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Greatest Rail Journey on Earth

A personal account by Clare Dudley Managing Director of Ponders Cruise and Travel

In August of 2011, I was fortunate to experience a large portion of the 6000 mile journey between Moscow and Vladivostok travelling on The Golden Eagle, the only fully en-suite luxury train travelling across Russia and central Asia.

The whole experience ran like clockwork from our arrival at the chaotic Domodedovo airport where our guide was awaiting our arrival; we sat back and relaxed as our driver fought his way through the legendary traffic of Moscow where brand new luxury SUV’s jostled with ancient Ladas for space.

Our first night was in the 5 star Marriot Aurora for our welcome dinner where we would meet our hosts, our British tour doctor and likeminded explorers; over a glass of champagne we discovered fellow Brits, Australians, Americans, Canadians and French.

The following day after a fine breakfast, we left our bags in our rooms and took a tour of this fascinating city. Armed with our personal wireless headsets, we broke off into groups of 20 or so and explored the Kremlin, the Armoury, with its priceless display of historic artefacts, Faberge eggs, costumes and more… Saint Basels Cathedral was the jewel in the crown, the brightly coloured marzipan-domes gleaming on this hot sunny day.

After lunch and touring the city, we ventured into the bustling underworld of the Metro to admire its strangely ornate platforms, and finally ended our first exciting day at Kazansky Station in the stunning tranquillity of the VIP waiting room for more champagne. Our stewards led us to our comfortable cabins which would be our home for the next 7 days, where our luggage awaited; we hastily unpacked so that we could run the vast length of the 18 carriages to see the historic steam loco that would haul us off for the first 100 miles or so of the journey.

Our cabins were very well appointed and space efficient with a small wardrobe, safe, lots of cubby holes, TV/DVD, remote air con/ heating, a full width bench seat and table with seat opposite; our charming stewardesses would turn this down into a full size double bed as we tottered of to dinner. And if we had a fall out, there was even an upper berth to find sanctuary in!

Dinner each evening consisted of excellent Russian and International dishes, served with panache and always “ample” quality wines from around the world, the magical glasses seemingly recharging themselves. All of the excellent food and wines were all part of the package!

After dinner, we joined a number of guests in the elegant bar carriage, where the resident pianist played classic pieces while we got acquainted over the fine Russian beer (all included!) and for the Gold cabin residents, the free standard menu drinks too!

We strolled back down the train to the comfort of our cabin, after a busy day, the movement of train on track gently rocked us into a deep sleep, one of the best I’d enjoyed for some time.

On awaking, I discovered the call button and within seconds, our smiling stewardess was on hand to take our order for a fresh cup of tea; Im quite a fusspot when it comes to my tea and rarely find foreign trips to meet my demanding palate however I am pleased to announce that we would be refreshed each day by an excellent cuppa, a real luxury on a long overseas jaunt.

The secret of The Golden Eagle’s success is in the planning, the train arriving just after breakfast into a new destination in between the myriad freight and public trains on this vast ribbon of steel.

Breakfast served in the restaurant consisted of a delicious selection of fresh fruits, yoghurts, cereals and a wide choice of hot dishes cooked to order; there was even tha chance to try out Russian staples too. We would also choose our lunch and dinner each day at this point.

The Golden Eagle is not so much a train tour but a rail cruise, the cabin being the base for the trip, unpacking and packing once, travelling through the night to arrive at new exciting ports each day……. The main difference being that the train can reach places where roads and rivers do not (and no chance of getting seasick!!)

Our journey took in Kazan with its mix of Christianity and Islam and the Unesco listed Kremlin featuring Europe’s largest mosque; Yekaterinberg where Europe crosses into Asia and the scene of the bloody slaughter of the last of the Tsars by the Bolsheviks; Novosibirsk, a Stalinist city, with its impressive opera theatre, sculpture of Lenin and fascinating rail museum; Irkutsk dubbed by Chekov as “The Paris of Siberia” a charming city with its brightly coloured architecture and historic wooden buildings, we enjoyed a moving private concert at the Decembrist museum; Lake Baikal, the largest body of freshwater, 400 miles long and over a mile deep, and home to unique species of fish and seals, here was the chance to swim in its bracing waters, the lake remains frozen until May! We enjoyed dinner of freshly smoked Omul fish by the Angara river, the only outlet of this majestic natural wonder; Ulan Ude, capital of the Buryat nation and right on the edge of Mongolia, here we would be on the same time zone as Honk Kong! We experienced life in a remote village settled by the Old Believers, exiled here as they refused to accept the changes made by the Orthodox church, many were executed for their faith.

Our fellow travellers continued on to Ulaan Baatar, capital of Mongolia and on across the vast wilderness of Siberia to the Pacific ocean at Vladivostok as we remained in Ulan Ude overnight before returning on the 6 hour flight to Moscow and onwards to the UK.

On our journey, we experienced the very best way to see this vast country, the largest on the planet in comfort, safety and style, meeting many fascinating people on the way, from Australian cattle farmers, American sheep barons, Polish Dentists, Egyptologists, school teachers, former US army majors, teachers and more, all with great stories to share.

On our adventure, we learned about the turbulent Russian history and that of the great railroad, enjoyed Russian language lessons, we took in the immensity of the Russian landscape from the breadbaskets of the west, the unfathomable Taiga forests, tundra, mountains, great rivers such as the mighty Volga and the natural wonder of Lake Baikal; as the landscape changed and so the people and their culture and food changed progressively along the way; from the western Europeans of Moscow to the Mongolian appearance of the Buryat people; all on board The Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express, the greatest rail journey on earth!

Grim Stalinist accommodation in Novosibirsk

Grim Stalinist accommodation in Novosibirsk

Typical Siberian village along the tracks

Typical Siberian village along the tracks

For more information on this type of holiday or just to discuss your holiday ideas call us on 01954 232802 or email: [email protected]

The old believers village in Ulan Ude

The old believers village in Ulan Ude

St Basels Cathedral, Moscow

St Basels Cathedral, Moscow

The Golden Eagle

The Golden Eagle

The fantastic stewardesses

The fantastic stewardesses

Statue of Stalin in Novosibirsk

Statue of Stalin in Novosibirsk

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