller who has both lived in and visited much of Europe over the past few decades. I consider myself a seasoned traveller but I'm smart enough to also seek whatever advice I can get from anyone willing to lend it.
My plan is to fly from the west coast of North America to Vladivostok, spend a day or 2 to get my bearings then get on the TSR heading to Moscow then fly home from Moscow after a day or 2 to see it etc.
I don't have a ton of time as I have to get back home for work and continue stockpiling money to put my kids through university :) so I'm thinking of about 14-16 days to fit everything in. Is that a pipe-dream or can it be done? (The trip, not the stockpiling dough for my kids university years which, trust me, is fast becoming a pipe-dream but don't tell them just yet:)
I'd like to ride the TSR for two nights, then get off for 24 hours, rinse and repeat until I get to Moscow.
I'm in the prep stage now, and I want to make sure I'm not missing anything important.
I'm currently trying to learn Russian, I'm reading up on all I can and get educated on all that I should know. When works slows down a bit in Dec I plan on buying a handful of TSR books to help educate me even more.
I'll be travelling alone becuz I can't hoodwink anyone else to go along with me. I've travelled alone before and I'm pretty comfortable doing so or is this the one trip where being alone would make it kinda 'lame' as my teens would say?
With that said, here are a few more introductory questions I was hoping you folks could help me with:
What else should I be doing to prep for this trip?
Is March/April or perhaps September a good time to do this trip?
Can I eat on the train without breaking the bank or is pricey no matter what and there isn't much I can do about it etc?
Big thanks in advance for any and all advice, tips, suggestions and anything else you can help me with as I plan what I hope is a wonderful trip.
Edited by: Heffmanhere
Oct 4, 2012 11:53 PM
1http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/?o=1&doc_id=5113&v=1TH is a bike journal by a couple who went through Vladivostok, and discovered that a town to the north (read the journal, I forget the name) was much more interesting than Vlad. They also took the train to Moscow and stopped in a few places en route which aren't normal stopovers, so it's worth reading on that count alone.
Note sure too if money or time is tighter, but I imagine that flights to Vlad are very expensive. This journal mentions a ferry from South Korea to Vladivostok - it could be worth checking out if you can spare extra time but not cash. Or you could also look into flying in Beijing - I would bet that there are lots more cheap flights to there, and even the cost of a Chinese and a Mongolian visa will still be less than the extra cost to Vladivostok.
Oct 5, 2012 12:08 PM
2Here are some resources:
This may interest you from the N.Y. Times travel section about the less-well-known siberian railway:
I'm sure Everbrite (Ruth), a frequent poster here, might respond, too, but here is her Website in the meantime:
Oct 5, 2012 12:35 PM
Oct 5, 2012 1:35 PM
4I think your schedule sounds good if you really plan to only stop in places for 24 hours at a time. However, I think you could find yourself feeling rushed and tired of the constant logistical scramble--at each stop you'll have to figure out where your hostel/hotel is, and at some point deal with booking tickets for your next train leg. In my experience, this ate up a lot of time (I don't speak Russian though, I imagine that helps.) I think you might not have enough time to do very much sightseeing.
I might consider flying into somewhere a bit further west than Vladivostok, perhaps Irkutsk or Chita, and then staying longer than a day in a few places. However, if your main objective is to travel across the whole of Russia I think your plan sounds great!
Food for the train is extremely cheap, you can buy it from vendors on the train platform at various stops. I found that every time I had a cup of tea on the train, whatever Russian person I was traveling alongside offered me food--I guess it's not proper to drink tea on the train without a snack! Another thing I learned was that when the train left a major hub, the men immediately left our cabin (second class) so the women could change into comfortable train clothes. Then the women would leave the cabin so the men could change. I didn't realize this at first, and an old Russian man finally got sick of waiting for me to take the hint and changed his pants in the cabin while I was sitting there reading. He must have thought this was highly improper!
If you decide to spend more time in a few cities, I recommend spending a couple of days in both Kazan and Irkutsk, with a side trip from Irkutsk to Listvyanka, on Lake Baikal.
Hope you have a great time!
Oct 6, 2012 1:09 PM
5Since the train ride itself is 7+ days itis certainly possible to ride two days, Geoff for a day and repeat. Problem is that there aren't too,many good places to stop in the Far East and some places are definitely worth more than two days. So I suggest reconsidering this plan and look more closely at possible stops.
Oct 6, 2012 7:16 PM
We've just done the Trans Mongolian from St Petersburg to Beijing so, for what it's worth, a couple of tips that may be obvious but would have helped us.
Try to book bottom berths - I think they're a little more expensive but not by much and it's worth it. We got lumbered with both top bunks on a couple of journeys and found ourselves cooped up there a lot of the time - not all Russians travelling on the train ply you with tea and vodka and food, and a few of them are just downright miserable. Some will insist on sleeping for 90% of the journey which means you're stuck up top, with the curtains shut and therefore not seeing very much (unless you don't mind rudely awaking your companions!).
Take flipflops or comfy sandals and shorts/joggers (some people wear pyjamas!) to change into. They say this everywhere but until you're on the train you don't understand that it's practically a requirement!
The journey itself was amazing, the train really comfortable, and if you are taking the Trans Siberian leg from Vladivostock to Moscow, you won't have any irritating and lengthy border crossings or bogie changes! As other posters have said, there are lots of places to stop off (can't comment on anywhere from Ulan Ude to Vladivostock) and there are loads of resources but it's worth doing as much research to see what you want to do.
We would definitely recommend Lake Baikal if you do have the time. We stopped off at Irkutsk and spent 2 nights on Olkhol Island (Nikitas Homestead) but you don't have to head to the island to enjoy the lake. It's spectacular and it would be a shame to be in that part of the world and not visit.
Agree with #3 - the Bryn Thomas Handbook was our bible and really useful for letting you know where you are at any time by referring to the kilometre markers. There is a 2011 edition available so make sure you try and get that one - we only had the 2007 version but it served its purpose.
We only went to the restaurant car for beer (except for an expensive breakfast in the Chinese restaurant car on the last leg) but it's a good place to meet fellow passengers - we took our own food although we got fed up with a diet of bread, cheese, salami and noodles! Most people do this and as other posters have said you can get food on some of the platform stops (although there is never dried fish available when you want it!). We were however told that the food in the restaurant was of varying quality and value, I think depending on who was running the restaurant at that particular time. There is of course constant available hot water from the samovar in each carriage for coffee, tea, soup and noodles.
Some of the longer distance trains seem to be used more by mainly tourists (and if you are planning a couple of days on the train at a time you are likely to use those) and for the last two legs from Ulan Ude to Ulaanbaatar and then UB to Beijing, the train seemed to be full of western travellers. That's not to say you won't have a great time or meet local travellers on these trains but they seem to be the exception.
Our longest leg was 48 which flew by but personally we wouldn't have wanted any longer than that - there are sometimes showers available (we saw showers once) but it's quite hard to really freshen up on the train (and our standards aren't particularly high!).
Finally, we learnt a bit of Russian before we left but found the Russians to be a little unforgiving, although learning the Cyrillic alphabet was invaluable. We found that if you start off using Russian they don't give the option of switching to English (even if it's clear they have more knowledge of English than you do of Russian).
The provodnistas on the train usually knows very little English and come across as a little stern but once you get them to crack a smile, they're can be lovely (and, of course, if you behave yourself!).
We didn't have the hassle of booking tickets or accommodation (done beforehand by an agent) but understood from others that it's quite easy to do with little or no knowledge of Russian. Although the Trans Sib part of our trip was a total of 28 days we still felt a bit rushed in some places but maybe we tried to do too much.
Age is not a bar to travelling these days (thank God) - we are no spring chickens ourselves are were hardly the oldest travelling the railway - lots of people spending their kids' (and grandkids') inheritance along the way!
Have a fantastic trip - lots of resources on here and elsewhere. We are just so glad we did it and would love to do it again (on the way back from Oz in a couple of years in the winter from Vladivostock maybe).
Sorry about long post :-)
Oct 8, 2012 6:12 PM
Oct 8, 2012 6:45 PM
Oct 9, 2012 1:41 AM
9#8 Too true. But if they have bottom bunks they use the whole of the table and keep their bed made all day, lying flat out on it and sleeping most of the time! Bloody Russians! (Only joking!). We were probably just very unlucky but we found one up, one down, was our favourite combination to avoid conflict! We'll know next time :-)
Oct 9, 2012 11:57 AM
10This 'where to bunk' issue is the kind of thing that would otherwise get glossed over (at least for me) so thanks again for sharing such valuable info that likely isn't mentioned in the books etc...
I wonder if with all the things (good and bad) that go on over a week on the train with others etc, if most of you welcomed the end of the trip or regretted that it had come to end. Thoughts?
Oct 9, 2012 12:13 PM
11I definitely preferred the top bunk, and lounged around up there for much of my train trips. The only inconvenience I found was the possibility of stepping on one's neighbor when descending to use the bathroom at night.
Someone else mentioned showers--I did not encounter a shower on a train anywhere between Irkutsk and Moscow. It appeared that some people just took a bottle of water into the bathroom in the morning and dumped it over their head to wash up. Probably a good idea to bring both TP and a roll of paper towels if you've got room. Also, on some trains the bathrooms are locked when the train is at a station. A nice, English-speaking army guy explained to me that the bathrooms stay locked at stops so people do not "foul the tracks," as the toilets on some trains don't exactly, uh, flush the way you might expect. (He was the only English-speaker I encountered on the TSR in August, though I did have pleasant "conversations" with a number of people that involved a dictionary, a pad of paper and a lot of gesticulating.)
I was not ready to leave Russia after two weeks! However, I was pretty crabby during the last hours of the 52-hour trip from Krasnoyarsk to Kazan.
Oct 9, 2012 9:57 PM
Oct 9, 2012 10:01 PM
13Regarding eating on the train, most Russians bring lots of food with them - bread, cheese, sausage, hard boiled eggs, dried fruits, yogurt, etc.
There are markets near or at the train stations which sell foods that keep. They bring cup of soup or noodles that prepare with hot water. At some stations foods will be sold on the platform but increasingly this is less likely. Also at some stations, people board and sell chips and drinks. You can always get tea, coffee and usually chocolate or sweets from the attendant. Basically Russians picnic on the train and rarely go to the dining car. If you do the same, be prepared to share.
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