Day 10 on Trans-Siberian Railway: 1,000 km to Irkutsk

Good morning Siberia!

Good morning Siberia!

It is another day on the Trans-Siberian. Just 24 more hours to go until we reach our destination – Irkutsk. Not much to report. It is the same, same. Restaurant visits, reading, writing, talking, day-dreaming.

On the menu of the day - borsch and our usual Greek salad

On the menu of the day – borsch and our usual Greek salad

C9C56D8E-78DB-48E3-BCCA-0F970250B30EOur Russian grandma turns out to be quite a cool lady, having travelled extensively around the world. She makes for a good travel companion, albeit a bit strict for the poor grandson, the 13 year old Sasha, that is under constant supervision. The control measures include strict phone time limitation and mandatory Russian reading. The list of control mechanisms is not exhaustive, but these two are the one Galya the grandma was very fond of imposing. She even tried to coerce me into some Russian reading time, which I politely managed to get out of.

As we draw closer to Irkutsk, the news about floods in the region intensify. It is still the topic of discussion for our German neighbours and now our Russian grandma has also gotten word about it. Angara river has caused quite a stir in the Irkutsk region resulting in quite dramatic floods to an extent that Putin had to fly in and make an appearance. We follow the famous British motto – keep calm and roll on. One of us is more predisposed to the keep calm part, and that one is for sure not me.

Angara river has caused quite a stir in the Irkutsk region resulting in floods to an extent that Putin had to fly in and make an appearance

Angara river has caused quite a stir in the Irkutsk region resulting in floods to an extent that Putin had to fly in and make an appearance

 Just 7 hours to go until the train pulls up at Irkutsk railway station.

Good night from Siberia!

Good night from Siberia!

Photos © Andreas Eriksen & Ani Movsisyan

Day 9 on Trans-Siberian Railway: Somewhere in Siberia 40 hours to go

The sun rises pretty early in Russia at this time of the year. Drifting in and out of sleep with my Guillou book under the pillow, I open my eyes at around 04:00 to find the sun peeking in from the partially drawn black-out curtain. No use in tossing and turning, the unraveling story of secret agent Hamilton is far too exciting for the sleep to kick back in. I succumb happily and transfer for some time to the 1970’s secret agent world of Western Europe. That keeps my intense attention for an hour. Looking at the watch again – 05:35. Time to day-dream a bit gazing out the train window at the passing Siberian landscape in the morning sun. I sneak out of our compartment, while my cabin neighbours and the whole carriage pretty much is deep in sleep.

What an idyllic moment!

What an idyllic moment!

Silence lulled by the sound of moving train. Beautiful morning light. Endless and endless forests. Thoughts wondering far and far.

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IMG_0135Soon other passengers aboard the train wake up filling the silence with life. Time for breakfast in the train restaurant. It is one of the exciting times of the day sampling the delights of the train chef and people watching.

The restaurant features quite a fancy decor

The restaurant features quite a fancy decor

In the restaurant amidst a big group of Germans discussing worriedly the ongoing floods in the Irkutsk region, we find a merry two-man group of locals. They are not wasting any time. Vodka is out and shots come one after another accompanied by a plate of pickles. Na zdorovye!

Na zdorovye!

Na zdorovye!

Back in our compartment, a provodnitsa comes by selling freshly baked buns filled with potatoes, cabbage and apple. We learn from our neighbours, the veteran travellers who have already spent 2 days on the train, that this a morning tradition. Well good traditions must be followed.

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Rest of the day is spent with “hygge” (the now world-famous Danish word for having a cosy time) in our cabin, watching Anastasia with our Russian neighbours, restaurant visits, admiring the Siberian countryside, Jan Guillou. Hours glide by. You don’t even notice and the day is slowly drawing to an end. Night has fallen over Siberia. 30 hours to go.

Anastasia is playing on the screen and black tea served in trademark RZD train glasses is ready. What more do you need for a good time!

Anastasia is playing on the screen and black tea served in trademark RZD train glasses is ready. What more do you need for a good time!

Our train favourite - fried potatoes with mushrooms and onions and of course smetana (sour cream)!

Our train favourite – fried potatoes with mushrooms and onions and of course smetana (sour cream)!

Another train favourite of ours - Greek salad

Another train favourite of ours – Greek salad

Sometimes the stops are long enough to hop out of the train, stretch out and stock up on goodies

Sometimes the stops are long enough to hop out of the train, stretch out and stock up on goodies

30 hours to go

30 hours to go

Photos © Andreas Eriksen & Ani Movsisyan

Day 8 on Trans-Siberian Railway: Yekaterinburg -> Irkutsk (2d 5h 33 min)

Dobroe utro from Yekaterinburg! It is our last day here as we prepare to embark on a 2 day 53 hour and 33 minute train journey through Siberia to Irkutsk. It is going to be an exciting ride.

We decide to pamper ourselves in preparation for the long train ride and basically spent a good part of the day indulging on Russian/French delicacies. How does the French cuisine come into the picture? Well, have some patience, you will find out later. In between the restaurant visits we managed to take an exhilarating taxi ride to the border of Europe and Asia and a good-bye stroll in the city. Our morning starts with a visit to Vysotsky Tower and skyline breakfast.

Vysotsky Tower sticking out amidst Soviet architecture of Yekaterinburg

Vysotsky Tower sticking out amidst Soviet architecture of Yekaterinburg

Panorama restaurant on one of the top floors of the Vysotsky Tower

Panorama restaurant on one of the top floors of the Vysotsky Tower

Another Ural specialty - sea buckthorn tea mixed with orange slices and other herbs

Another delicious Ural specialty – sea buckthorn tea mixed with orange slices and other herbs

Yekaterinburg in all its glory

Yekaterinburg in all its glory – view from the Panorama restaurant

Blocks and blocks of Soviet style architecture

Blocks and blocks of colourful buildings

Descending from the sky, we called a Yandex cab to the take us to the point where Europe stops officially and Asia takes over. The 15 minute ride was nothing short of exhilarating. With the driver looking like he just escaped prison with a toothpick in his month and the phone in his hand manoeuvring the busy city traffic… To his question “Should I wait to take you back to the city or you are going to stay here”, the quick response that followed was: “No, thanks. We are staying!”

The monument marking the continental division point is a very Soviet, very serious sign. Nothing special about it, other than two words saying Europe and Asia. A little bit of creativity wouldn’t hurt. At least the nearby souvenir store tried to make up for the Soviet dullness.

This is the point where Europe stops officially and Asia takes over

This is the point where Europe stops officially and Asia takes over

This cute souvenir could make for a better and a far more exciting landmark than the Soviet pillar

This cute souvenir could make for a better and a far more exciting landmark than the Soviet pillar. No surprises there – the brown bear signifies the European part and the cute, chubby panda – the Asian.

Staying on our side of the continents

Staying on our side of the continents

The landmark is set by a small forest and in the forest you find a few curiosities – a playground to keep the kids busy, while the parents tie a ribbon to the wish tree and pose in the Gates of Love.

Gates of love, say the two endearing swans

Gates of love, say the two endearing swans

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Look up, up, up…

Getting a more civilised taxi ride back to the city, we arrive at Le Grand Café, a special treat to ourselves before the 53 hour train ride. And what a treat it is!

Le Grand Café

Le Grand Café – hidden inside a fancy shopping mall

The crown jewel of Russian cuisine - black caviar and champagne. Now we are ready for the 53 hour ride!

The crown jewel of Russian cuisine – black caviar, blini and champagne. Now we are ready for the 53 hour ride!

You half expect a Russian tsar family to appear any minute on top of the staircase and come gracefully down

You half expect a Russian tsar family to appear any minute on top of the staircase and come gracefully down

As we are well into enjoying our beautifully hand-crafted dessert plates, we are joined by a mother-daughter duo at a neighbouring table. More interested in selfies and photoshoots, the duo provides a rather exciting entertainment.

A treat from the kind French chef at Le Grand Café

A treat from the kind French chef at Le Grand Café

The following and similar scenes continued on and off during the full 30 minutes that we had the pleasure of having this mother-daughter duo as neighbours. Dressed up in their Sunday best (it was only a Friday according to the calendar, but who cares…) featuring a red Chanel bag (can’t verify the authenticity of the bag), posing with the bag, without the bag, standing, sitting, together, alone, with food, without, trying out different tables…

OMG - this and similar scenes continued on and off during the 30 minute that we had the pleasure of having this mother-daughter duo as neighbours

OMG! This and similar scenes continued on and off during the 30 minutes that we had the pleasure of having this mother-daughter duo as neighbours.

A short park walk to enjoy the evening sun and we are ready to say do svidanye to Yekaterinburg!

Evening light in Dendropark

Evening light in Dendropark

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Scenes like this accompanied us all the way in Russia from Moscow to Yekaterinburg.

Scenes like this accompanied us all the way in Russia from Moscow to Yekaterinburg.

Arriving 30 minutes earlier at the train station we are ready to board the train bound for Irkutsk. 2 days 5 hours and 33 minutes, 3,500 km of distance, crossing 3 time zones.

Yekaterinburg Train Station

Yekaterinburg Train Station

Our carriage - favourite number 7 again!

Our carriage – favourite number 7 again!

Inside the train, the Russian roulette is in action again. With an anxious heart I open the compartment door to find a sweet Russian babushka with her grandson. As we come to learn later they live in the US and are spending their summer vacation in Russia, where the grandmother takes his grandson every year on a homeland visit. How delightful! Chance to practice some of my rusty Russian since the grandma doesn’t speak English.

The train pulls off the tracks and we slowly roll towards the vast landmass of Siberia. The sun is setting off and the night will soon fall.

Photos © Andreas Eriksen & Ani Movsisyan

Day 1 on Trans-Siberian Railway: CPH ->DME

There is something comforting about train travels. Soothing rumble of rails moving forward and forward, letting your gaze wonder out the window and onto the world slowly passing by, no rush, no worries. Just you and your day-dreams flying at the pace of the train…

Privet from mother Russia! We have just boarded the train headed from Moskva to Kazan. 800 kms away, 11 hours and 10 minutes after we will arrive in the Republic of Tatarstan. A few months ago the loosely-discussed-not-sealed-on-paper travel dream of Trans-Siberian railway adventure spontaneously became THE adventure of the year.

A few months in – the route was mapped on Google. It took a few attempts and adjustments trying to comprehend the vastness of Russia. The landmass comprising Russia is big, really big, the biggest. However it is only when you try to map out your journey from Point A, in our case, Moscow to Point B Kazan and Point C Ekaterinburg and Point D Irkutsk, the size of it really hits you leaving you in awe.

Buying the tickets is seamlessly easy these days. A quick Google search and you discover the very handy app of RZD, the Russian Railway service. Just a few clicks and a couple of tens of thousands RUB after, voila tickets are purchased. The only slight hiccup on the route is trying to cross the border from Russia to Mongolia. That stretch you apparently cannot buy online as a commoner. So we had to call in the help of a local travel agency to procure the last leg of our journey stretching from Irkutsk to Ulaanbataar.

Before hopping onto the train, Singapore Airlines comes into the picture transporting us from STO-DME. Now that experience deserve a small mention. It was my first time ever flying with this airlines and can I just say that for a brief moment there, I was close to swapping the Trans-Siberian tickets for a 10 hours of flight to Singapore.

Flying with Singapore Airlines is quite an experience

Flying with Singapore Airlines is quite an experience

A few hours later and a quick stopover in Stockholm we hit the tarmac in DME, Moscow. Despite its imposing Soviet appearance, the airport itself was quite efficient, just a short walk through the baggage claim to out into the wonderful afternoon heat of Moscow.

The rest of the day revolved around Red Square – Nikolskaya Street, Red Square, Armenian restaurant, back to Red Square in the sunset, Nikolskaya Street and back to our home in Moscow just off Nikolskaya.

Nikolskaya Street puts a smile on your face every time you walk through. The entire street is decorated in shimmering butterflies leading you right to the heart of Red Square.

Nikolskaya Street puts a smile on your face every time you walk through. The entire street is decorated in shimmering butterflies leading you right to the heart of Red Square.

Nikolskaya Street puts a smile on your face every time you walk through. The entire street is decorated in shimmering butterflies leading you right to the heart of Red Square. There is so much life on that stretch perfect for people watching, some impromptu musical performances and just letting yourself immerse in the buzz of Moscow.

Kremlin area is adorned with beautiful carpets of flowers everywhere

Kremlin area is adorned with beautiful carpets of flowers everywhere

Moscow is so different in the summertime. The last few times I visited the city was in the bitter cold of December. The juxtaposition with summertime is so stark. The city comes so alive in the summer, women strolling gracefully in their best outfits and posing at every corner for their best Instagram looks and likes. It feels like the city is turned into the big open-air stage of Bolshoy Theatre, and everyone is dressed to impress on their way to the Swan Lake performance.

The colours of Kremlin

The colours of Kremlin

Parks and people everywhere

Parks and people everywhere

Stalingrad - the alley of hero cities during WWII

Stalingrad – the alley of hero cities during WWII

First important stop of the day - Armenian deliciousness for early dinner

First important stop of the day – Armenian deliciousness for early dinner

There was one fixed thing on the agenda of the day and that was to head off to one of the several Armenian restaurants in the city and indulge on the deliciousness of my home country. You should have seen the sparkle in my eyes from the sight of lavash (our traditional bread), panir (cheese) and mixed greens. The precious moment of making a brduch – lavash roll, the taste so simple yet so so delicious. The feeling of simple joy from conversing in my native language… Simple joys in life.

After a few hours of feeling like back in my homeland, the feet led us back to Red Square, glowing in the sunset, filled with faces from all corners of the world, strolling casually and documenting their walks with every step they take.

Making a wish before entering the Req Square

Making a wish before entering the Req Square

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Churches around Red Square are so impressive

Churches around Red Square are so impressive

The famous tower of Kremlin glowing in the sunset colours

The famous tower of Kremlin glowing in the sunset colours

St. Basil's Cathedral basking in the sunset glow

St. Basil’s Cathedral basking in the sunset glow

Another pretty cathedral

Another pretty cathedral

Gazing across Moscow River

Gazing across Moscow River

Relaxing in the evening breeze while listening to a beautiful street concert

Relaxing in the evening breeze while listening to a beautiful street concert

Good night Moscow! Sweet dreams

Good night Moscow! Sweet dreams

The train is continuing to roll slowly yet steadily across the vast Russian landscape. It is past midnight here, and I am ready to call it a day. Good night and sweet dreams!

Photos © Andreas Eriksen & Ani Movsisyan