Day 1 - Friday, August 18:
Evening departure 6PM from Toronto for Paris, with Air France.
Day 2 - Saturday, August 19: Day 2 – Saturday, August 19
Morning arrival in Paris and connecting flight to Moscow, arriving in the evening, around 6PM. Transfer to the centrally located 4-star Hotel Arbat Residence (or similar). Dinner in the hotel.
Day 3 - Sunday, August 20:
After breakfast, panoramic coach tour of the Russian capital, with as highlights the Kremlin and Red Square. Lunch of traditional Russian culinary specialties, followed by some free time to explore on your own and/or to shop for supplies to take with you on the train, such as bottled water, wet wipes, or some fine food available at the Eliseevsky delicatessen in Moscow. Late-afternoon transfer to the railway station and evening departure on the first leg of our Trans-Siberian adventure, the night train from Moscow to Kazan, capital of the Republic of Tatarstan, situated on the Volga River; covering the distance of approximately 800 km will take 11 hours. Dinner will be served in the dining car.
On this and other legs of the train journey to Beijing, accommodation, based on double occupancy, will be provided in simple but comfortable and clean compartments (“suites”) of the second-class category, not to be confused with the very basic third-class arrangements or with the extremely expensive first-class cabins. There are toilets and washrooms at the end of each carriage with western-style toilets and a sink with hot and cold water.
Electricity: On the trains there is normally a plug on the corridor and in first class there may be a plug in your cabin. Electricity is 220 v AC voltage. You will need a European type power plug with two round pins, similar to the two pin round plug in China as well. Often the power on the train is switched off.
The dining cars serve traditional Russian, Mongolian, and Chinese meals. Beer, bottled water, fruit, fresh bread, smoked meats, chocolate, etc. can also occasionally be bought from platform kiosks during stops along the way. The dining cars are usually well stocked and, contrary to popular belief, don't run out of food. Fruit is available most of the year and bottled water is as common as vodka. You may want to bring your own wine or whiskey or other foreign alcohol, but vodka is readily available!
Day 4 - Monday, August 21:
Arrival in Kazan at 8 AM. Transfer to a local café for breakfast, followed by a city tour, with the Kazan Kremlin, a UNESCO World Heritage Site (http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/980) Kul-Sharif Mosque, and the pedestrian shopping area of Bauman Street. Then we check into a 4-star hotel and enjoy some free time before visiting the Soviet Lifestyle Museum. Dinner of regional culintary specialties in restaurant “House of Tatar Cuisine.”
Day 5 - Tuesday, August 22:
After an early breakfast, transfer to the railway station. Shortly before 6PM, departure on the deluxe train bound for Ekaterinburg, a scenic ride of about 950 km covered in 17-hours. En route we will enjoy magnificent scenery as we cross from Europe into Asia via the Ural Mountains. Accommodation as on the train to Kazan. Lunch will be served in the dining car. Arrival around 8PM, and transfer to the 4-star Hotel Renomee or similar (http://en.renome-hotel.ru). Dinner in the hotel or in a nearby restaurant.
Day 6 - Wednesday, August 23:
After breakfast, sightseeing tour of Ekaterinburg, named after Catherine the Great and known as Sverdlovsk in the Soviet era, a city situated in a landscape of taiga and lakes in the eastern foothills of the Urals. Historically most interesting is of course the monastery built on the site where on July 17, 1918, the last czar, Nicholas, and the members of his family were executed; the Russian Orthodox Church as canonized Nicholas and turned this site into a major centre of pilgrimage, featuring seven traditional wooden churches. Also visit to the Boris Yeltsin Center and the local History Museum. We also inspect the obelisk, marking the border between Asia and Europe. Group dinner in our hotel or in a nearby restaurant.
Day 7 - Thursday, August 24:
Early morning transfer to the railway station and departure around 4AM on the Rossiya”-express train linking Moscow to Vladivostok train. Our destination is the city of Ulan Ude, situated about 3,800 km further east, in Siberia! The trip will take two days and eight hours, with brief stops in cities such as Omsk, Novosibirsk, Krasnoyarsk, and Irkutsk, so this will be our quintessential Trans-Siberian Railway experience! Accommodation in comfortable compartments; breakfast, lunch, and dinner will be served on board.
Day 8 - Friday, August 25:
A full day on the train, enjoying the Siberian scenery and getting out during stops to stretch legs and buy souvenirs, food, vodka, etc. from local vendors. There will also be several lectures Russian/Soviet history and culture c/o our Russian hostess, Irina Malenko, and your own tour guide.
Day 9 - Saturday, August 26:
Morning arrival in Ulan-Ude, capital of the Siberian Republic of Buryatia, situated along the eastern shore of Lake Baikal; the city was founded in 1666 by Russian Cossacks as a frontier fortress, but is named after the nomadic, mostly Buddhist Buryat Mongols (www.youtube.com/watch?v=CQqMeebGLjg). Breakfast in a local café, followed by a city tour, with sights such as the world's largest Lenin Head, the historical merchants' mansions, Odigitrievsky Cathedral, and a visit to the Ethnographic Museum of Transbaikalia. Group lunch. On to the village of Gremyachinsk on the shores of Lake Baikal, where we will stay in the comfortable Hotel Baikal Riviera (http://baikalriviera.ru/eng/index.wbp) Dinner in the hotel.
Lake Baikal is the oldest (25 million years) and deepest (1,700 m) lake in the world, and is featured on UNESCO’s list of natural World Heritage Sites (http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/754) The 3.15-million-ha lake contains 20% of the world's unfrozen freshwater reserve. (For more information on the region, see http://waytorussia.net/Baikal/Destinations/Buryatia.html)
Day 10 - Sunday, August 27:
A full day of sightseeing along the rugged shores of Lake Baikal and on beautiful Olkhon Island, including a boat tour on the lake and an opportunity to taste local fish. We will learn about the flora and fauna of this part of Siberia, sometimes referred to as Russia’s Galapagos, so look out for the unique species of flora and fauna found here, including a freshwater seal and the famous Baikal teal, a rare kind of duck (http://waytorussia.net/Baikal/Destinations/Olkhon.html). Afterwards there will be free time to relax and/or check out the local souvenir shops, cafés, and bars. Dinner in the hotel or in a typical restaurant.
Day 11 - Monday, August 28:
This morning we motor back to Ulan-Ude, where today’s program will focus on the famous shamanistic traditions of Siberia in general and Buryatia in particular. The absolute highlight will be a session with shamans, involving dances, libations, animal sound mimesis, conversations with spirits, removal of curses, etc. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shamanism_in_Siberia and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-JPKkV8cCf0) Dinner and overnight in the 3-star Hotel Odon (https://www.lonelyplanet.com/russia/ulan-ude/hotels/odon-hotel/a/lod/273ead66-8484-496a-a952-9f612a60eb58/360534)
Day 12 - Tuesday, August 29:
After breakfast, transfer to the Buryat village of Atsagat and visit to Ivolginsky Datsan Buddhist Monastery, the most important Buddhist monastery in Russia, featuring the preserved “incorruptible body” of the Khambo Lama, who died in 1927 and is still sitting upright in the lotus position! (http://siberiantimes.com/business/investment/news/putin-in-siberia-to-salute-buddhism-and-the-religions-important-role-in-russian-history) After a Tibetan-style lunch, we return to Ulan-Ude, where it will hopefully be possible to attend an optional demonstration of traditional singing and dancing at the Buryat State Academic Opera and Ballet Theater before or after dinner in a typical restaurant such as ‘Tengis’ or ‘Kitchen of the native land.’
Day 13 - Wednesday, August 30:
Morning visit to the community of Old Believers, an offshoot of the Russian Orthodox Church, whose members settled here in the 17th century and are famous for maintaining ancient liturgical practices (http://www.baikalnature.com/info/86609). On to the Buddhist sanctuary Bald Mountain, known for its Buryat-Tibetan rituals. Dinner in the restaurant on top of the mountain, with a stunning view of the city below.
Day 14 - Thursday, August 31:
Today we travel by private coach to Ulan Bator, Mongolia, a distance of 585 km. En route, visit to the historic town of Naushki, formerly a thriving station on the “Tea Road” from China to Russia (http://siberiantimes.com/other/others/news/n0312-new-tourist-route-follows-the-great-tea-road)! Evening arrival, and dinner and overnight in the first-class/4-star Hotel Bayangol. (https://bayangolhotel.mn/#/?_k=n3q27f).
Day 15 - Friday, September 01:
A full day of sightseeing in the Mongolian Capital, with attractions such as the statue of Genghis Kan, and including a visit to the National History Museum. Also free time for shopping along Seoul Street and in the State Department Store. Folk dance concert at 6:00 PM, including a demonstration of the incredible Mongolian throat singing, followed by dinner in a traditional Mongolian BBQ restaurant.
Day 16 - Saturday, September 02:
Full-day excursion to Gorkhi Terelj National Park, situated in the mountains to the east of Ulan Bator, also including a visit to a Nomadic cam of gers. Lunch is included. Return to Ulan Bator and free evening.
Day 17 - Sunday, September 03:
Early morning transfer to the station and 7:15 departure for Beijing. Accommodation as before, in compartments for two persons. Lunch and dinner on board.