Featured journey: The Cossack

(This blog has now moved to www.vodkatrain.com/blog. Please visit us there for all the posts on this site, plus the most recent inspiration and information about the regions we travel to.)

The Cossack is one of the most rewarding itineraries in the Vodaktrain brochure. You get to see countries in more depth and on some departures experience our “Summer Extras” – various activities that are included at no additional cost in 4 summer departures (Jun-Sep) on eastbound journeys. Please, check our brochure to find out the exact dates. Read on to be more prepared for your Trans Mongolian adventure with Vodkatrain!

Moscow and its Circus

Comminist simbols are still present in Moscow

Moscow is a fantastic place to visit. It has got controversial charm about it – capitalism blends with the traces of communism and the very symbol of the USSR – Vladimir Lenin carefully guarded and preserved rests in the country’s heart – Red Square. You know that communism has been well forgotten when you witness the latest models of BMW and Bently flashing past you. But it reminds of itself when you queue to get a train ticket or exchange money and a mid-aged woman treats you like an annoying fly. Well, she’s got a power!

Moscow has got wonderful sights and its cultural life is never boring. Most likely you won’t be paying a visit to Moscow’s many drama theatres to see Chekhov in the original language. However there is a show that you don’t really need lingual abilities to understand and it is the world-famous Moscow Circus. The oldest and most renowned of Moscow circuses is located right near Godzillas hostel – where all our groups are accommodated.  Performances are very popular, they are well directed and kids love them Therefore it is hard to get tickets! So if you wish to see the circus it is worth checking the ticket’s page of the venue or ask your Honcho!

Suzdal and banya

Moscow hasn’t always been a capital of Russia. Back in the 12th-13th century Russia was the country that consisted of a few principalities and was similar to today’s Germany in size. While a small town on the Moskva river was accumulating lands around it,  the city of Vladimir was a prime seat of the early Russian rulers while Suzdal was a religious capital.

Onion domes are in abundance in Suzdal

Suzdal is known for the highest ratio of churches per capita but when you get there , you realise that now you are in Russia. There is no lack of onion domes and the pastoral setting of this once turbulent site is very charming. Suzdal has got its own Kremlin. Don’t expect Medvedev to greet you from the window but it’s worth learning that Kremlin is a Russian word for a fortified fortress that used to protect population from the invaders and there are a number of kremlins in the western part of Russia.

If you happen to travel on one of the Cossack departures from Moscow to Beijing you are lucky to experience the “Summer Extras” at no additional costs. When in Suzdal and being overwhelmed by how Russian this town is, it is nothing but logical to go ahead and challenge yourself in banya – Russian hot sauna. Frankly speaking the main challenge is to sustain the temperature (close to 100 C) and try to relax having believed to your Honcho who promised you would feel newly born after this experience. And of course the birch branches massage will give you a good story to tell your mates back home!

Kazan – the third russian capital

Kazan’s Kremlin panoramic view

If there is any Russian ruler that is well known to the international tourists that would be Ivan the Terrible. We won’t elaborate on how terrible Ivan was , but it’s important to know that Kazan has become a part of the growing Russian state back in the 16th century thanks to the infamous Tzar. Historically Kazan had been home to the Tatars’ tribe that was quite powerful and had a set and well-organised state with the capital to the south of modern Kazan. After it was integrated into the Russian state, the Tatars had become a minority although today their rights are well looked after. It is one of the few regions in Russia where language of the minority is recognised as the second official language with all the documents, street signs, public transport announcements being dubbed in two languages. Tatar language belongs to the Turkic family of languages and is quite similar to Turkish. To add more facts to your brain basket and make your visit to Kazan more meaningful here are a few interesting facts about the city:

  • Kazan celebrated its 1000-year anniversary in 2005. City’s centre was greatly renovated, Kazan’s biggest mosque built and a new “Millennium” bridge came to being.
  • Kazan is located on the Volga river – the biggest river in Europe.
  • New stadium will be built by 2018 as Kazan is one of the host cities for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
  • Kazan has officially been recognised as Russia’s “Third Capital” (meaning not only it is an important and developed city in the country but an increase in real estate prices and cost of living)

Itineraries for west and eastbound Cossack journeys are slightly different due to the train schedules. To brake a three-day journey from Irkutsk to Kazan on the westbound Cossack and make the most out of the given time we have a short stop in Ekaterinburg. The city is closely connected with the two meaningful events: the assassination of the Tzar Nicholas II and his family in 1918 and thus the end of the Russian Empire; and birth of Boris Yeltsin – the first president of modern Russia and the symbol of Russia’s transition from communism to democracy. The Cossack itinerary doesn’t allow much time to explore the city thoroughly although having a chance to have a brief look at the last big city in Siberia/Asia before entering Europe adds to the experience.

Pearl of Siberia

A hike along the lake is beautiful

Lake Baikal is a natural wonder and it is magnificent to walk around it in the summer time. The transparent waters, steep cliffs, peculiar flora and the wonderful smell of the coniferous forest leave an unforgettable impression. One of the great extras of the Cossack trip is a hike along the shore of lake Baikal for about 18 km. Four eastbound departures in 2011 from June to September have this hike included as a part of the scheduled activities. After a wonderful, inspiring walk along the shore with impromptu picnic and refreshing swim in the lake’s inviting (but cold!) waters your Honcho will make sure that you get to the village of Bolshoy Koty in time to catch a hydrofoil back.

Hydrofoil connects Bolshoy Koty with civilization

The distance that normally takes about 6-7 hours to walk will be covered in 20 min by this fast boat with underwater wings.

The village of Bolshoy Koty is only connected with the civilization by waterways in the summer and one can reach it on the ice in the winter. It used to be a site for river gold-sifting and it is popular with Irkutsk citizens to come for a weekend getaway.

The Cossacks’ connection

Lenin is alive!

To make a transition from Russia into Mongolia a smooth one we stop in Ulan-Ude. The Cossacks founded Ulan-Ude in 1666 and it was then called “Udinskoye”, the name deriving from the river Uda that flows nearby.  Ulan-Ude is the centre of the Buryat republic (within Russian Federation) to the east of lake Baikal. Buryats are ethnically very close to Mongolians, majority of them practice Buddhism although many has assimilated with the Russian culture and converted into Christianity. Shamanism practices are still very strong among the Buryats and you may notice a lot of ribbons on trees which are generally tied when people make a wish and hope that it will be blown to the sky to the shamanists gods who will ultimately make sure they will come true. It doesn’t hurt trying, so if you want one of those Bentleys but travelling on a credit card, tie one up.

Ulan-Ude is also famous for the biggest statue of Lenin’s head and it is a great fun to make some pictures with it. It feels surreal.

Mongolia: steppe, stars and nomads

After the ordeal of crossing the border you wake up greeted by the bright sun of Mongolia and its endless steppe. Rolling hills, rising sun and dots of gers create a wonderful picture and it is perfect time to make some photos. As your train pulls into Ulan-Bator (Ulaanbaatar in Mongolian spelling) you notice city’s outskirts comprised of the Soviet-style apartment blocks, warehouses and gers. If you haven’t yet figured, ger is a name of a traditional Mongolian round felt tent.

Relocating nomads

Something that really sets the Cossack itinerary apart from the others is a visit to Kharkhorin – the ancient capital of Mongolia. To get there is an adventure on itself. With the population of only 3 million people Mongolia occupies a massive territory. It is expected that infrastructure is very undeveloped and roads are often unpaved. The scenery is stunning though. Did you see the Mongolian paintings: endless steppe, horseman, couple of grazing camels, gers located seemingly in the middle of nowhere? The reality will beat that. This journey is a good chance to see the life outside of Ulan-Bator and contemplate on the hardships and rewards of the nomadic life. Enjoy your summer extra in Mongolia, help the nomads build a ger – apparently it only takes an hour – and get blown away how mobile their homes are!

Remember to watch the stars when you are staying at a ger camp – often it seems you can reach them with the ladder. On the practical side of things set your mind ready for a lot of mutton dumplings and a very limited choice of vegetables. Having travelled from Ulan-Bator on unpaved roads you will understand though why the supplies are limited and infrequent.

Change your wheels – crossing into China

After the countryside, the hustle and bustle of Ulan-Bator will feel overwhelming. This will get you ready for Beijing – which is immense and its population nearly exceeds the population of Australia.

On the way to China!

By now you will feel like an experienced train rider. A good reason to be excited – you’ve got a Gobi desert to cross today! This train leg has got a surprise for you – train wheels will have to be changed to match a narrower Chinese track. Couple of hours of shuffling and bumps, then carriages get lifted up, old wheels replaced with the new ones and you are ready to go! Since all of it is happening in the warehouse there will be no access to the toilets during this time and it is recommended to postpone celebrations of being in China to the time when the train gets going.

China will greet you with crop fields, bridges, water reservoirs and rocky mountains. The change in lifestyle – from nomadic to settled, is striking and tells you more about history than any text book. You will miss a bright blue sky of Mongolia when you reach Beijing, although the air purification measures start bringing some results.

Overeating is unavoidable in China

Beijing will amaze you. It’s big, busy, hot and has got everything and more. Enjoy its parks, join in the street dancing, have a bite at the night market, check out the acrobats (don’t try to repeat though!) and make sure to set a limit on your card! Indulge yourself in the abundance of delicious Chinese food and climb the Great Wall.

As a “Summer Extra” on the eastbound Cossack itinerary you also have Longqing Gorge included. Get some advice from your Honcho on things to do and places to visit if you are staying longer after the trip finishes. And don’t forget – there isn’t much strain on the Vodkatrain 😉

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5 food ideas for the Trans Siberian railway

(This blog has now moved to www.vodkatrain.com/blog. Please visit us there for all the posts on this site, plus the most recent inspiration and information about the regions we travel to.)

Before you start to complain that three days on the train are too long, consider the following. Many years ago, when Trans-Siberian railway hadn’t even been planned, people still had to get from one part of the country to another. Back then this trip could have easily cost them lives but generally took 6 months from Moscow to Irkutsk (5000 km away, in southern Siberia).

Get comfy in your sleighs – you have 6 months to go!

Since there were no trains, people travelled by horses in either a cart on wheels in the summer time or on sleighs in the winter. You wouldn’t have wanted to forget something at home, as it would be a loooong way to go back! It is hard to imagine the preparations that needed to be done prior the departure and the level of risks those travellers were undertaking. Fairly speaking, very seldom someone would have set on this journey upon their own will, but more often the route to Siberia was laid by the exiles and military divisions.

Writer was quite surprised with the Siberian delicatessen

One of the most striking parts of the famous Russian writer Anton Chekhov’s description of his trip to Siberia was an experience of eating a bear that his conductor killed and prepared on fire.  Mixed feelings of fascination and disgust needle through the pages of Chekhov’s Siberian novels, and the reader follows the narrative hoping they will never have to live through that.

But what are the food experiences like these days when going on the Trans Siberian? Well, one thing is for sure: you don’t need to hunt a bear. Although it is essential to make a trip to the grocery store to not feel hungry like a bear!

Train diet is based on one simple but important component: hot water. With hot water available all the way through you can almost work wonders. And no matter how insignificant it may sound to you now, keep on reading to find out why it is so important.

So, here you are on the train. Here is your train compartment: bunks, table, linen, all is good. But where are you going to store your food? And how good that beautiful salami that you bought today will be in three days time? There you go. There is no fridge to rely on when on the train and thus it is crucial to have those wonderful “add hot water” packages to get you through Siberia.

Below we’ve listed the top five “gourmet” dishes that you can make on the train. It is not a French “haute cuisine” but it is definitely something to refer to when you start feeling sick from just the look of the instant noodles.

1.     Instant porridge. This one is a killer for breakfast.

Cheap and tasty

Condensed milk doesn’t go bad and is great with coffee!

Add hot water to the package of raspberry-favoured (or strawberry, whatever you like) porridge, add some fruit – banana will do, and in a minute’s time you are ready to go.

Follow it up with a cup of instant coffee with long lasting or condensed milk and some Russian biscuits (“Юбилейное» is a good one) and your breakfast is not a headache anymore! Headache could be from a previous night though.

Greens and vegetables make a nice lunch on the train

2.     Vegetable salad. Get a couple of tomatoes and cucumbers and the smallest package of mayonnaise you can find at the food store. Yeah, you should know by now, Russians love their mayonnaise so enjoy it as well before switching to yak’s fat in Mongolia 😉 Pick up a spice mix to add a bit of flavour to your train ride. Mix it all up in a plate that you smartly brought with you (or borrow one from the carriage attendant, but ask nicely!)

It only distantly tastes like potato but is a good change from the noodles

3.               Instant mashed potato with crackers, cheese and pickles. Grab a jar of pickled cucumbers that will serve you both for chasing your vodka shots and enriching a pretty mellow taste of instant potato.  Take crackers, slice the cucumbers and put some cheese on top. If you are going to eat your cheese on the first couple of days, buy any variety you like. If you want it to stay fresh for the duration of the trip, take the processed cheese (Hochland). Instant potato is surprisingly tasty and can become a good substitute to the instant noodles.

Best train desert ever!

4.       Train desert: banana and Nutella sandwich. Bananas and Nutella stay good on the train and you can stock up on reasonably fresh bread as you go along from either little kiosks on stations or babushkas that will be meeting the train with their provisions.

Enjoy your noodles!

5.     We can’t get away from the noodles! To be fair, they are quite flavourful when eaten for the first or even the second time. The best brand of instant noodles to get in Russia is “Doshirak” (Доширак) and it goes with a plastic container that you can use later for making your salad or mix up the porridge (the taste might be a bit strange). It is best not to add all the ingredients from the small packages right away but rather add it as you go and up to your taste. The beef flavoured noodles are quite spicy while the chicken ones are very mild. Add to it some pickled tomatos, get some cabbage piroshki from the station or even the dining car, top it up with a sprinckle of mayonnaise (come on you are in Russia) and enjoy!

Vodkatrain online Travellers Feedback form is available now! We would be grateful for your comments, feedback, ideas and suggestions, as it is the best way for us to make sure our clients keep getting the experience of their lifetime! Thank you in advance!

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Trans-Siberian: is there life on the train?

tu-tu – train travel

(This blog has now moved to www.vodkatrain.com/blog. Please visit us there for all the posts on this site, plus the most recent inspiration and information about the regions we travel to.)

Travelling the Trans Siberian is all about trains. But have you actually been on any train for  THAT long? If you are one of the brave hearts coming on a Vodkatrain Ruski Huski or Budgeting Bolshevik to tackle the cold with the help of some vodka and a great attitude then you convinced yourself you can do it. And you are right! This doesn’t mean though that we won’t give you a hand with figuring out what the Trans Mongolian trains are, what it is there to do and what is the day by day routine on the longest train journey in the world. Keep reading and you will find some helful info to get ready for your train adventure!

Most Vodkatrain journeys include second class train compartments.

Cozy 2nd class compartment

It is great that these trains we travel on are the REAL scheduled trains and therefore there will be REAL local people who would be normally taking a train to visit their relatives in other cities, making their way to a holiday or going on a few day trip to do some sightseeing. You may also encounter soldiers, being relocated; police or railroad workers since they get a free ticket or families with children. These could be fun given they are older than 2 y.o. and don’t cry all night!

If you travel on a Budgeting Bolshevik, you will be in a third class compartment on a train leg between Moscow and Irkutsk. During these three and a half days you will witness a changing parade of people coming and going, some of them will go on after you get off (Russia doesn’t stop in Irkutsk!), but it is generally a totally awesome experience of meeting local people and getting to know what paths of life they come from. Although this may seem difficult with no profound knowledge of Russian, that is what happens! In no time you will know who is who around there! Third class is less comfortable than the second class as there is no doors separating you from a hall way and you need to be more attantive to your belongings but it is definitely an experience of a lifetime. Should you have more questions about the difference between the second and third classes, contact Vodkatrain or your local agent.

Any great journey starts from a good plan. Your plan (which is to get from Moscow to Beijing) should include the following points:

1. Board the right train at the right time. You can tick this box – your Honcho will take care of that for you.

Carriage attendant – “Provodnitsa”, possibly Olga

2. Find out what the train equipment is like, where hot water samovar is, how toilet and wash basin work, where the restaurant car is and what your Provodnitsas’ names are. It will often be Olga, Tatiana or Lyuba, as these are some of the most common russian names.

3. Settle in on one of the bunks, make your bed and enjoy the changing scenery for a while.

4. Get “birched out” and thus pull out some of the drinks that you picked at the supermarket before boarding the train. Go visit your fellow travellers in the neigbour compartments, play a few rounds of “hearts” or “500”. “Uno” goes extremely well after a few drinks and by then you might pick up some russian words from Nikolai or Ivan who would be speaking to you regardless of your mutual disability to understand each other.

Party goes on, but no need to go home!

Awesome part about being on the train for 3 continuous days is that you can have a party, meet people, travel the country, stay up and sleep in without worrying about a taxi to catch home, a job to go to in the morning or a mess to clean up. Well the latter might still be the issue. As russians say: “a soldier sleeps, but the service goes on”, meaning that you can have fun, enjoy the scenery, learn the language, read books, create 1000 and 1 ways of making instant noodles taste different and also travel the Trans Siberian railway!

Where are we?

5. A vital part of travelling the Trans Siberian is knowing where you are going through and how much time you have got at a station. No matter how attractive that babushka is on the platform you still wanna get to Beijing and celebrate the life on the Great Wall! Therefore, go check out and – what’s even better – print out a timetable for your train from Moscow to Irkutsk which will tell you what stations you will be going through, what’s the time difference with Moscow (all the trains operate on Moscow time) and  – most importantly – how much time you have got on each station! Your provodnitsa will be keeping an eye on you, but keeping situation under control should be the way you wanna do it! Click here for your timetable: Train 340-350 for VT

This timetable doesn’t include stations where you stop for less than 10 minutes as you won’t be allowed off the train on those. Very often, you wouldn’t want to anyways!

Now that you’ve completed your Hercules’ 13th feat and survived the 3,5 train journey, let us know what your experience was like!

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Why the Great Wall of China was built? Definitely not to keep the rabbits out!

(This blog has now moved to www.vodkatrain.com/blog. Please visit us there for all the posts on this site, plus the most recent inspiration and information about the regions we travel to.)

Beijing!

This city has  been headline news for reasons varying from the greatest architectural achievements and fantastic Olympic organisation  to deserved criticism of its air pollution and acts towards suppression of it’s people’s rights. The latter though  is the direct outcome of the country’s political system – communism, with the Communist party holding an absolute monopoly on the political and economical life in China.

Mongolian archers hadn’t been stopped by the Great Wall

Beijing  translates  as “Northern capital” from Chinese, and it is indeed located in the north-west of the country, only about 700 km from the border with Mongolia. It is merely due to its location that today Beijing attracts millions of people wishing to have a look at the Great Wall of China . Attracting tourists obviously had not been the reason for  the Wall construction . This ancient fortification miracle appeared  to protect settled agricultural Chinese society from the furious  Mongolian tribes traversing steppes north of Gobi desert. Although the Great Wall is some of the most impressive human architectural undertaking, we know from the history it hadn’t really stopped Genghis Khan and his army from taking over China and a few dozen other small and big states.

“Dragon’s Back” through the Wall’s window

Even if you are totally out of focus with history, you will love seeing this magnificent engineering feat, stretching for thousands of kilometres on the top of the mountain range and making you agree to the metaphor used to describe it – “The Dragon’s Back”!

Once the speechless moment has passed you should enjoy the walk on the wall, up its many stairs and look through the small tower windows, imagining you were the 12th century guard.

Vodkatrain group aloft on Tiananmen Square, Beijing

If you are travelling on  Ruski Huski with Vodkatrain, you will be  one of the few privileged witnesses of the snow-coated Wall.  Winter travel to China has many advantages.  Given the population of the country and volume of its internal tourism,  peak summer months can be very crowded. Winter brings with it the opportunity to enjoy the mightiness of the Wall or vastness of the Forbidden City mostly to yourself and your fellow travellers and that is an undoubted advantage!

Beijing is closely located to a few sections of the Great Wall. Badalin section is only an hour drive from the city, it offers  wonderful scenery, high mountains, although its proximity to the city makes it the most popular weekend destination for Beijiners and short-term  city visitors. For more genuine Great Wall experience it makes sense to go a little further, to the part called Mutianyu. After an ordeal of one thousand three hundred steps of climbing to the Wall you will get a breathtaking view of the Inner Mongolia province of China (as opposed to Inner Mongolia, which is a part of China, country Mongolia is also known as Outer Mongolia). Sliding down with the toboggan is an experience that shouldn’t be missed!

Jinshanling Great Wall

If time permits and you are up to some challenging experience you may as well consider going to Jinshanling section of the Great Wall. It is a fair way out of the city (125 km) and you will have to commit to a walk on the Wall for 10 km to reach the next part called Simatai where from you can head back to the city. The rewards to this hardships are great – stunning scenery, very few people and some of the best preserved parts of the Great Wall.

Share your experience with us! What part of the Wall have you been to? What was it like? We are keen to hear your stories!

Vodkatrain online Travellers Feedback form is available now! We would be grateful for your comments, feedback, ideas and suggestions, as it is the best way for us to make sure our clients keep getting the experience of their lifetime! Thank you in advance!


Posted in China, Great Wall, Trans-Mongolian Railway, Trans-Siberian Travel, Vodkatrain in Winter, Winter Travel | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Babushka or Matryoshka?

(This blog has now moved to www.vodkatrain.com/blog. Please visit us there for all the posts on this site, plus the most recent inspiration and information about the regions we travel to.)

Coming to Russia on a Vodkatrain journey, you will definitely want to get one of those “Babushka” dolls. Have you ever wondered what “babushka” means?

Siberian Babushka

Now, that you are about to find out, we’d like to ask you to revise your decision to get one of them in your possession. “Babushka” actually means ‘grandmother’ in Russian, with the other meaning being ‘an old woman’ in general! So, babushka would be awesome to make some delicious pirozhky (stuffed pies) and feed you up with bliny (pancakes). Although watch out for dedushkas (grandpas), who won’t be that happy to let go of them!

Therefore our suggestion is you should stick to a Matryoshka!

Matryoshka – Russian nesting doll

Matryoshka is the real name for the wooden dolls that you’ll be stocking up on and this is what you should be asking for when in Russia. The word “matryoshka” derives from “maternity” and the dolls that nest in one another symbolize fertility. The fair question is, how much fertility would you wish to have with 50 dolls inside??

We’ll leave it with you to decide what will be your choice of matryoshka and don’t forget to greet a babushka with a warm word if you buy some pirozhky from them on the platform!

Posted in Adventure Travel, Trans-Siberian Travel, Travelling in Russia | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Mongolian games. What’s the score?

(This blog has now moved to www.vodkatrain.com/blog. Please visit us there for all the posts on this site, plus the most recent inspiration and information about the regions we travel to.)

If you are one of  those  romantic creatures  travelling  Russia, Mongolia and China “in style” aka  in winter, you are destined to possibly experience  some of the coldest temperatures in your life! If so, you may as well find ways to keep yourself warm. We’ve shared in previous posts some chapters of  “survive Russia by having  fun” guide and the next volume of this book is devoted to Mongolia.

Snow. Snow? Snow!

We’ll start with some great facts. Did you know that Ulan Bator – Mongolia’s capital, has the brilliant title of being  the coldest capital in the world? And that Mongolian people often opt-in for gers (round  traditional felt tents) because they don’t require a foundations, which would otherwise be dug into the permafrost soil.

Well, if you are cold enough let’s move on to a warmer  part of our narrative – we are here to give you hope and not to deprive you of one!

Did you ever think Mongolia will be your next ski-destination? No joke, starting from December 2009 Ulan-Bator has been the proud owner of the first and only Mongolian ski resort! The whole range of services is there for you: open morning till late, ski equipment rental and two chairlifts that will take you to the top of resort’s 1200 meter slope. And if you are still cold you can just walk up there! Ask your Honcho for more info, if you want to give it a go.

THIS outfit is not required for winter wrestling!

Let’s be fair, you don’t only wanna rely on skiing for keeping warm and we’ve thought of that. Our second best-value-for-no-money suggestion combines the two virtues that are practical and traditional.

Go wrestling !

You don’t need to undress and swap your thermals for those little costumes the traditional Mongolian wrestlers wear for the Naadam festival but instead you can grab your group mate and have an improvised friendly tournament and – guaranteed – this will warm you up!

How about horse riding? Genghis Khan, endless steppes, tough mongolian horsemen on their short-legged but strong horses set to conquer half of the world…What a wonderful picture!

Gers in winter at the national park

“Terelj” National park – our Vodkatrain city retreat to sample Mongolian lifestyle, is going to live up to your vivid imagination. And that’s where you can check yourself on the matter of  getting along with the Mongolian horses. Sure, you’ll do just fine!

Still cold? How about you go and snuggle up into your ger and spend an hour or two trying to get your head around knuckle-bones games where the set of rules keeps changing as the game progresses.

Knuckle bones are actual sheep bones!

Knuckle bones are very multipurpose: there are not only tens of games that can be played with them, you can even have your fortune told if there is a right person around! Our only advice is don’t take it too seriously!

So, with a few ideas up your sleeve and a hearty Mongolian buuz you are very likely to have a great time in the country that is known for cold winters but warm people! Have fun and see you down the track!

 

Posted in Adventure Travel, Mongolia, Trans-Siberian Travel, Travel, Winter Travel | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hockey and Circus – Russia’s best winter entertainment.

(This blog has now moved to www.vodkatrain.com/blog. Please visit us there for all the posts on this site, plus the most recent inspiration and information about the regions we travel to.)

Vodkatrain has year-round departures and one might ask: what’s the fun to be in Russia, Mongolia and China when it is so freaking cold? Our consolidated answer to this is – you can keep yourself warm with so many cool things like ice-skating, snowball fighting, dog-sledding and vodka-drinking, that are, apart from the latter, not possible in the summer!

Even if you are not a fan of any sports you must have heard that Russia ranks number one in the list of Ice Hockey World Championship medalists.

Hot battle on cold ice – that’s hockey!

Now, that is quite some salt on wounds if we have any Canadian readers but the fact is so: Russia has more gold medals, than any other country. And here you are in Saint-Petersburg, ready to start your Vodkatrain adventure, while the city is conveniently a home to KHL team “SKA Saint-Petersburg”!

“SKA Saint-Petersburg” logo

Whether it is an international match or a friendship tournament you are sure to get an amazing feeling of unity with other fans and lose your voice cheering up your team. And while learning how to cheer up in Russian, enjoy “the wave” – a fantastic rhythm created by the spectators when they simultaneously stand up and raise their arms when “the wave” reaches them.

Click here to watch the  short video featuring the wave.

Make sure to check the schedule of the team on their web-site:                      http://www.hc-ska.ru/en/homepage … have fun and take your bet!

You will most likely get very inspired by watching the hockey match in S-Petersburg. You will feel that if you have a pair of skates you can do great as well.

Ice-skating on Red Square

And what can be a better place to prove it and do it in style than ice-skating on Red Square! While Lenin is resting in his mausoleum you are gracefully gliding by it, surrounded with red-cheeked Moscovites with St. Basil being your shining background.

Click on this link to see, it is not a joke and Red Square is used for more peaceful purposes then military parades:   http://www.gum.ru/en/katok/.

Here is a question for you. What nation created circus on ice? Too easy? Well, may be you are right.

Circus on Ice is quite an experience!

And yes, circus on ice was created in Russia in 1964 and has quickly become one of the beloved entertainments in Russia. As if classical circus were not already difficult without skates. Apparently, it wasn’t not enough. So now all the acrobats, dancers, clowns, and other participants impress the public with tricks that could easily win Olympic Gold medals if only the Olympic committee was among the spectators.

While the above-mentioned activities require some little research to organize them, there are other things that come improvised and don’t depend on any particular circumstances. You can have a snowball fight followed by the shot of vodka and a warm-up cup of coffee almost any time of the day but don’t forget: St. Basil is waiting for you to shine your way through the Red Square ice-rank!

Posted in Adventure Travel, Trans-Siberian Travel, Travelling in Russia, Winter Travel | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment