screen shots of Vodka Train website
There’s something about their website that’s just terribly captivating.
The top bits which is scrap-book-ish ‘speaks’ to me.
The fuchsia, lemon yellow, valencia orange and olive green are just my favourites colours - teal and turquoise would have soared my soul to heavens … but they did alright.
I had always wanted the challenge of planning my own Trans-Siberia / Trans-Manchuria / Trans-Mongolia. Bottom line is I wasn’t too fuss about which route I ended up taking and didn’t mind doing Mongolia as a country separately if need be. I mean, they have dinosaur bones. Real ones just lying out there in this huge mass of red coloured land. Now, that is enough reason for a visit to Mongolia and I’d put up with Ulaanbaatar’s shanty cowboy town feel.
The excitement of planning my own trip was really in getting the logistics and route timing perfect to have the least hassle with Russian visa issuance. My Russian by now is dismissible to say the least and translating the VISA form was enough to set the migraine going.
Anyways, that aside, we all know that I think/ feel/ am in the opinion that Russian train sucks.
And the fact is, if you’re unlucky enough to end up in a tram car with the worst conductors – drunkard and abusive (as I did last year), it’s always good to have at least one friend (preferably male) along with you. The ideal situation of course is to have 3 other known companions to fill-up the cabin. But this I have found almost impossible over the last 4-5 years of my attempts to plan for a trip.
Well, firstly all 3 of us have different psychological acceptable “budget” (not talking about affordability here, but what one would pay for a cup of coffee versus the other, or how one prioritizes a premium seat at the Moscow Ballet versus a decent hotel room).
Secondly, I just don’t care when I go, as long as it uses my annual leave allocation and public holidays in the most economical way.
One of my potential travel partner wants to cross Siberia in the depths of winter.
The other says, “no freaking way am I doing furry hats!”
Thirdly, there’s the various trip options in terms of length, stops and ultimately cost.
The question of:
Should we do the super-quick non-stop one?
Or the short 12-15 days trip with two mandatory stop at a ger camp in Mongolia and Lake Baikal?
Or the decent length ones of 21-24 days with numerous stops?
Or the “mother of all” with a combination of non-stop Vladivostok-Moscow, a short trip to St. Petersburg, followed by the leisurely 24 days from St. Petersburg to Beijing.
The rationale that follows is: allowing the body to adjust to jet-lag.
Speaking of jet-lag, here again we have differing views.
One of my potential travel partner feels we should do it in the eastern direction; i.e. travelling from Moscow to Beijing to allow optimal adjustment by the time we’ve completed the journey.
The other of course says, “screw jet-lag. Why should I be nursing one on my holiday when I can bloody well do it while on the job and paid!”
Yes, just when you thought it was the women who were difficult.
Technically, I’m still sort off ok with either one of the potential traveling partners as long as my criteria of time off optimization is met. So, naturally the “mother of all” choice is out of the question … and it’s almost impossible for all 3 of us to be unemployed at the same time.
With that and patience wearing thin after 4 years (close to 5), I decided I was either going to ‘betray’ the pact of doing Trans-Siberia / Trans-Manchuria / Trans-Mongolia with either one of them, or both, by going with VodkaTrain this November, maximizing the Deepavali and Awal Muharram (I think)public holidays with a short 12 days trip; not inclusive flight time and some 3 days in St. Petersburg which I’ve never stepped foot in.
Just as I was about to put my transfer through with the assistance of a really lovely guy – Stowie, is his name – I realized that Moscow will be 0 degrees Celsius in November … and I stumbled upon these photos in their gallery:
photo gallery of travelers from Vodka Train website
For someone who has put off Iceland twice now for the Northern Lights and experience of living in the ice hotel, I thought why not the Huski Ruski trip in January/ February?
The sub zero temperature of -40 degree Celsius shouldn’t faze me … I’d be warm and toasty in the heated train cabin with a good measure of vodka. The latter is of course a given, given that Russian trains generally sucks… hence, the insulation is questionable, though I cannot say for sure as I’ve not experience a sub zero temperature journey on one (yet?)
The occasional fresh air would so kill me … b..bb…BBut.. I’ve been told by my glacier trekking friends that it does get rather hot and warm in the day with the sun reflecting thereby giving you a nasty and quick sunburn. I’d also been told that with the right clothing and all the adrenaline, I’d be sweating like a pig. And besides, I reasoned it sure beats lying on packs of snow in the middle of the night with my neck cranked up at 70 degrees looking for a chance of spotting the Northern Lights which I no longer have any camera gears to capture with should I be so lucky to spot it at all.
And thus, the Huski Ruski was it until I read the fine prints on the Terms and Conditions.
There’s an age limitation and I am too old!
Stowie, recommended sheepishly that I considered their affiliated travel company since I had marginally passed their “expiration” date …
yes, and rightly so he did it sheepishly, as my immediate respond to him as I looked at the affiliated company’s photo gallery was:
No way am I going to go on one of the few epic journeys on this earth with those weird looking people in the photos …
Funny though, I won’t be feeling this way in another 2.5 to 3.0 decades when I will amazingly by the Heavenly God’s will look like one of those people in the photo… and somehow it will seize looking weird. And there will be someone in my shoes reacting in the similar fashion when they see my aged photos then!
But right now, it’s back to the drawing board with Trans-Siberia / Trans-Manchuria / Trans-Mongolia plans … more so when plans had gone sour with the potential travel mates bound to leave in 3 weeks time.
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some notable tour companies to consider:
China based travel agency and tour operator specialising in Trans Mongolian & Siberian Railway Train trips and tours with options to suit your budget!
Small Group tours on the Trans Mongolian Railway, the Silk Road and rail tickets in China, Vietnam and the Silk Road for under 35-years
Operating this iconic journey now for over twenty years and take bookings for travelers from all points of the globe and helped television crews from both the BBC and ITV capture this amazing journey on film
Other than selling discounted tickets on the Trans-Siberian, Trans-Mongolian and Trans-Manchurian train routes for 10 years, theyoffer Trans Siberian rail tours – both fully customized and group tours
World leading agency for travel to Russia that is based in Washington DC, London, Moscow and St Petersburg, with services ranging from private tours to Russian river cruises
UK based, independently owned tour operator with a focus primarily on Russia, Mongolia and China – founder is a great bloke!
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Resources for the Daredevils
Needs no introduction!
Guest entry by Katie Aune - a Minnesota native and former attorney who recently quit her job in nonprofit fundraising to spend a year volunteering and traveling through the 15 countries of the former Soviet Union – on Matt’s blog
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The Trans-Siberian Handbook (Trailblazer, £13.99)
The bible for this journey, with comprehensive, mile-by-mile information on places of interest along the way and practical information about what to take and when to go.
The Trans-Siberian Railway: A traveller’s anthology (Signal Books, £12.99)
A selection of accounts of the Trans-Siberian experience dating back to the late 19th century