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Monday, 22 August 2016

6. Itineraries - Vodkatrain

A cheaper alternative from Sundowner Overland is the Vodkatrain - a 21 day journey from Beijing to St. Petersburg. You have the services of Vodkatrain Honchos in Beijing, Mongolia, Irkutsk, Kazan, Moscow and St.Petersburg. I'm not sure what Honchos are although I am familiar with the expression - "head honcho" meaning the big boss or the one in charge! Instead of 3/4 star hotels. you stay in hostels, dorms as well as hotels which doesn't bother me. The Vodkatrain tour looks like this:

1. Transfers to and from the train stations are taken care of - you don't have to fight your way being lost to finding a bus or taxi to your hotel.
2. Sightseeing is organised.
3. Help with visas.

Cost: $3945.00

Day 1 - Arrive Beijing
Day 2 - Beijing - Take a wander through the hutongs and bargain in the markets.
Day 3 - Beijing
Day 4 - Depart Beijing for Ulaanbaatar - The first train and an opportunity to spot your first camel in the Gobi.
Day 5 - Arrive Ulaanbaatar - Try your own throat singing.
Day 6 - To Terelj National Park and Ger Camp - Enjoy life on the Mongolian steppe.
Day 7 - Terelj National Park
Day 8 - Return to Ulaanbaatar and depart for Irkutsk.
Day 9 - Trans Mongolian Railway
Day 10 - Arrive Irkutsk and to Lake Baikal - You've arrived in Siberia!
Day 11 - Lake Baikal - Are you brave enough for a swim?
Day 12 - Return to Irkutsk and depart to Kazan.
Day 13 - Trans Siberian Railway - Watch the changing landscapes from the comfort of the train.
Days 14 -15 - Arrive Kazan - Capital of Tartarstan.
Day 16 - Kazan and onto Moscow - Get amongst the locals in Kazan's bustling Bauman Street.
Day 17 - Arrive Moscow - Visit the Kremlin, Lenin's tomb and St Basil's all on Red Square.
Day 18 - Moscow - Explore the glitz and glamour of the GUM department store.
Day 19 - Moscow and to St. Petersburg.
Day 20 - Arrive St.Petersburg - Discover the live music scene - your Honcho is sure to have some favourite spots.
Day 21 - St.Petersburg - Journey concludes.

What is Included?

Visa support for pre-booked services 

Services of Vodkatrain Honchos in Beijing, Mongolia, Irkutsk, Kazan, Moscow and St.Petersburg 

Accommodation on a share basis (twin/triple or dorm rooms, private facilities not guaranteed)

Accommodation in traditional gers in Mongolia

4-berth train tickets Beijing - Ulaanbaatar - Irkutsk - Kazan -  Moscow - St.Petersburg 

All departure and arrival transfers en-route. Please note: Arrival transfer on Day 1 and departure transfer at the end of your itinerary are not included. Please see the ‘Extra Stuff’ section for details on booking these services.

Three days in Beijing. Having been to China, I'm not happy about spending money to stay in Beijing, I'd much prefer the extra days in Moscow .
Although cheaper than their other tours, $3945 is still a lot of money, especially considering no meals are provided. At all. Then again, I've noticed their tours don't seem to include meals bar a couple of piddly breakfasts and a lunch!
Surely I could do this by myself for less? More planning and reading up needed.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

5. Itineraries - Grand Trans Siberian Railway

I've been looking at the three train lines - the Trans Siberian, the Trans Mongolian and the Trans Manchurian and really want to see Mongolia. China I'm not too fussed about - I've been to China so it's not that important for me to include it in my itinerary, but Mongolia is different. I'd been thinking of getting off at Ulan Ude, then going to Ulaanbaatar for a few days before making my way back to Ulan Ude and continuing on to Moscow and/or St. Petersburg. I found this one which helps give me an idea of how many days I need to allow.

Doing this as a tour is $9,600. And you don't get fed much either - it includes 12 breakfasts, 2 lunches and 3 dinners. Considering the cost of the tour, for nearly ten thousand bucks, I would expect to get fed and watered every day, three times a day! I could surely do it a lot cheaper than that and with all meals included too!

Grand Trans Siberian Railway

Departing: Vladivostok, Russia - 24 days
Countries visited: Russia & Mongolia 

Days 1-2. Welcome to Vladivostok!
Once a top-secret naval base of the Soviet Union sealed off from the outside world, Vladivostok now opens its doors for business and the city is booming as Russia’s gateway to the Far East and our starting point for our epic journey aboard the Trans Siberian Railway. Over next couple of days unlock the secrets of Vladivostok at your leisure. Hop on ferries to remote beaches on former navy-only islands or head to higher ground for spectacular views of Golden Horn Bay.

Sightseeing:Day 2-City Exploring and free time.
 Meals: Day 2-Breakfast

Days 3. Vladivostok to Ulan Ude
Gain an insight into the power and significance of this mighty Russian port visiting the Vladivostok Fortress and exploring its sites before we climb aboard the Trans Siberian Railway for this incredible journey.

 Sightseeing: Day 3- Half Day Sightseeing Tour including Local History Museum & Vladivostok Fortress Museum, City Exploring and free time.
 Meals: Day 3-Breakfast

Day 4-5. Aboard the Trans Siberian Railway
Settling into life on board and getting to know our travelling companions, we relax in the comfortable compartment that is our home for this leg of the journey across eastern Siberia to the Buryat city of Ulan Ude.
 Meals: Day 4-No Meals, Day 5-No meals

Day 6. Ulan Ude
Located in the middle of the vast Siberian steppe, Ulan Ude is a centre of Buddhism in Russia, evoking a relaxed and peaceful city vibe. Here you will see the world’s largest Lenin Head and meander around 18th -19th century merchant houses that line the main street, locals refer to as ‘Arbat street’. Later we make our way t o the outskirts of the city to one of Russia’s spiritual highlights, the picturesque Ivolginsky Datsan.

Sightseeing: Day 6-City Tour including Ivolginsk Monastery
 Meals: Day 6-No meals

Day 7. To Mongolia
Leaving the Trans Siberian Railway for the Trans Mongolian Railway we now head south, across the border and into Mongolia, bound for Ulaanbaatar.
Meals: Day 7-Breakfast

Day 8. Ulaanbaatar
Arriving into the capital in the early hours of the morning we have the day to explore the city’s monuments and museums, reflecting on the different cultures and people that make up this quirky city.

Sightseeing: Day 8-City Tour including National History Museum and Sukhbaatar Square.
Optional Activity: Day 8- Cultural evening performance
Meals: Day 8-No meals

Days 9-10. To Terelj National Park
After breakfast we visit the Zaisan Memorial from which the entire city is visible, as well as the country’s largest remaining monastery, Gaandan Khiid, where you can mingle with Buddhist monks. In the afternoon we travel out across the grasslands, through the countryside
that was once the home to Genghis Khan and his Golden Horde, to the pristine Terelj National Park. Here we spend a couple of nights in a traditional Mongolian nomad ger (felt tent), amongst spectacular rock formations and wild rolling hills. Living among nomadic families and their grazing livestock we canexplore nearby valleys or just relax and enjoy the area.

Sightseeing: Day 9- Gaandan Khiid Monastery and Zaisan Memorial, Excursion to Turtle Rock and Monastery.
Day 10- Visit a nomad family
Meals: Day 9-Breakfast, Day 10-Breakfast

Day 11. Return to Ulaanbaatar and to Irkutsk
Returning to Ulaanbaatar we have some time to further explore the city before we rejoin the train again and head back north to Siberia.
Sightseeing: Day 11- City Exploring and free time
Meals: Day 11- Breakfast & dinner

Day 12. Aboard the Trans Mongolian Railway
Continuing towards Russia, leaving Mongolia at Sukh Bator and travelling beyond the Russian border town we then make our way west along the southern shore of the world’s deepest freshwater lake – Baikal.
Meals: Day 12-No meals

Day 13-15. Irkutsk and Lake Baikal
Almost in the center of Asia, Irkutsk is home to beautiful 18th century churches, brightly painted shutters, log houses decorated with intricate wooden lacework as well as a captivating story of high society exile. After our morning arrival into Irkutsk we transfer to the shores of Lake Baikal for a two-night stay in the lakeside village of Listvyanka, visiting the Museum of Wooden Architecture en route. We enjoy a full day at the lake exploring the landscapes as well as Listvyanka with its traditional houses and beautiful wooden church. We also gain an insight into the lake and its inhabitants with a visit to the Liminological Museum.

On Day 21 we return to Irkutsk. Modern administrative blocks and soaring bridges reach out across the Angara River in this beautiful town known as the ‘Paris of Siberia’. Today, on our walking tour you will discover the city’s wonderful historic sights and a visit to the Local History Museum before we board our late night train to Kazan.

Sightseeing: Day 13- Museum of Wooden Architecture.
Day 14- Liminological Museum, City Exploring and free time.
Day 15- 2 hour Walking Tour including Local History Museum, City
Exploring and free time.
 Meals: Day 13- Listvyanka Classic Lunch, Day 14-Breakfast, Day 15-
Breakfast & dinner.

Days 16-17. Trans Siberian Railway
We join the Trans Siberian Railway and travel via Novosibirsk, Omsk and Yekaterinburg booming over the steel bridges spanning Siberia’s nerve system of 5000 rivers to Kazan.
Meals: Day 16-No meals. Day 17-No meals

Day 18. Arrive Kazan
Welcome to the picturesque and historic city of Kazan, the capital of the Tatarstan Republic and the Muslim Capital of Russia.

Sightseeing: Day 18- No scheduled sightseeing
Meals: Day 18-No meals

Day 19. Kazan and to Moscow
Built on the intersection of two rivers, Kazan has endured a tumultuous history. Today, Tatars, the descendants of the Golden Horde and the occupants of the city before the Russians, make up about 43% of the population, maintain their own language as well as culture and are extremely proud of their history. This morning we visit Kazan’s magnificent Kremlin Fortress, a UNESCO World Heritage Site before climbing aboard our evening train bound for Moscow.

Sightseeing: Day 19-Half Day City Tour including Kazan Kremlin.
Meals: Day 19-Breakfast

Days 20-21. Moscow
Early morning arrival into Moscow. This city will amaze you, its palaces and public buildings restored to their former glory. Here you will have ample time to explore the echoing vastness of Red Square, the splendid twirled cupolas of St. Basil’s across the cobblestones, and the Kremlin itself – that fabled palacefort of gilded domes where we marvel at the exquisite collection of royal treasures in the stunning Armoury Chamber. While you are in Moscow ride the palatial underground rail system, adorned with chandeliers, mosaics and baroque bas-relief and perhaps enjoy a river cruise or a magical evening at one of Moscow’s great theatres.

Day 20-City Tour including Red Square and St. Basils Cathedral.
Day 21- Kremlin including Armoury Chamber, City Exploring and free
Optional Activity: Cultural evening performance
 Meals: Day 20-No meals, Day 21-Breakfast

Days 22-23. St. Petersburg
Our final rail journey is a morning train to St. Petersburg. St. Petersburg is the perfect end to this astonishing journey and offers a treasure trove of wonders for you to take in during the final days, including the world-renowned Hermitage Museum, which is housed in the Winter Palace.

 Sightseeing: Day 22-Half Day City Tour, Day 23-Hermitage Museum & Palace Square, City Exploring and free time.
 Meals: Day 22-Breakfast & lunch, Day 23- Breakfast & dinner.

Day 24. Depart St. Petersburg
The last day has arrived too soon. The adventure is complete, the legendary rail
journey that started many days ago has taken you across Asia, through lands
and cultures literally worlds apart.
Meals: Day 24-Breakfast

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