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Moscow-Beijing along the Trans-Siberian railroad
Guided small group journey from August 6 to August 27, 2000
Join our tour in 2001, from July 22 to August 12
In Mai of 1891, the construction of the World's longest and most difficult to build railway was started after years of controversy amongst the Czars: the Trans-Siberian railroad. The link between Moscow and Vladivostok, some 6000 miles apart, was completed 14 years later employing a labour force of over 90000. Ever since the rail service linking Europe with the Far East was established at the turn of last century, foreign travellers and adventurers have been fascinated by this great journey and crossed Siberia to reach the Pacific or China. Across the Ural mountains to Siberia, through towns that were built along the rails into the Mongolian steps and Gobi desert, the Trans-Siberian journey offers a great opportunity to experience an unforgettable journey. The Russian tourist office describes the Trans-Siberian journey as a mythic experience.
The guided tour on the train (a regular working service, not some 'tourist special' train) and many visits to our friends at each stop guarantees this journey to be unique. We will meet local people and learn about their culture and way of life, yet be part of it. You may find yourself draining a bottle of vodka with a Russian soldier in exchange to a piece of chocolate, or discussing business and politics with Mongolian traders on the train. Meeting point on the train is the dining car where borscht and fish with lots of potatoes and cabbage is served. On each station where the train stops, local peasants and traders offer their products for sale.
We invite you to join our small group: First station is Moscow, where we will stay for a few days at the famous Moscow State University, then we will board the Trans-Siberian train and pass by the Ural, Novosibirsk, to reach Irkutsk, the capital of Siberia, where we will spend a few days on the world's largest and cleanest lake ('Baikal'). Then we will continue to Ulan Bator, where we will experience the Nomadic life and sleep in gers, and finally the train will take us to Beijing, the capital of the Chinese empire, where our journey ends.
We have been organizing a Trans-Siberian tour every year since 1993 and hope the Millenium edition will be our most memorable.
Michael Steiner will be guiding this tour. Michael has taken a Russian language courses with us in 1994, and has travelled extensively throughout Russia and China ever since. Presently, he is working on his Ph.D. dissertation at the University of Zürich. He is fluent in German, French, English and Russian and has a profound knowledge of the Russian culture.
Our local organizer in Moscow is Farid Valiov, graduate from Moscow State University, long-term friend and director of services of our company in Moscow. In Irkutsk, Ekatarinburg, Ulan Bator and Beijing, we will have local guides and friends to ensure that everything works out even if it seems impossible.
If you wish to join our adventure, we would be happy to welcome you on board (online application form). You may also contact the journey guides of our past journeys for more information or some personal experience:
Details of our Journey(as always in Russia subject to minor modifications)
Sun 6. August
After arrival at Moscow airport, Farid, our local Moscow guide, takes us to the guest house of the famous Lomonosov-University in Moscow, where a chilled welcome vodka awaits us. The University campus is located about 10 miles from the centre on the former Lenin hills and surrounded by an immense park. In the following four days, we will travel on the Moscow metro (some metro station themselves are worth a visit) to explore the city (Kremlin, Red Square, Pushkin house, Lenin Library, Arbat Street, former KGB museum, etc.) An excursion to Sergiev Posad (formerly Zagorsk, 50 miles from Moscow), the capital of the Russian orthodox church with an impressive array of churches and a still working abbey, is planned for those who are interested. Upon request, we will reserve tickets for the famous Russia ballet, the opera or the circus. For the rest, we will just enjoy Moscow and the hospitality of our host Farid Valitov.
Wed 9. August
Before leaving to Siberia, we will have time to make a few provisions on the Arbat street and the large shopping mall (GUM) next to the Red Square. In the afternoon, we will leave Moscow and board train No 1, the Trans-Siberian express that leaves Moscow every day. While we settle into our comfortable compartment and enjoy a cup of hot tea from the samovar, the first hours on the train take us past Vladimir, Nishni Novgorod, (previously called Gorki), and Perm, old Russian towns of which we will catch a glimps from the train station, where the train is stopping for a while. We will cross the boarder of Europe and enter Asia to arrive in Ekatarinburg (city of 1 million, renamed Sverdlovsk from 1924 to 1992) on the second day, where we will stay for a day. This city is rich of historic events: founded in the 17th century, the city was transformed to serve as exile for many prisoners, amongst them the last Czar and his family. Ekaterinburg is also the hometown of Boris Yeltsin, who served as major to the city. In 1960, the Russians captured an American spy plane over the city, which under the name of 'U2 affair' has led to the Cold War. We will visit the plane in the large military museum and enjoy the newly renovated streets and markets.
Mon 14. August
After a total of 87 hours on the train since Moscow past the Ural Mountains through forests, beside lakes and rushing rivers, swamps and remote villages of painted wooden houses, we will arrive at Irkutsk, the capital of Siberia in the morning of August 14. Irkutsk is also called 'Paris' of Siberia for its pulsing street life and people's elegent clothes. Still a major trade center for furs, Irkutsk enjoys today a certain economic wealth. Short but hot summers and very cold winters, however, make life here a real challenge. We will visit its old churches and shaman houses, and hope-fully find good buys at the local markets.
On a hydrofoil we reach the shore of lake Baikal from the port of Irkutsk in about 90 min. Lake Baikal is a unique biosphere, the World's deepest, largest (in terms of volume) and presumably oldest (25 million years) lake containing more than 20% of all running fresh-water on this earth. The threat of pollution by unregulated economic exploitation has led to the creation of the largest protected area to keep the cleaness of its water and uniqueness of its inhabitat for future generations. Lake Baikal is home to a fresh water seal (the Nerpa), and an incredibly rich flora and fauna. An other specimen found nowhere else in the world is a transparent fish called Golomyanka that lives in the lake's deepest waters. The lake is 400 miles long, 40 miles wide and about 1 mile deep. Unlike other deep lakes whose bottom waters are poisoned by hydrogen sulphide and other gases, Lake Baikal's water is saturated with oxygen from its surface to the deepest point and therefore, living organisms can be found at all levels. We will enjoy a bath in the 'Old Man', as local people call the lake. Its water is amazingly transparent: Stones and fish ca be seen to a depth of about 50 m and they seem so close that a first-time visitor may be tempted to reach out and pick one up. One of the secrets is that there are millions of microorganisms living in the lake whose main purpose is to clean the water of all pollutants. We will learn about the lake from one of its true experts and 'native of the lake', Prof. Maximov (called Max), the director of the local limnological institute (a water watch institute) near Listwyanka. Leaving in a wooden house where local food will be prepared by our host and his family, we will hike along the lake, into small valleys where relicts of old (as rumors go still secretely working) gold-mines can be found, and enjoy just relaxing on the shore and swimming in the lake. Those who are interested are also invited to join Max for a tour through the limnological institute (working with primitive means but still effective). and the limnological museum. A must is the Russian steam bath right on the shore of the lake where we will be accommodated in a old wooden house.
Fri 18. August
In the evening we will return to Irkutsk and board the Trans-Monoglian train to Ulan Bator early the next morning, the capital of Mongolia. The landscape will gradually change from wide forests and rivers to a uniform steppe, where the great Khans have been riding their heroe horses.
Sun 20. August
In Ulan Bator we are going to visit the palace of Bogdo Khan, the Gandan monastery, and the natural history museum with the remains of the biggest dinosaurs ever found on earth in the Mongolian desert. Our local guide will introduce us to the Nomadic way of life of still many mongolians today. On a jeep, we will travel to a Mountain Camp, where we will sleep in gers and enjoy a hike on the hills by foot or on the back of a horse. On our way back we will visit a Mongolian family living at their Summer place. We will taste mare's milk and eat delicious kebabs.
Wed 23. August
Early in the morning, after another night at the Bajangol hotel in Ulan Bator, we are heading towards the Chinese border through the Gobi Desert. Erlyan, the border town is nothing more than a military post. Since the Chinese railway operates on Standard Gauge and Russia/Mongolia on a narrower Five Foot Gauge, the boogies of all wagons are changed while hydraulic lifts raise the carriages. After a night in the train, we will find ourselves climbing on narrow serpentines into the Chinese mountains. The Great Wall is visible from many locations and frequent stops of the train. Beijing, the capital of China, is the final destination of our railway journey that has led us across two continents. With our local guide, we will visit the Forbidden City, the Tiananmen Square, the Temple of Heaven and the Summer Palace of the Imperial family. Beijing is home to millions of small shops and street traders, the place to shop for souvenirs and bargains, and the last opportunity to taste the delicious Chinese food in all its variations. For those interested in the old-style culture, Opera, Theater or Comedy tickets are available from our local guide.
Sun 27. August
Individual return flights back home or to where ever your journey takes you ...
PreparationA Trans-Siberian journey needs a lot of preparation, both physically and mentally. We are going to send you more details about what to pack and take with you. Backpacking is required, however, we will never need to walk more than 1 mile with all our luggage. Good and comfortable walking shoes are essential. Good general physical health is required. However, the most important part is to be prepared for the people and cultures we are going to meet. For that reason, we suggest reading about Russia, Mongolia or China in advance. As an affiliate of amazon.com, we have a collection of titles in our bookstore that we can highly recommend. A must for all Trans-Siberian travellers is the Trans-Siberian Handbook.
The size of our group is limited to 12 persons including the guide who will be with the group all the time in addition with the local guides. Participants must be physically fit (we will walk a lot), and have a strong sense for team-work and communication. Travelling on the non-tourist routes requires patience a sense for adventure. We have encountered many anectodal problems during the journeys in the past 5 years. Two example may serve to illustrate that the unexpectable happens in Russia/Mongolia/China everyday. In one case, the the train compartment was loaded with Mongolian rugs that made any access to our beds impossible. Talking to the Mongolian traders who owned the rugs finally helped to clear our well deserved beds. In another instant, a participant who was refused entry to Mongolia at the Russian/Mongolian border because of an outdated and unrecognizable picture in the passport. Talking to the military officers at 4 a.m. at night for about one hour finally helped us to continue the journey. The group however had decided that none was going to be left behind and that we would all get out of the train at the border. Eventhough the situation was bizarre and painful, only these experiences make such a journey truly unforgettable. More than 50 people have joined our tours so far, from 20 year old students to senior managing directors or a retired 65 year-old restaurant owner, and everybody made the journey safely. So, why don't you join us for this life-long experience ?
We have an online application form or a printable form that you can also order by mail. Application deadline is June, 10, 2000. After your application, we will send you a confirmation and further information. The number of applications is limited to 11 and places reserved on a 'first come, first served' basis.
Included are all train tickets (2nd class, 4-berth compartment), transportation in Irkutsk, Lake Baikal and Mongolia, accommodation (double room occupation, single room upon special request),
and full board at lake Baikal and during our excursion in Mongolia. We will stay in the following hotels:
Included are city tours in Moscow, Ekatarinburg, Ulan Bator, the transfer from the airport/train station to the place of accommodation, the hydrofoil from Irkutsk to Listwjanka.
Not included in our prices are all meals (except at lake Baikal and in Mongolia where there are no restaurants or food shops), all cultural programs (museums, theaters, cinema) and local transportation (metro, bus, taxi). Our prices exclude airline tickets (to Moscow, from Beijing), which you need to book individually. Please check for cheap international airfares on our airline ticket page. Not included is appropriate health and travel insurance, and all costs for visa (Russia, Mongolia, China).
Costs for the journey (in US Dollar, per person):
Moscow: Ziegler & Partner GmbH, MGU, Vorob'evy gory, Tel./Fax +7-95-939-0980