The Extra Mile

How do we book to explore Russia on the Trans-Siberian Express?

Its proper name is the Rossiya train, and Paul Ash has the answers on how to climb aboard

22 July 2018 - 00:00

Q. A group of us would like to take the Trans-Siberian Express across Russia next spring. Please advise us on how to book tickets and where to stop along the way. Also, which way should we travel - from Moscow to Vladivostok or vice-versa? How much is it likely to cost? - JP
A. The Trans-Siberian Railway runs for 9,259km from Moscow to Vladivostok on Russia's Pacific coast. The train itself is known as the "Rossiya" - the Russia - and not the Trans-Siberian Express, which is a Western affectation.
Every second day, the Rossiya departs the Russian capital for a six-night journey to Vladivostok. The train consists of first-class, two-berth spalny vagon compartments; second-class, four-berth kupé compartments; and platskartny - open-plan bunks. The best option is the kupé compartments, although hardened travellers looking to save money will find the platskartny more than adequate.There is also a restaurant car, serving ample breakfasts of fried eggs and ham and lots of borscht. There are also hot-water samovars in every coach - take packet soups and two-minute noodles for snacks.
According to rail travel expert The Man in Seat 61, one-way fares in summer cost around 18,629 rubles (about R3,930) in kupé and 31,175 rubles (about R6,580) in spalny vagon. The price will be higher if you book through an agency - which is the way to go unless your travel plans are very flexible.
The trains run year round - they are real trains, serving the Russian people, and not tourist trains. They tend to be fullest during the summer as people travel for the holidays, and less busy in the winter.The eastward run is the more popular with foreign travellers rather than the journey from Vladivostok, so bear that in mind. If heading east, note that when you reach Vladivostok you will have one of three options: fly back to Moscow (around nine hours), catch a ferry to Japan or Korea (36 hours) - or take the train back to Moscow.
To make your bookings and buy tickets, I recommend using a specialist travel agency such as Real Russia to handle the process and issue you your tickets ahead of travel.
Working out the different fare structures and rules - especially since you say you would like to break the journey - will be extremely difficult and frustrating unless you are blessed with time on your hands, deep patience, and the ability to speak Russian.
As passengers on the Rossiya have a single ticket for the date of travel along with an assigned berth, it is not possible to hop on and off the train.
You will need to buy separate tickets for each segment of the journey if you wish to stop off at, say, Lake Baikal.
•We can help with your destination dilemmas, visa puzzles and provide itinerary ideas. E-mail your questions to travelmag@sundaytimes.co.za

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