The Trans-Siberian is a train that leaves its trace to the point that its subjugating attraction has been described in unforgettable literary works and films. There are plenty of reasons. This railway is the longest in the world. Its more than nine thousand kilometers of route connect two continents, cross seven time zones and pass through cities and landscapes of great environmental, geographic and cultural heritage.
The railway network began in 1891, near Vladivostok, with the future Russian Tsar Nicholas II symbolically carrying the first ticket. After fifteen years of works, the effort of 90,000 men and a cost that today is estimated at 40 million euros at the time, on October the 5th, 1916, the first and exclusive voyage was carried out. It took thirty days to cover the entire route.
Today the Trans-Siberian continues to function as a very important communication channel between the two extremes of Russia. Raw materials, merchandise and passengers continue to use it at any time of the year. But, in addition to this daily use, there are luxury tourist trains that make the journey with all the comforts, besides stopping in the main cities to visit the most interesting places.
Siberian steppe, Mongolia, Lake Baikal, the Urals… Mythical destinations for travel lovers who can comfortably reach one to each other while staying in a suite with a private bathroom; places that we can see running through the window while we savor caviar with a very cold vodka.
The itinerary, which can be carried out in both directions, comprises a total of 9,288 kilometers, which can be comfortably traveled in fifteen days. The departure is set at Vladivostok, a military port on the shores of the Sea of Japan. At this headquarters of the Pacific Fleet of the Russian Navy you can visit a preserved submarine from World War II and crossing the Golden Horn Bridge, one of the largest suspension bridges in the world.
The next stop is Khabarovsk, 25 kilometers from the border with China, on the banks of the Amur River, with a memorial honoring the soldiers who fell in World War II and the Regional Museum, on the history of the indigenous people.
From Russia to Mongolia. In its capital, Ulan Bator, you will have the ultimate chance to enter the Buddhist monastery of Gandan, one of the most important in the country, and the Gorkhi-Terelj National Park, a beautiful wild landscape where you can learn about the customs of a nomadic family and even receive a riding class, an intrinsic part of Mongolian life. In the evening, you probably would not hesitate to join a traditional music and dance show.
The Trans-Siberian also travels alongside Lake Baikal, the largest lake in the world, home of a unique breed of freshwater seal and also 50 different species of fish.
For five hours, the road advances along a meandering path under tunnels or at the edge of impressive cliffs. There you’ll be able to see some of the most beautiful views of the entire tour, the wonderful snow-capped mountains along the shore. The day is normally completed with a delicious barbecue with freshly smoked omul fish prepared by the top railroad chefs.
The next day the train stops in Irkutsk, the “Paris of Siberia” with impressive wooden buildings, and in Novosibirsk, the anteroom of Yekaterinburg, the capital of the Urals, where the last Tsar and his family were executed by the Bolsheviks. In Kazan, on the banks of the Volga River, you can admire the Kremlin Fortress, an ancient UNESCO World Heritage-listed citadel, with an impressive mosque and cathedral.The final (or initial, according to the sense) stop is Moscow, home of the Kremlin, the Red Square and the Saint Basil’s Cathedral, the last jewels of an unforgettable route. As Eric Newby, a great travel book writer, said: “Trans-Siberian is the great train journey; all the rest is nonsense”.
The Venice of the North
Saint Petersburg, the capital of Nicholas II
When you start or end your trip in Moscow, you can add one more pearl to this extraordinary journey: a getaway to Saint Petersburg, the city of Russia’s last tsar, Nicholas II.
Located on the banks of the Neva, it is a gem full of history and art, in which the former Winter Palace of the Tsars, currently the Hermitage Museum, displays masterpieces from all times showing the essence of world culture from the Paleolithic to the present day. The first works from Picasso and Dalí are treasured there, as Russians were way more attracted to the new Art movements than Southern countries at the beginning of the past century.
The city itself, with its bridges and canals, surprises you at every corner with the pastel-colored facades of its aristocratic buildings, the shops and cafes on the Nevski Prospekt. Other jewels are the Kazan Cathedral and the Church of the Savior on Blood Shed, with its golden and light blue domes.
Crossing the river to the island of Zayachi you can visit the fortress of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, which houses the prison that locked Trotsky and other revolutionaries.
Near St. Petersburg, after a pleasant boat ride, you should not miss Peterhof, the Versailles of the Tsars.
Text by Anna Tomàs