Day 1 - Beijing
Nimen Hao! Welcome to China. The capital of the most populous country on earth, Beijing is quickly shedding its historical face in favour of modernity. However, there are still plenty of places that give an insight into the nation's ancient past, as well as sights that showcase China's contemporary culture. Your adventure begins with a Welcome Meeting at 6pm today, where your insurance and next of kin details will be collected. This evening maybe seek out some famous Peking Duck.
Day 2 - Overnight Train
This morning board a train out of China and travel into Mongolia - the first leg of this epic train journey that will take you 6,000 kilometres to Moscow. This is an overnight journey (approximately 30 hours) that includes a long border crossing during the night where your passports are processed. It's here that the bogies (train wheels) have to be changed because of the differing rail gauges used in China and Mongolia. Say goodbye to the built-up modernity of the city and get comfortable as you watch the scenery change from urban to rocky desert, and on to rolling green meadows as you enter the relative time warp of Mongolia.
Trains on this journey are simple but comfortable. You’ll travel 2nd class on this trip. There's a toilet/bathroom at the end of each carriage with a small sink and cold water. An attendant is assigned to every carriage to look after your comfort and safety (although service standards can vary greatly). Each compartment has four bunks with luggage storage space inside. Bedding is provided, although some travellers still prefer to bring their own sleeping sheet. There's hot water available for making drinks or instant meals, tea and coffee. Sometimes snacks and drinks are available for purchase on board and most trains also have a dining car, although with a limited menu. Trains are generally heated but most do not offer air conditioning. The train can become very hot even in winter and the train attendants will not allow the windows to be opened, please pack clothing appropriate for the warmer conditions on these train journeys.
Day 3 - Ulaanbaatar
Crammed between the superpowers of Russia and China, the independent nation of Mongolia is a true Intrepid destination. The capital, Ulaanbaatar (affectionately known as UB), is a city where you’ll find elderly Mongolians in traditional dress, business suit-clad entrepreneurs and young monks. After checking in to our hotel, venture out into the city, where the close relationship with the USSR is evident in the Soviet style architecture. Perhaps explore one of the city's many museums to learn about the country's turbulent history, including the reign of the most famous of Mongolian historical figures – the feared and respected Genghis Khan.
For your free time in UB you can explore the city, maybe visiting the Museum of Natural History, which has an excellent dinosaur display, or any other of the city’s fascinating museums. At the Intellectual Museum you can learn about the history and culture of this intriguing country through puzzles, toys and magic tricks. Tonight perhaps experience Mongolia's rich artistic culture at a performance of traditional throat and ‘long song’ singers, musicians, dancers and contortionists.
Day 4 - Terelj National Park - Ger Camp
Travel to Terelj National Park by private van (approximately 90 minutes). With rolling meadows dotted with munching yaks, forested hills, and imposing rock formations, this is the perfect place to take in Mongolia's natural beauty. A local guide will share some insight into Mongolian customs and culture with you, as well as lead you on a hike to a local Buddhist retreat. In Terelj, you’ll stay in a holiday ger camp (multi-share) with full board. Vegetarians can be catered for, although choices may be limited – please let us know if you have any specific dietary requirements at time of booking. The gers sleep up to four people with comfy beds and plenty of blankets. In the colder months you might want to stoke up the stove in the centre of the ger – you'll be toasty warm in no time! You’ll share meals together in the dining quarters. Bathroom facilities here are basic with no showers, but there are toilets and basins with cold water in a support building outside. Please note in the colder months when plumbing is no longer functional there will be no running water and an outdoor pit toilet will be used. Tonight, get involved in making your own dinner by learning to cook buuz – traditional Mongolian dumplings! Then take in the wonderful views across the gers and rocky escarpment as you experience a memorable Mongolian sunset.
Day 5 - Ulaanbaatar
Return to the hotel in Ulaanbaatar today (approximately 1.5 hours). On the way back to UB, stop and visit the huge Chinggis (Genghis) Khan Monument. Chinggis Khan, the legendary horseman who conquered half the known world in the 13th century, can be viewed from miles away. You can climb up the structure and see the view from atop the horse, maybe a little tacky but also pretty amazing. When back in the city, do some shopping to stock up on supplies for tomorrow’s overnight train ride. You can also search out some local handicrafts such as cashmere and felt products. Relax in your hotel or in a local restaurant this evening.
Day 6 - Ulaanbaatar/Overnight Train
Today you’ll enjoy a tour of Ulaanbaatar and the surrounding area. Look out across the city from the top of Zaisan Hill, and then visit Mongolia’s largest and most important active monastery, the lively Gandan Khiid, to learn about the main religion of Mongolia – Tibetan Buddhism. You will also explore the range of fascinating artefacts housed in the Winter Palace Museum of Bogd Khan. Later today you will leave Mongolia aboard the Trans-Mongolian Railway, which takes you across the border into Russia and on to Siberia (approximately 26 hours).
Day 7 - Ulan Ude
Arrive in Ulan-Ude, the capital of the Republic of Buryatia and homeland of the Buryat people, who are closely related to Mongolians. After years of repression during the Soviet era, Buryat traditions and religions (shamanism, Tibetan Buddhism) are now seeing something of a revival. You’ll notice how the city is an ethnic and spiritual mix of Euro-Russian, Mongolian, and Buryat cultures. The future of Buryatia is directly connected with development of the Lake Baikal area as a tourism zone. By coming here with our groups, respecting environmental issues and with rational use of the area's rich cultural and historic legacy, Intrepid aims to contribute to the development of sustainable tourism in Eastern Siberia. The area is fabulously beautiful, Ulan Ude is surrounded by vast, wild nature, boundless steppes, alpine and taiga forests. You’ll arrive in the town in the evening and settle into your hotel tonight before we head out to the lake tomorrow.
Day 8 - Ulan Ude/Lake Baikal
Ulan Ude has a unique cultural mix of local and Russian traditions – it's the site of numerous flourishing Buddhist Datsans and its main square is home to a large and highly unusual head of Lenin, the world's biggest! Today you’ll visit an Old Believers Village. The Old Believers are Orthodox Christians who were exiled or fled from European Russia during the church reforms that took place in the 17th century. This visit will take you to a place that has changed little since the 18th century. Visit the local church and ethnography museum, attend a concert of folk songs and games, and enjoy a meal of timelessly tasty home-cooked dishes. Then you will drive approximately 2.5 hours to Lake Baikal. This is the deepest lake in the world, amazingly holding over 20% of the world's fresh water. There are plenty of optional activities to choose from during your stay in a comfortable local guesthouse here, including hiking, swimming and boat trips. Full board is included here, with plenty of tasty Russian staples like salads, soups, black bread, pancakes and pies. You'll also get a chance to try the local fish from Baikal – omul – which definitely tastes even more delicious when roasted over a camp fire on the lake shore. Accommodation here is on a multishare basis.
Day 9 - Lake Baikal
Today is a free day to enjoy your surroundings. This part of the lake has long, beautiful sandy beaches and some smaller and warmer lakes, where you can relax, play games and enjoy the sun and magnificent scenery. Don't miss out on experiencing a banya, the Russian version of a sauna. Locals swear by the cleansing, healing and meditative properties of having a steam and a wash in the banya, and it can also be quite the social occasion! Make sure to avail yourself of some birch twigs and slap yourself (and others!) over the shoulders for a traditional Siberian 'massage' to get the true banya experience. The banya here gives you a chance to cool off from the steam by jumping straight into the lake, before you go back in and do it all again! Make the most of the all the local food today, as tomorrow you will by taking your three-night train and the culinary offerings may not be so great!
Day 10 - Trans-Siberian Railway
Return to Ulan Ude (approximately 2.5 hours) and head to the train station. This is the longest journey of the trip, three-nights on the legendary Trans-Siberian Railway to Kungur. There are limited trains from Ulan-Ude to Kungur, with two different time schedules. Due to the schedule, you may need to leave Ulan-Ude earlier and arrive during the very early morning in Kungur.
Day 11-12 - Trans-Siberian Railway
The Trans-Siberian Railway is the world's most famous train line. It's also the longest, extending from Moscow across Siberia to the far-flung town of Vladivostok. You’ll experience part of this celebrated train odyssey from Ulan Ude to the Ural town of Kungur (3 nights total). Travelling through three time zones, you’ll wind your way through forests, small Siberian villages and big industrial Russian cities, to reach the bustling European part of this vast and varied nation. It might seem like a long journey but the majority of travellers are actually surprised how quickly it goes! Life on the train will pretty much consist of eating, drinking, talking, reading, sleeping and gazing out the window. Settle into the rhythm and enjoy the simplicity of having very little to do. Pro tip: buy dill and mint from the station sellers along the way to freshen up your drinks, soups and other meals There's plenty to keep you busy and enjoying this relaxing part of the journey, and you may even be reluctant to get off when you reach the next destination.
Day 13 - Kungur
Break up the journey with a stop in tranquil Kungur, a pretty provincial Russian town well known for its traditional architecture. When Siberia first opened up for settlement, a new major road turned Kungur into a trade centre. Foreigners seldom visit here, and an Intrepid aim is that by stopping here, we can have a positive impact on the development of tourism. On a walking tour with a local guide, see the buildings’ interesting mix of architectural styles – architects from all over European Russia were invited to make Kungur into one of the region’s most beautiful towns. Intrepid has the first English-speaking guides in the area, students training to work in tourism in the future. The Kungur area also has a unique karst landscape, with its Ice Caves some of the most extensive in the world. Of the 6 kilometres of passages, 1.5 kilometres are open to the public, and there’s a chance to visit them today. The first two caves contain permanently frozen ice formations, waterfalls and underground lakes. Watch out for the mythical monster mammoth that is said to inhabit the caves! Please note that English speaking guides are not usually available. While here you’ll discover more about the people, their customs, culture and cuisine with a visit to a local family to make traditional gingerbread and enjoy plenty of cups of tea!
Day 14 - Overnight Train
Today is a long day of travelling. Depart Kungur in a private bus and travel to Perm train station (approximately 4 hours with stops). Perm (whose name comes from the term ‘Far-away-land’) is the most Eastern city in Europe, and is a major rail junction connecting Siberia and the Far East with the European part of the country. Depending on arrival time, there may have some free time to explore the city, which is home to two of Russia’s largest art museums. Perm was infamously known as the ‘Gateway to the Gulag’, a closed city that was hidden from Soviet maps and not opened until 1990. 100 kilometres outside of the city is Perm-36, which was once a notorious forced labour camp and wasn’t closed until 1987. In the afternoon, you’ll board your overnight train to Moscow (approximately 25 hours), which departs at approximately 17:20.
Day 15 - Moscow
The great city of Moscow has survived centuries of revolution and seen Russia through some of its most turbulent years, from the days of the tsars through the communist era to the growing pains of democracy. Beneath its modern veneer, a sign of Russia's recent embrace of capitalism, Moscow is a fascinating, historic city with a wealth of sights to see. You’ll arrive into the capital around 5pm and take the metro to your centrally located hotel. You can celebrate the end of your epic cross-continental journey here in Moscow with a wander around the famous Red Square by night and a final optional dinner with your group.
Day 16 - Moscow
As this is a combination trip you may say farewell to some of your fellow travellers who are ending their journey here today. You will have free time until the group meeting tonight at 6pm where you will meet your new travel companions and leader (if applicable) for the next leg to St Petersburg.
Day 17 - Suzdal
Travel by private bus to Suzdal (approximately 4 hours). The town is a main stop on Russia’s legendary Golden Ring, the circle of ancient and former capitals that played an important part in the formation of the Russian Orthodox Church and that hold the memories of significant events in Russian history. The fairytale-feel historic small town of Suzdal is filled with contrasting examples of early Russian architecture, where onion-domed monasteries stand next to lovingly decorated wooden cottages. Here there are opportunities to drink mead by the riverside with a symphony of cathedral bells in the air, and peek inside the crumbling churches that line the narrow streets and alleys. You’ll stay in a guesthouse in one of Suzdal's quiet streets. Some rooms are twin share, while others are triple or quad share or interconnecting rooms. There’s a shared toilet and bathroom on each floor, and you have access to a spacious kitchen and group dining area. On occasion, the group may stay in different guesthouses that will be located nearby. Tonight you’ll have a chance to try heart home cooking at the home at one of our local friends.
Day 18 - Suzdal/Moscow
Get to know the Suzdal a little better today with a walking tour of this ‘open-air museum’. Take in the sights – the grandeur of the Kremlin, the carved stonework of the Cathedral of the Nativity, the trading square, market and monasteries (approximately 3 hours total). If there’s time, walk along the banks of the river, spanned by wooden footbridges and then pop in to a local cafe for tea, bliny (pancakes) with caviar or the Suzdal specialty of medovukha, a honey-based spiced mead. Transfer to Vladimir by private van (approximately 30 minutes) and then take the super modern high speed Sapsan train to Moscow (less than 2 hours). Return to the hotel by metro. Spend the evening back in Moscow – maybe wander around the famous Red Square and St Basil’s Cathedral by night if you haven't already.
Day 19 - Moscow/Overnight Train
Visit the mausoleum of Russia’s most famous revolutionary – Lenin. He was the initiator of the 1917 Russian revolution that ushered in the era of communism, and you will join the sometimes long queue lining up to visit his austere eternal resting place on Red Square. Then enter the Kremlin grounds with a local guide, home to the oldest and most important churches in the country, and where many Tsars and Tsarinas are laid to rest. Walk through the soaring towers and cathedrals of the political and spiritual heart of Russia before entering the Armoury Museum, home to an eye-bulging former royal collection of ambassadorial gifts, Faberge eggs, coronation robes and glittering jewels. This evening board an overnight train to Novgorod (approximately 8 hours) from Moscow's Leningradskiy railway station.
Trains on this journey are simple but comfortable. You’ll travel 2nd class on this trip. There's a toilet/bathroom at the end of each carriage with a small sink and cold water. An attendant is assigned to every carriage to look after your comfort and safety (although service standards can vary greatly). Each compartment has four bunks with luggage storage space inside. Bedding is provided, although some travellers still prefer to bring their own sleeping sheet. There's hot water available for making drinks or instant meals, tea and coffee. Sometimes snacks and drinks are available for purchase on board and most trains also have a dining car, although with a limited menu. Please note that in many cases, due to high demand for tickets on this route, the group is not always together. It's likely that at least some members of the group will be sharing compartments with other travellers, either foreign or local, particularly if your group does not divide evenly into four. A brief word about drinking on the train: Social drinking is common on trains in Russia and can be an enjoyable way to meet local people as well as interact with your fellow Intrepid travellers (in moderation). While alcohol is often available for purchase on the train, spirits (including vodka) should only be consumed in the dining car. While we certainly want all our Intrepid travellers to have a great holiday it's important that you show due respect for your fellow group members, and keep in mind that many of your local companions use the train as a means of transport to get home or to work.
Day 20 - Novgorod
Arrive early in the morning in the oldest city in Russia, and see how well-preserved architectural treasures linger as echoes of medieval times and glories of the past. As the former capital of ancient Russia, Novgorod is often seen as the cradle of modern Russian civilisation. Explore the city's sights on foot with your local guide. The city's foremost attraction is the graceful Kremlin on the banks of the Volkhov River. Inside there are museums and the Cathedral of St Sophia, as well as the amazing Millennium Monument, which tells the story of 1,000 years of Russian history. On the opposite bank of the river are quiet shady streets, the graceful ruins of Yaroslav's Court, and other echoes times gone by. In your free time here you might like to check out the Yurev Monastery on the shores of Lake Ilmen, visit the Wooden Architecture Museum just outside of town, or catch a performance at the Philharmonic Hall. In the summer you can also relax on the little riverside beach, or take a boat trip on the Volkhov River for glimpses of the quiet countryside surrounding Novgorod. Tonight, maybe join your leader and plenty of friendly locals for a refreshing steam and wash at the public banya (bath house) – no trip to Russia would be complete without experiencing this custom.
Day 21 - St Petersburg
Travel by private bus from Novgorod to St Petersburg, one of Russia’s most celebrated cities (approximately 4 hours). Truly one of Europe's finest cities, the living museum of St Petersburg is a blend of baroque European architecture and Russian royal history, built by the Russian tsar Peter the Great, whose legacy can be felt in its enigmatic streets and showcase cathedrals and museums. After arriving and checking in, visit the home of our local friends and have a tea party Russian-style. Not all family members speak English, but with your leader on hand to interpret and their warm hospitality, you'll be feeling like one of the family in no time. These families live in St Petersburg's communal apartments, which date from Soviet times. Such apartments and their way of living have ceased to exist in other Russian cities, but they are still common in St Petersburg. This is a truly unique local experience that you won't find anywhere else.
Day 22 - St Petersburg
Built on 42 islands, St Petersburg is also known as the ‘Venice of the North’. Spend the day exploring the city, crossing its many rivers and canals at your own pace. Perhaps enjoy incredible views across the city from the colonnade at St Isaac’s Cathedral, or walk along Nevsky Prospekt, St Petersburg’s main street. Maybe pop into one of the many bakeries or coffee shops along the way, or head down to Aleksandr Nevsky Lavra where Russia's great musicians and writers like Tchaikovsky and Dostoyevsky are laid to rest in the cemetery. The Hermitage Museum is one of the largest and oldest museums in the world, and houses one of the world's premier art collections. A whole day could easily be spent wandering its halls. Feeling artistic? Give life to a family of matryoshka dolls in a painting workshop. Whatever you choose, the city is easy to get around and your leader can also help you make the most of your free day. On your final evening, perhaps gather together your fellow travellers and seek out a cosy restaurant for a farewell meal.
Day 23 - St Petersburg
Your Russian adventure will come to an end today after breakfast. There are no activities planned and you are able to depart the accommodation at any time. St Petersburg has much to offer, so we recommend that those that wish to see more extend their stay a day or two.
Accommodation, Food (as stated), Transport, Selected Activities
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