A Travellerspoint blog

August 2019

Taiga to Tomsk

On the local train

semi-overcast 25 °C
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It was a very early 4:30am rise this morning to get off the main line at Taiga. We caught a local train (2 hrs $3) to our final destination of Tomsk. Tomsk is a university city of 500,000 people (100,000 of those are students). It was one of the first cities in Siberia and has a lot of interesting history.

It is famous for it's solid and decorative timber homes, and its Siberian culture and cuisine. We booked a hotel in one of these beautiful old houses (Abajur $50 per night)

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We walked around the town to get our bearings, had a brunch then returned to the hotel for a nap.

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In the late afternoon we walked around the university and main centre.

I love Tomsk:

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The Institute:

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The State University:

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The city centre:

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For dinner we went to a traditional Siberian restaurant but did not enjoy it much. We had frozen raw fish for entree, and grilled venison and dumpling soup for mains.

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Another great location and a star.pngstar.pngstar.pngstar.png 4 star day

Posted by MikeinCairns 09:53 Archived in Russia Comments (1)

Russian train travel

Our experience and recommendations

semi-overcast 26 °C

This is our longest journey - two nights and a day. As we are sitting on the train all day there is not much to report. The scenery is changing a little. Up until now it has been hours and hours of uninhabited taiga (pine forest); today we are seeing some small towns and our first signs of agriculture. Late in the day we went through some beautiful mountainous country with hill side-villages that could have been in Switzerland. On dusk went through Krasnoyarsk a city of 1 million people.

I haven't talked yet of how we booked the trains and worked out the logisitcs.

Firstly we used the brilliant RZD (Russian Railways) web site and mobile app, both available in English. Using the official web site gives the cheapest possible prices (about half the price of going through a foreign booking agent). If needing an agent then Tutu.ru is the one to use. They only charge small commissions on top of official RZD fares. Two other web sites that I found very helpful:

https://russiau.com/getting-russian-visa-australia/
https://misstourist.com/russian-trains/
https://www.seat61.com/Trans-Siberian.htm

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When using the RZD web site to make a booking you choose from 1st, 2nd or 3rd class. 1st class is a private cabin with 2 beds. 2nd class is the same but has 4 beds (2 up 2 down). 3rd class is like a backpackers dorm; beds are in groups of 6 and all in an open carriage. We opted for the privacy of second class but discovered that it was possible to book all 4 beds to secure the entire cabin. this was significantly cheaper than taking a 1st class.

The prices vary enormously. Eg Vldivostok - Khabarovsk (1 nights) the fares are around $20 per bed for 3rd class up to $300 for the deluxe 1st class. As we booked all 4 beds in a 2nd class cabin, we payed around $50 per bed.

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The price of the tickets are cheaper (usually) the earlier you book. You can only book 90 days in advance. Ticket prices are in blocks from 90 days, 60 days and 30 days, getting more expensive. Since Russia only issues 30 day visas and we wanted to see as much as possible we pre-booked everything 90 days prior and stuck to a tight intinery.

But not all trains are the same. Trains are all numbered. Single digit trains are modern, with aircon, bio-toilets, power points and USB charging. Two digit trains are older, three digit trains are very old. The older trains do not have bio-toilets, so toilets are closed at the larger towns and city. Local trains are typically four digit trains and cannot be pre-booked.

The other consideration for us was departure and arrival time. For most destinations we were travelling overnight but had multiple choices so we tried as much as possible to leave late in the evening to maximise the sightseeing. And we always tried to arrive at a reasonable (not too early) hour of the morning.

For the conventional Trans-Siberian route through the large cities, foreigners typically opt for the new single digit trains. Because we were doing the alternative BAM route and stopping at small towns we usually ended up with old three digit trains. So far we have not encounted any other foreigners and today I was dragged into a cabin to talk English with a group of Russians which they thought was a real novelty!

Everyone is really relaxed on the trains and they all get comfy in their pjs and tracksuits (see previous blog about tracksuits). Some typical travellers..

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When boarding the train there was no need to show tickets. Just walk up to the correct carriage and present passports. After a very thorough check you are allowed on the train. The Provodnik/Provodnitsa (attendants) let you on the train and travel the entire journey. For the long journeys the rotate 12 hrs on duty then sleep for 6 hours. As we travelled in summer holidays many attendants were uni students.

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We made use of the hot water available in every train and drunk a lot of tea, and ate cupa soups and noodle. We also carried cereal, milk andfresh fruit to keep us going.

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Relaxing star.pngstar.pngstar.png 3 star day

Posted by MikeinCairns 09:20 Archived in Russia Comments (1)

Train 111 Siberia

37 hours Severo Baikalsk to Taiga, and crossing the third time zone

semi-overcast 20 °C
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A lazy start to the day. Standard breakfast in the hotel (yogurt, pancakes, tea, coffe and chocalates $3 each).

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Walked for a few hours along the lake and to the "beach".

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Since we left the big cities of Vladivostok and Khabarovosk, we noticed the people were much poorer. There are so many old Lada cars that are falling apart.

Also the people look different. In adition to the "normal" Russian appearance, there seem to be two main types - Firstly a lot of Central Asian/ Mongolian looking people (especially the labourers). Then all the vendors in the market look Turk/Middle Eastern.

And now we have left the city, the tracksuit is the "in" fashion. Especially camouflage tracksuits. Worn by men and women! And smoking is extremely common. So - imagine a young mother wheeling her baby down the main (only) street wearing army camouflage tracksuit with a fag hanging out of her mouth! Welcome to rural Russia.

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Had pizza for lunch (nice but expensive $15) and then back to the train station for our next journey. Another very old train but again perfectly comfortable. This is our longest single leg of the journey, so we made ourselves comfortable for a two night journey.

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The Provodniks (attendants) seem to be getting younger on each trip. This time we got two dipsy teenages who did nothing but play with their smart phones all the journey. Consequently the train was dirty and toilets were smelly. The comfort definitely depends on the competancy of the attendants!

The scenery out of Severo Baikalsk was very impressive through mountains. Looks like they are doing significant construction and we went through a new looking very long tunnel.

A slow star.pngstar.pngstar.png 3 star day

Posted by MikeinCairns 09:28 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

Lake Baikal

Hiking the Great Baikal Trail

semi-overcast 20 °C
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Made breakfast in our room (cereal and cuppa). We were really lucky with the weather as it was forecast for cold rain, but the day was perfect for hiking. The guesthouse organized a taxi to take us to the start of the Great Baikal Trail at Baikalskoe around 40km south on a terrible road ($24).

On the way we stopped at a Buddhist (?) temple, which seemed out of place except this area was conquered by Gengis Khan so maybe thats relevant.

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The village

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Transport options

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Local repair shop

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Strange and colorful cemetry in the village

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The hike (4hrs slow walking) was spectacular....

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Picnic spot at the lake

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Returned to Severo Baikal on the mini bus (1hr $6 each).

For dinner Margaret had Baikal Omul, a fish only found in Baikal. It was delicious. Interesting story
here

Natural beauty and a star.pngstar.pngstar.pngstar.pngstar.png 5 star day

Posted by MikeinCairns 09:27 Archived in Russia Comments (1)

SeveroBaikalsk

Means "North Baikal"

semi-overcast 20 °C
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After a comfy overnight sleep on the train, we arrived in SeveroBaikalsk mid afternoon. Looking forward to a few days exploring Lake Baikal. From the internet:

Lake Baikal is the largest freshwater lake by volume in the world, containing 22–23% of the world's fresh surface water. it contains more water than the North American Great Lakes combined. With a maximum depth of 1,642 m Baikal is the world's deepest lake. It is considered among the world's clearest lakes and is considered the world's oldest lake – at 25–30 million years. It is the seventh-largest lake in the world by surface area.

Like Lake Tanganyika, Lake Baikal was formed as an ancient rift valley, having the typical long, crescent shape. Baikal is home to thousands of species of plants and animals, many of which exist nowhere else in the world. The lake was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. It is also home to Buryat tribes who reside on the eastern side of Lake Baikal,raising goats, camels, cattle, sheep, and horses,where the mean temperature varies from a winter minimum of -19 °C to a summer maximum of 14 °C

Again, it is a massive railway town with dozens of trains filled with coal, oil and timber.

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A bus waiting at the station to pick up passengers. Don't know where they are going but it looks like fun!

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Walked 15 minutes to our home stay, Dom U Baikala (means "house on lake Baikal"), $50 per night.

Walked a bit around town, went to the markets and bought some fresh produce. The town has a positive vibe (unlike Tynda). A lot of young people (15-25) who I suspect are home for the summer, but might go elsewhere (eg Moscow) for the winter school/uni season.

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Ate an OK meal at the Bison Bar a hip place doing BBQ grill, beers, cocktails etc. $20 for two meals and beer.

A pretty good star.pngstar.pngstar.png 3 star day

Posted by MikeinCairns 13:01 Archived in Russia Comments (1)

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