I crossed the majority of Russia’s landmass by train—in winter, no less—and lived to tell the tale!
The Trans-Siberian was a huge undertaking and my impressions are numerous enough that a summary-style blog post won’t do them justice. Here are some bare-bones details: I spent 13 days traveling by train with 3 friends (Kasia, Drew, and James, also Fulbright ETAs). We saw five major cities—Vladivostok, Ulan-Ude, Irkutsk, Ekaterinburg, and Kazan—as we traveled westward to Moscow. It was cool.
I’ll start the process of web-memorializing this super-important-life-event with some photos that I took along the way. I didn’t photograph much because, guess what, it’s cold in Siberia in January and I mostly avoided taking my hands out of my coat pockets. Also, my travel buddy Kasia is an avid photographer and has a fancy camera, so I plan to steal all her photos from her when she gets around to uploading them to Facebook.
Proof that we actually made it to Russia’s great far-eastern city, Vladivostok
Kasia walking on the Pacific Ocean
What a typical kupe (2nd class) car on a Russian train looks like. Other than the stifling heat, the ride was pretty comfortable since we had pleasant kupe-mates (Vika, her daughter Polina, and their cat Kuzya). We did about half of the trip in kupe and the other half in third class.
The first leg of the trip from Vladivostok to Ulan-Ude was also the longest, so I had plenty of time to sleep, read, and take photos from the train’s window. It was probably -30 Celsius on this particular day.
Some of our cute neighbors
After 66 hours on the train we finally arrived in Ulan-Ude to meet with James.Ulan-Ude is known for being the capital of the Republic of Buryatia and having the largest statue of Lenin’s head in the world.
We visited a Datsan (a Buddhist monastery) outside Ulan-Ude. The Buryat people are mostly of the Buddhist faith.
Ice slides in Ulan-Ude’s central square. If you have an abundance of cold, why not have fun with it?
Next we (now a party of three) took a seven hour train from Ulan Ude to Irkutsk. The train ride itself is really beautiful, but unfortunately our window was filthy and none of my photos turned out well. On our second day in Irkutsk we took a bus to visit the town of Listvyanka on the bank of (my favorite place in the world) Lake Baikal. Here you can see the remnants of Kreshenie, the Russian Orthodox holiday that commemorates the anniversary of the Baptism of ancient Rus’. Russians recreate the baptism experience by taking an outdoor swim in icy January water. I was too chicken to join.
I almost had a heart attack watching these kids slip around on the dock.
One of the highlights of the day was seeing one of these guys again–Baikal is home to the world’s only fresh water seals, the Nerpa.
Kasia took a nicer photo on her fancy camera, but this one will do until I get that one 🙂
Next we (party of four now) took the 50-someodd hour train to Ekaterinburg, Russia’s fourth largest city. We arrived at 5 am and my god was it a cold day. Here we took a short-cut during our foot tour by walking across the frozen river.
While I had honestly expected Ekaterinburg to be an ugly industrial city, it ended up being the surprise favorite stop due to it’s artsy vibe.
Did you know that Siberia is cold in the winter?
The last stop before Moscow was Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan. I’ve always wanted to visit Kazan to see mosques in a Russian city (the Tatar people are traditionally Muslim). Here is a grainy iphone photo in which you can see Kazan’s Kremlin in the distance.
This mosque inside the Kremlin is supposed to be the largest in Europe outside of Istanbul.
That’s really all I have in terms of the Trans-Sib for you right now! I’ll share more as I can in the upcoming days.