I've said it before and I'll say it again, Trailblazer guides take some beating.
— Adventure Travel
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.
The information has not yet been checked by Trailblazer but it will be for the next edition.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Novosibirsk, Schetinkina, 34
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:
- Refilling plastic bottles with the boiling water will result in the bottle slightly melting under the heat so get a solid bottle or thermos for water, also one of those knitted bottle holders you get at local markets works well to hold the bottle under the tap so you don't burn your hand as the boiling water pours in
- I would advise people on the #4 & #3 Chinese run trains to be ready with a bit of Mandarin/Cantonese to try to communicate with the Chinese guards.
- Lake Baikal would be a good 2 day stop and also allow you to experience both trans-siberian and trans-mongolian trains. We went straight through as we didn't have time to wait a week for the trans-mongolian to come through again. In hindsight it seems obvious that we could have done this but getting the right ticket on the right train to make the best connection seemed quite difficult up front and might be useful for a novice train goer.
- 2 berth vs 4 bertth - couldn't emphasise the benefits of the 2-berth enough, the price difference was not much more and to have your own space when you needed it was priceless, we didn't miss out on meeting loads of people either.
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.
- Towels are not supplied, so take these for general washing, plus bring an old towel or rag to clean the outside of your windows at the stops
- Bring toilet paper!
- Scarf or similar during the dusty mongolian bits - even when the windows are closed!
- The train either no longer or often does not stop at Lake Baikal station, presumably to risk losing passengers attempting to run to the lake and back!
- The bogie change stop at the Mongolian chinese border didn't allow passengers the option to get off the train at the platform whilst the train went off to have the wheels changed.
- Train stop times were difficult to judge.
- Back door doesn't open on the chinese train
- Boiled potatoes off the russian platforms are delicious so too are the strawberries if you can get them!
- This is the biggest tip: Mix vodka, local strawberries, carbonated water and sugar and you have yourself a cocktail we called the 'Siberian Sling'
- The power is pretty good on the train for recharging etc (the plug is a two pronged round plug that you get in Europe) but the powerpoint is sunk into the wall so make sure you're converter or plug has enough depth to fit into the plug socket.
- Audio books. I have never listened to an audio book before but I thought it was a great train companion being able to still look out the window yet read/listen at the same time!
- Compartment lights may seem broken at first but various configurations of off and on will eventually work.
- Complimentary food vouchers were given for the Chinese dining car on the last day with set dining times marked. Mongolian car was the best though.'