Practical guidebooks for the more adventurous traveller.
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Trans-Siberian Handbook

by: Bryn Thomas & Anna Kaminski

UPDATES

Updated information

Thank you to the following readers who sent in updates, Heather Hampson, Thomas Morgan, Alexandra Bobkova, Marina, Warren and Allison, Igor Shalygin, Marcel Fekkes, Andrea & Rocio Pellerani, Ionut Moldovan, Alfonso Romeo, John Leiss, Rick C, Christina Baron, Jenni Kemp, Mike Vrakking.

The information has not yet been checked by Trailblazer but it will be for the next edition.

2018

April

p32. The Moskva Express still runs from Berlin, but nowadays starts and ends at Berlin Ostbahnhof and doesn’t call at Lichtenberg. The train is modern; the Talgo-carriages (train is called Strizh) have got sleep compartments as well as sitting carriages, including a dining car which is moderately expensive. Runs twice a week (may be more during summer) on Saturday and Monday. Tickets can easily be arranged and paid by the website of RZD (www.rzd.ru), also double compartments are available for solo travellers at a special rate.
Unfortunately, since December 2017 the CityNightLine trains from Amsterdam with coaches directly to Moscow don’t run anymore. Passengers can use other (day time) international trains from Amsterdam to Berlin Ostbahnhof and take the direct service to Moscow from there.
 
Moscow
p182 Gulag museum. I followed your guide, as I wanted to visit the Gulag museum. But when I arrived at metro station Kuznetsky Most my GPS device told me the museum would be almost 3 kilometres away from there, so it probably moved recently. I did find it however, at its new location, 1-й Самотечный переулок, 9, стр. 1, Moscow, Rusland, 127473, which is exactly in the middle of 3 metro stations: Novoslobodskaya, Dostoyevskaya and Tsvetnoy Bul’var.
It is now a multi-level exhibition, also completely translated in English (though the part about the last days of Stalin are only in Russian, the English translation is to be found on one of the digital displays, where you can choose which article you want to read in English). They also raised the entrance fee to 300 Roubles, but I thought it was worth it. Also open on Thursday nowadays.
 
p171/172 Lenin mausoleum. Lenin is still there, but in February they didn’t care about taking your belongings with you; no lockers were provided, though the security check is still there.
 
p193 KGB museum. The KGB knows how to hide; the museum can’t be found at the location given. A local policemen didn’t understand my question in English, but pointing at the Cyrillic signs in the guidebook, he clearly stated it was closed.
 
Metro
The metro nowadays has a second circle line, which is an over ground train, pretty convenient to reach the outskirts of the city quicker, also another way to see something of the city, however it runs through the outer suburbs only.
 
Their public transport chipcard is called Troika and a ride with any form of transport (bus, tram, train or metro) will only cost 33 Roubles, whereas a single ticket will cost 55 Roubles every time.
 
Yekaterinburg
p257Chekhov Hotel. The hotel now also has an elevator, which didn’t take me up to the first floor as it was broken on the day I arrived, but people don’t have to be put off anymore because it doesn’t have an elevator. Extending your stay by a few hours is no problem at all.
 
Panorama view
On top of one of the highest buildings of Yekaterinburg is a restaurant as well as a panorama deck, the Vysotsky Hotel. Entrance for both is paid, but the restaurant is on the 51st floor, the panorama view on the 52nd floor. You don’t need to visit both, you pay for the venue you want to visit. The extensive panorama view costs 300 Roubles, although a visit to a poorly and little translated exhibition about some Russian singer/actor on the 2nd floor (reached through an entrance to the left of the elevator on the ground floor) is included. The panorama deck is at a height of 186 metres and on bright days you can look as far as the Urals. Thought it was pretty interesting.
The leaflet I got says it’s open between 13.00 and 23.00, where they charge 250 Roubles between 13 and 18, and 300 Roubles between 18 and 23 hours. But I still had to pay 300 Roubles at 16.30…
Ulitsa Malysheva, 51 (www.visotsky-e.ru)
 
Yeltsin Centre
Opened just a few years ago, the extensive Yeltsin Centre is completely dedicated to the former president. The museum consists of 2 levels, downstairs is a museum shop and a small introduction to the man and the Russian history, upstairs is divided in 7 parts; each cover 1 important day in the timeframe Yeltsin did important things for the country. Nicely done, with loads of video’s and pictures, also a complete bus that was used is parked on the 2nd level. Not everything is translated into English, though (at best half of the exhibition, but the important things are).
Entrance fee: 200 Roubles. Ul. Yeltsina 3 (5 minutes north of Pl. 1905 Goda)
 
Train travel
p115 SV Carriage interior.  As I’ve travelled only in Spalny Valgon (1st class), I can inform you that none of the trains I’ve been on have a bathroom to the left side, next to the provodnitsa’s cubicle. Toilets are located on the right side of the plans you’re showing in the guide book, always 2 next to each other.
Each SV-compartment has its own power socket at 220W, so the TV doesn’t have to be unplugged anymore. Located under the table.
 
The few Kupé-compartments (2nd class) I’ve seen, also did have one power socket of their own. Also located under the table.
 
Meals.  Travelling in SV also means that you’ll get one free meal with the Russians, lunch or dinner. As I was travelling solo and paid for both beds in the compartment, I got 2 tickets (one for each bed), which entitled me to 2 meals (the provodnitsa’s were so kind to offer me the meals at different times, so instead of 2 lunches, I got to choose whether I wanted to have 1 lunch and 1 dinner or both at the same time). Meals are delivered at your compartment.
With all the time travelling at one hand it’s easy to get it all delivered for free in your compartment, so you don’t have to think of when to eat, because the lunch is delivered at local time somewhere between 12 and 1, dinner typically between 4.30 and 6. On the other hand I’ve woken up at 11.45 after a few long days, had to adjust my watch by 2 hours, so it was already 13.45, and after I came back from a visit to the toilet, the provodnitsa kindly already delivered my lunch. Just imagine; waking up and then get lunch immediately: Salami and salmon, pfff…
 
The Mongolians nor the Chinese deliver the same service in SV as the Russians, so don’t forget to take some food with you! However, I must say that my visit to the Russian restaurant carriage between Irkutsk and the Mongolian border was a really, really nice experience: The carriage was completely empty (March, low season), the menu was also in English, the attendant was a really nice man that could speak proper English, the food was perfect and the prices were just right. I doubled the price I had to pay to give the man a tip, they travel with the carriage all over Russia and now he was away from home for 14 days, just to spend 5 days at home and then leave again for another 9 days. It’s a shame people avoid the restaurant; I don’t think it deserves the bad name it has. Or did I just have that one good restaurant amidst all the bad ones?

 

January

p251 Yekaterinburg.  The time difference for Moscow should be +2.

p314 Lake Baikal. Dereven'ka accommodation no longer includes breakfast in the price and one reader found that the owners were largely absent from the property. 

March 2016

We travelled on the trans-Manchurian in February, from Beijing to Kirov, and your trans-Siberian handbook was absolutely invaluable. We didn't read all the books we took, because we spent so much time following the journey in the handbook and looking out of the window.
A few comments/addition:

Train 19, firmeny, Beijing-Moscow; no bio-loos, just old-fashioned ones which dump onto the line.
We subsequently caught a sleeper to Moscow which started in Kirov and was a modern train with bio-loos and a shower.

Travelling in the winter, we found no locals selling any produce on the platforms on any station; a disappointment. This might be different in the summer but I suspect that it is because kiosks, which pay rent, are found on every station and open when the train is in. Some sell homemade pastries, as well as packaged goods, UHT milk and toiletries.

Chinese dining car: no English translation of the menu, food plain but very cheap, roughly £1.50 for chicken and rice. Only chopsticks available.

Russian dining car: translation of menu, almost everything available and freshly cooked to order, very good.

Bogie-changing at Zabaikalsk: the train is in the station for nearly six hours. In theory, you can stay in the carriage but there will be no lighting or toilets for that time. Also, the provodnik/provodnitsa - one of each in our carriage - will probably want to get off, perhaps to shop for food and they can't both do this if passengers stay on. So, better to get off, you can walk into the sheds to see the bogie-changing, walk round Zabaikalsk (not a lot to see) visit the station cafe, which had homemade items, or wait in the waiting room which was well heated. Toilets in the station, the ladies' squat style only.

Irkutsk Aluminium smelter at km. 5207,  and Goncharovo stn. at km 5205 rather than 5214.

Km 4100-2 Yenisey river never freezes, we were told by the dining car waiter who came from the region, certainly it was the only unfrozen river we saw in Siberia. The old, award-winning,  bridge across the river is to the right as you go towards Moscow.

Km 2181-2 Photo op: Large number of wooden houses, more brightly coloured than usual, close to the line.

Kn 1816 Yekaterinburg station is Brutalist-style; older, more characterful, station building on the other side of the track, left side going towards Moscow.

Km 1770 The Europe-Asia border obelisk is on the left as you travel towards Moscow.

We were passed en route by a Russian postal train - labelled Posta Russia Expeditsia. They still have them: we've given them up in Britain.

 

November 2015

p237 Nizhny-Novgorod.  YesHostel  - is a hostel not in the book; it's near the metro station at the other end of the pedestrian street from the kremlin, and sounds equal to Smile Hostel, recommended in the guide.

p244 Perm. Hostel P is at number 67 not 62, as in the book.  Number 62 is an official-looking building with guards, number 67 is a good few hundred metres away on the other side of the road.  The Hostelworld website has clear and accurate details as well as photographs (the hostel is somewhat hidden from immediate view).

p179  Surely it's film director Sergei Eisenstein buried in cemetery.

p182 State Gulag Museum at ul Petrovka 16. No longer at that address. Someone said it was now 2-3km away but didn't have time to verify.

p 182. State Gulag Museum - should be "...don't let lack of English captioning put you off.."

p243.Nizhny Novgorod trains Westbound. The paragraph ends with "41/2245".

p244. Perm is Moscow +2hrs

p 251.  Yekaterinburg is Moscow +2hrs.

p256. Urals Geology Museum in Ekaterinburg closed Monday & Tuesday, open Wed to Sun.

p264. Tyumen hostel Vse Prosto at Pervomayskaya 40, does not exist any more.

p265. Tyumen map scale - what is shown as 1km is probably 100 metres.

p266. Tobolsk is Moscow +2hrs.

p304. Irkutsk Tourist Office location is now on corner of Ul Dekabrskikh Sobyty & Ul Engelsa, a few hundred metres away.

p305. Hotel Yevropa in Irkutsk single bed price - check.

p311. Teltsy Museum of Wooden Architecture opening hours. The sign out the front says "April-October 1000 to 1800, kassa closes 1700"... and "November-March 1000 to 1700, kassa closes 1600". 

p323. Ulan Ude map shows Pro 50 Let Oktyabrya road passing over the rail line. In fact the road passes under the rail line..

p327. Chita time is Moscow + 5hrs. 

p369. Mongolia - Where to eat  There is a chain of vegan restaurants throughout Mongolia, Taiwanese owned, I believe, they have a comprehensive website.  Called The Loving Hut, number 2 on their site is brilliant (even for omnivores).  The menu had English subtitles, the front of house woman spoke good English and it did a set lunchtime menu which was so cheap it almost gave itself away (and gave Green Shield stamps in to the bargain)!  I am pescatorean and went with an omnivore; we enjoyed it tremendously (as did a British couple whoo went the day before).  It is closed at weekends.  There is also a Buddhist-run vegetarian restaurant several doors further west on the same street: this again got good reports from the other British couple.  The Loving Hut has a branch in Khutuul where the English (menu and speech) is missing but did a tasty noodles and soup one lunch time.

p372. Mongolia Travel Agents  Goyo Travel (part British-owned) situated in Gromolt Towers, some 400 - 500 metres west of the State Dept Store but on the south side of Peace Avenue has a Mongolian woman working there who has very good English; she and Ollie, the Bicester-based Brit. are very good and helpful.

pp353-76 Mongolia  Irish bars (which may or may not have canned Guinness, none run to draught) abound, as do 24 hour ATMs, something which your book suggests are thin on the ground. Unfortunately so do opportunist thieves and pickpockets.

August 2015

Irkutsk. Restaurant recently opened in the centre of Irkutsk, called Brasserie bbb atKalandarishvili 9, but the entrance is through the Karl Marks. It’s a Belgium type of brasserie/restaurant. Focussed on Belgium cuisine but with some typical local dishes for foreigners. Especially dishes from the unique local fish Omul are rather popular: sagudai, raskalotka, omul on the grill and many others.  As Belgium dishes we have typical Steak Frites Bearnaise(beef steak with French fries and sauce béarnaise) and many dessert from the famous Belgium chocolate. With all this we are serving almost 60 differents Belgium beers (Leffe, Stella Artois, Hoegaarden, Duvel, Omer, Triple Karmeliet, etc.) Don’t forget to ask to meet the owner. If he is not preparing béarnaise he must be somewhere in the kitchen to prepare a delicious Fondant de chocolat. And with a bit of chance he’ll come at your place to prepare a wonderful sabayon.

 

Beijing to Ulaanbaatar.  Maybe the most important change is that the Saturday K23 train has been cancelled, and now it leaves Beijing on Monday and Tuesday, at 11:22. Neither K23 nor K3 stops at Datong now.Afterthat we took K3 to Irkutsk and Russians trains (No 69 and 37) to Moscow.
 
Some changes regarding to attractions and public transport prices:
-Beijing’s Summer Palace costs 30Y(park) / 60Y (all sections).
-Beijing subway single ticket costs 3-7Y, it depends on the destination.
-Ulaanbaatar buses cost 500T
-Irkutsk tram ticket costs 12R
-In Moscow prices for the main attractions has increased. Kremlin ticket for architectural complex (Cathedral Square, cathedrals museums…) costs now 500R. St Basil Cathedral ticket costs 350R.
-Aeroexpress train to Domededovo Airport costs 470R in ticket window (420R if you buy it on the website)

This year Mongolian Visa is not necessary for most European countries if you stay less than 30 days and if you enter before 31th December 2015. I suppose in 2016 Mongolian visa will be indispensable again.
 
On the other hand, we stayed in hostels in Beijing, Ulaanbaatar, Irkutsk and Moscow, in a hotel in Yekaterimburg, and in a guesthouse in Listvyanka.
They are all good, but I would highly like to recommend Leo Hostel in Beijing. It’s a very cosy hostel in Da Zha Lan hutong, near Tiananmen Square. It has a bar and a restaurant with occidental and Chinese food, and it arranged us a Great Wall tour in a very quiet section of Badaling. Maybe you would like to reconsider including it in the handbook for the next edition.
 
Train related:

- The first two legs were booked on the railways' website rzd.ru; we could not book more than that because of repeated transaction failures (we unsuccessfully tried different networks/browsers/card types in different countries, having also making sure there were no fraud suspicion issues with the card companies); the last two were bought directly at Yaroslavsky station.

- First leg Moscow -  Ekaterinburg: kupé on train no.68, ticket at 94EUR. Pretty good comfort; coffee was strong and thick (lots of grounds at the end) and definitely not instant. Eco toilet.
- Second leg Ekaterinburg - Novosibirsk: kupé on train no.56, ticket at 92EUR. High comfort, including slippers, toothbrushing kit, one hot meal and one snack-box; TV-set (russian channels only) and electrical socket inside the kupé. Eco toilet. We had an attempt of changing the ticket for an earlier train (no.2 was the only one available) at Ekaterinburg railway station but, since our tickets were electronically-acquired, this would have meant buying new tickets and applying for a refund; we didn't take our chances.
- Third leg Novosibirsk - Irkutsk: we had bought  a first class soft compartment for 184EUR/pers. thinking why not try this, too. Our no.8 train carriage had old 70's-like furbishing which prooved that the ticket prices reflected only the need to sum up to the same amount per carriage. The kupés we saw and the platzkart were, obviously, progressively worse. We had two meals included but, even more for a 2-bed berth, the comfort and the "utilities" were way lower than on no.56's kupé. Rude waitress in the restaurant.
- Fourth leg  Irkutsk - Ulan Bator: kupé on train no.6, ticket initially at 102EUR (which we changed in order to leave one day earlier, this adding 30EUR, out of which half potentially refundable). Even though the comfort was mediocre with the old furbishing and utilities, it was still a little better than no.8's kupé carriages. You could, however, roll down the windows on this one (which was not always a good idea since the line was no longer electrified in Mongolia and thus allowing the smoke to get in). Nice waitress in the restaurant (Russian part). We didn't change our currency to tugriks on the train (the rate of the train changers was at 2/3 of the real one for USD/EUR/RUB). The 54V outlets charged well an iPhone4S but not a 6.  

City/stop related:
-Moscow:
The taxi office right before the exit from DME airport charged a fixed 1650RUB for a trip to the eastern periphery of the city (Izmailovo Hotel, right near the omonimous market), about 50km away.
The currency exchange office in the hotel had the same rates as xe.com which was, of course, more than one could have expected.
-Ekaterinburg - esp. the Europe/Asia border:
 If you don't want any tours from the company in town, there is a confusion among Russians about the 3 border "monuments" you talked about: the white small "obelisc" that can be seen from the train and the two that are road-sided. Well, most people there would point you to the popular metallic monument, the one on the right side of the main road going west to Perm (NovoMoskovski trakt), at about 17km from the city.  We took the bus from the bus station (quai 10/13) for 85RUB one-way to the border "obelisk" and the driver stopped at this 17km point and told us that that was the obelisc; in fact, it was just that small touristy sculpture/monument so we insisted that we wanted to go to the real obelisc, the big one; fortunately, there was this Russian businessman on the bus who told the driver he knew what we were talking about. Long story short, you need to hop off the bus at a further Gazprom gas station before the city of Pervouralsk, at about 40km from Ekaterinburg, a zone they call Beryozavaya gorka (birch hill). There, you have this secondary road that connects with the main one on that right side where you hop off. Go back east 500m on this secondary road and you'll find the true & big granit obelisc. When you return, you need to go back to the same gas station on the main road, cross the road (to the station on the south side) and wave for the buses with no. 150-something going back east to Ekaterinburg (150,155,156 to name a few); we told the driver "Ekaterinburg", gave him the same amount of 85RUB/pers., which he pocketed without any comments or questions.
- Novosibirsk:
If you go see the Cathedral of the Ascension, make sure you have your legs covered (not just the knees, as no shorts or short skirts allowed). Ekspeditsiya's menu no longer had bear steak on the menu.
- Irkutsk:
The somewhat touristy Modnyy Kvartal is becoming an attractive leisure area undergoing serious facelifting with a couple-dozen Siberian-style wooden houses  right next to the shopping mall (even if some work is done on a rapid-lower quality basis), making the city center more interesting than those of the bigger cities'.
Given that we didn't book any seats in advance, there were no seats available on the hidrofoils running to Listvyanka, and the only busses that still had seats were scheduled too late for us; there were already lots of people queuing for the only minibus that was at the bus station. We got a taxi from the bus station to Listvyanka  (two-way drive plus one hour waiting time, for a total of 3500RUB); back in Irkutsk, the driver left us at our hotel.
-Ulan Bator:
A long portion of Peace Ave. was under heavy construction so the traffic (and buses) was re-routed, esp.to the animated Seoul St..
The adult ticket for the National Museum of Mongolia is now T8000 and they also have the infamous photograph fee of T10,000.
The taxi from Chinggis Khan Sq. to the airport costs between T18,000 (bargained for with unofficial taxi drivers) and T30,000 (demanded by official taxi-marked cars) but beware of the fact that there is an access booth-and-barrier to the airport's parking lot and taxi drivers would primarily ask you to pay for that acces (another T10,000), so you're better off insisting to stop before this entrance point, 50m from the airport hallway.  

June 2015

p278 Novosibirsk. Dostoevsky Hostel, address is Maksima Gorkogo st., 85.
Phone number: +7 983 510 75 83. The price is from 350 Rub per bed.

April 2015 - Novosibirsk

Please note new website for Zokol Hostel
+7 (383) 223 36 11
+7 906 996 42 06
www.zokolhostel.ru
Novosibirsk, Schetinkina, 34

 

 

2014

From Warren and Allison who recently completed the Trans-Mongolian train journey from Moscow to Beijing  and wrote to thank us for 'the excellent guidebook that made the journey so much more enjoyable'. 


'The reference to the kilometre markers in the guide book were genius in keeping us entertained, as were the historical elements regarding explorations through Siberia and exiled Russians.  We were in the 2-berth 1st class deluxe compartment on the #4 Chinese train. In our time pondering the trip with fellow passengers we came up with some tips that might make future passengers more comfortable, particularly for the #4 Chinese train we were on, travelling non-stop to Beijing. Below are some points in no particular order you might want to consider for a future edition:

2-berth on the chinese train is a bunk, some people might not realise this as the Russian trains 2-berths were at ground level I beleive
Beds on the #4 train were rock hard (I think harder than the 4 berth!) and would suggest taking a camping mattress or something to put underneath your sheet, we used the extra blankets as padding as we travelled mid summer.

 

 

Trans-Siberian Handbook