14 days,  Dec '09- Jan '10




Kind of travel: me and my girlfriend Elisa in an independent travel

When: 27th Dec09- 10th Jan10

Do I need a visa?: yes, and it's the toughest part since you need patience and time: here is the procedure. Remember that most of the Russian consulates (ie the one in Milan) does require the booking by their site

How I moved: beside flying with Aeroflot, the Trans-Siberian railway has been the main mean, then minibuses, but we rode also snow-mobiles and dog-sledges.

Freezing or baking?: it has been a real Siberian winter with temperatures ranging between -25C and -35C, may I call it freezing?

Where I slept: Soviet style hotels usually completely empty. An average price for a double room was around 40€, the cheaper option is to travel overnight on the trains (1 berth in 3rd class for a 3 days trip: 40€!). Moscow is outstandingly expensive for everything: Youth Hostel is 50€ for a double.

What I liked: the charm of the Siberian landscape in wintertime is amazing, in particular dog sledging and snow mobiling nearby Lake Baikal has been the top

What I disliked: out of almost 80 countries I've visited, the Siberian food is the worst I've ever experienced. Russians smoke everywhere, so if you don't put up with it, you'll freak out soon.

How much daily: Russia is not cheap! We spent each an average of 51€/day, lowered by the long train trip (1 berth in 3rd class for a 3 days trip: 40€!), but increased by the staying in the expensive Moscow

Dangers/ hassles: drunk people, expecially in the evening on the Trans-Siberian they can bother you to join them in the toastings

What you do need: don't venture on without at least being able to read cyrillic and learn in advance how to read a Russian railway timetable (don't underrate it or you'll regret!)


Our entry point in Siberia has been the Buriatia region: the main centre of the Russian Buddhism of the whole country. We flew to its capital Ulan-Ude from Moscow (140€), spending there a couple of days getting acclimatized (-35 C) and visiting the nice town with its Ice Parks. We had also a day trip by minibus to the centre of the Russian Buddhism called Ivolginsk Datsan, located 70 km southward of the town, where we got acquainted with a monk showing us his house.
Our first leg of Trans-Siberian has been a 9h overnight in 3rd class to Irkutsk (ticket: 15€ each), where we jumped on a minibus reaching in 2h the town of Lystvianka, set on the bank of the Lake Baikal. Here we settled down in cozy wooden made private house for 40€ night. The view of the freezing Lake was jaw-dropping and Lystvianka is a convenient hub for any activity around the lake, in fact the first day we rented a snow mobile (40€ for 1h for two people) and we had a ride through the snowed Siberian taiga.
The next day we tried the dog sledge (40€ for 15min): at first there has been the interesting preparation of the sledge with the barking dogs then they unexpectedly let us standing and steering the sledge.
We spent the New Years eve in Irkustk walking in downtown while enjoying both the Russian fireworks and the Russian coldness (around -30C).
The 1st Jan we began our 3 days long Trans-Siberian journey to Vladivostok staying in 3rd class (only 40€! each).
We were well prepared having our food, beverage and lots of tea bags; on the train there's boiling water for free, so it's possible to have tea and make soup easily. We spent the time doing crosswords, reading Pushkin, practicing Russian and sipping tea. Frankly the travel hasn't been that tiring, unless for the smoke coming from smoking area at the end of the wagon making the air quite stinky. On the toilet there's no shower but I managed to wash my hairs in the sink, and there's a Restaurant Wagon where once we had a dinner. (more info on the Trans-Siberian).
Vladivostok, set on a bay overlooking the Ocean Pacific, is known at first as of the last km of the Trans-Siberian (the 9.288th from Moscow), and then as the base of the Russian military boat fleet.
In wintertime temperatures are milder than inland (around -16C/ -20C), but freezing wind makes hanging around even more painful. We stayed in a very Soviet Hotel not listed in the Lonely planet, called Hotel Equator for 35€ a double room; don't expect much cheaper options in downtown!
The first 3 km of the Ocean were frozen and we had a stroll over the ice around the fishermen with their tiny fishing rod and the hole. Moreover we visited a military submarine, we took the funicular to the top of the town and we reached the Russky Island by an ice-breaking rusty ferry (2h). Once there we didn't get off since it was too cold, thus we headed back.
The last evening we got invited for a dinner by Daniel and Anastasia, a Russian couple, we got acquainted on the train. Although only Russian speakers, it has been a so pleasant company, also showing us some movies and explaining the traditions of the Russian weddings.
The following day by a convenient (180€) flight with Aeroflot we flew to Moscow; it's surprising to think that in the same country there're towns 9.5h distant each others.
In the capital we got a train (4h) to one of the main 'Golden-Ring' highlights: Vladimir. Here we hardly found a cheap (but veeeery Soviet) accommodation (30€) in the outskirt of the town.
The next day, 7th Jan, it was Christmas and we visited the touristy but charming Suzdal (a former monastic centre), characterized by many horse-sledges outnumbered only by the colorful onion-like roofs.
Back in Moscow we found a tiny and unbearable hot double room for 45€ in the Youth Hostel, but with a good backpacker vibe.
In the capital we enjoyed the most famous Russian circus, called the Nikulin, the Ice-Sculptures Museum and an Opera at the Bolshoy Theatre. Useless to say we didn't miss the must-to-be-seen Kremlin, the Red Square and the almost disturbing Lenin embalmed corpse.





It's difficult to imagine the same travel in summertime, since it's right the coldness and the ice that make the landscape and the atmosphere unique. Everything is somehow related to the extreme weather conditions, and your travel rhythm should do accordingly: if temperature is below -25C, after 45mins outside take a refuge to sip some hot tea. Anyway locals are used and lead their life with a surprising normality.
I found this travel much more relaxing than it can appear: Russian standards are relatively good, as the very punctual and frequent means of transport and the bleak but clean hotels. In addition you'll hardly feel cold inside, on the opposite some places, as the trains, can be too hot.
Those who think in Siberia there's nothing to see are wrong: major towns like Irkutsk and Ulan Ude are interesting places to poke around and the Oriental-Russian cultural mix can be more exotic of an atoll with its palm in the middle of the Caribean sea :-)


Siberia travel tip




Patience and time are the two keywords to get the Russian visa. The steps are:

  • in you find the forms to get the invitation ($30 (nov2010)). In the form you've to indicate the itinerary. I wrote one completely different than the one I did, but in the visa it's not specified so it seems what you write doesn't make a difference. I wondering what's the purpose. You'll recevied the invitation and the voucher by email; print them.

  • Book on line on the website of the consulate (Russian consulate in Milan) the appointment for the visa paying 2.7€ by credit card and inputting all your passport data

  • Take such documents to the nearest russian embassy or consulate. Don't forget to bring all the other documents they request: passport, photos, sanitary insurance (if you don't have you can buy at the consulate for 2€ per day), flight tickets. Pay an amount of money depending on the days you can wait for the visa (in Milan for 1 day € 250, for 8 days €30) than you can go and get it.

  • Do you really think is over?? Nooooooo, you must register your presence once you are in Russia by 72 hours. You can do in a hotel or, like me, waste one morning doing it in an agency in Moscow, which address you must request to the agency who sent you the visa. Of course it costs!! $20 for two registration, but at least it took few minutes.





The currency is the Russian Ruble (1€= 42 R). You can change almost everywhere against € or $




I used Lonely Planet 'Russia Asiatica 2009 (translated by the english version 'Russia 5th edition March 09)'; in Vladivostok we stayed in a low budget hotel (in the centre) not listed in the guide, I guess the didn't such deep researches, anyway it's still a helpfull travelmate





To venure on a winter travel in Siberia outfit is definitely the main point where to invest. So we did.
  • Boots: Canadian Boots + thick socks (sometimes also foot heat producers)
  • Pants: leotard + fleece pants + ski pants
  • Body: thermal shirt + wool shirt + sweater + warm jacket
  • Head: balaclava + nr 2 caps + nr 2 neck-covers
  • Hands: two pairs of gloves (sometimes also hand heat producers)+ pre-gloves

I know Western are not used, but fur is definitely the most appropriate material for the outfit. The problem is that if you buy, you likely never ever wear in your life






  • To buy a train ticket can be quite time consuming and irritating. Consider at least 2 hours and go equipped with a piece of paper and a pen. Remember you'll be asked of your train number and you'll have to show the passport. If you wanna travel in third class (plazkart) you must buy the ticket at least one day in advance. Don't underrate it; read the Lonely Planet session about the train tickets and the schedule, if you wanna halve the wasted time and your frustration in such operation! Alternatively if you can spend a bunch of dollars more you can have the ticket issued by any agency, I think often it's the best choice (if they speak english)
  • Watches inside the station and even immediately outside are set to the Moscow time wherever you are in Russia
  • It's very important to be able at least to read the cyrillic and memorise the main word about the schedule (leaving, arriving, moscow time, local time). Lonely Planet is indispensable in it
  • Train stations have the old name of the cities, I mean the name before the collapse of URSS. Hence instead of Yekaterinburg station there's Svierdlosk, and instead of Nizhny Novogorod there's Gork'ij
  • Pay attention that in Russia train ticket prices depends on the period; considering the price of the first week of the year, they vary according to a coefficient from 0.90 to 1.3 (on the trains there're tables indicating all the details). August and the last week of December are the most expensive periods. prices depend on the period. The 31st of December you can travel by train paying just half of the price you'd have paid the week before!!!!!! Below are the prices I paid in december/january 2009/2010


Price Class hours
Ulan Ude- Irkutsk 650rubl =15€ third (platzkart) 9
Irkutsk- Vladivostok 1800rubl =42€ third (platzkart) 71


  • On the train you'll get sheets, pillow case, mattress case and towel. The pravadnitsa will give you them and ask them back.
  • Third class (paltzkcart) is safe, don't hesitate to travel in
  • The hotness and the drought inside the train especially during the night sometimes didn't let me to sleep. Be prepared with light clothes ready in you rucksack and a bottle of water


On th train there'r no shops despite a Russian shuttling along the train with a trolley where you can buy: biscuits, beverages (water, fanta, cola) pre-prepared soup (just put boiling water). Anyway dont count too much on it since choice is very limited or none.
Hence counting on the samovar (typical russian pot to heat the water for tea and coffee) bring:

  • A cup
  • A plate with fork
  • A knife
  • Tea bags
  • Pre-prepared chinese soups (just pour boiling water)
  • Fruit
  • Chocolate/ biscuits/ snack
  • Bread/ ham
  • Water

Usually the train has 20min stops around every 3-4h, so you can get off and buy stuffs, but in many stations we didn't find anything and getting off at -30C can be a pain.