Kazan

Brief history

Unlike other Russian cities, Kazan has a long history that dates back to at least a millennium. In 1000 AD Kazan was founded in the Volga Bulgaria, and soon became the capital of the region. Then, it was incorporated by the Golden Horde to become an independent khanate in 1438. The city later collapsed under the troops of Ivan the Terrible, that gave a new, Russian, face to the ancient city.

Why you should stop there

Kazan is a vibrant city, full of young people, bars, cafés and cultural attractions. It is the capital of the Tatar Authonomous Republic and an important University center, that had among its scholars Lev Tolstoy and Lenin. Its inhabitants are Tatars and Russians, making  Kazan a multi-ethnic city, where Mosques and Orthodox Churches coexist with each others and form a dynamic society of perfectly integrated ethnic groups and religions.

Time Zone

UTC +3 (= Moscow time)

What to see

The Kremlin. The beautiful white Kremlin alone is worth the trip here. It is part of the UNESCO world heritage and it contains both the main Mosque and the Cathedral of Kazan. In addition, you will have an amazing view of the surroundings of the city. At the opposite site of the hill, take a look at the modern and extravagant Agricultural Palace, with its strange tree at the entrance.

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The Ethnographic Museum. We don’t usually  suggest museums, but this one, in front of the Kremlin’s entrance, is interesting to understand the history of Kazan and its multi-ethnic population.

Ulitsa Baumana. It is the equivalent of Moscow’s Arbat, a long, pleasant street full of restaurants, shops and bars that is the center of the city’s nightlife.

Sleep

Okay places: Backpack Hostel Kazan (ul. Baumana 74, less than 10 EUR/night) ; Wings Hostel (ul. Chernyshevskogo 16, less than 10 EUR/night) ; Kazanskoe Podvorye (ul. Batman 68, about 10 EUR/night).

Perm

Brief History

Perm was founded by Peter the Great in 1723 and during the Soviet period it became an important military center under the name of Molotov. This city inspired – in a not properly positive sense – both Chekhov and Pasternak.

Why you should stop there

The city itself is nothing special, a usual Soviet-style city, but it’s a good base if you want to visit the attractions around it, such as the Perm-36 labor camp, the wooden architecture of Khokhlovka and the ice-cave in Kungur.

Time Zone

UTC +5 (= Moscow +2)

How to get around

Trams and buses operate from 5:30 to 12:30 AM, tickets can only be purchased from the driver or conductor.

What to see

The Museum of Contemporary Art “PERMM”. It contains the avanguarde art of Perm, in the effort to make the city a cultural center.

The Khokhlovka Architecture-Ethnographic Museum. 45 km from Perm you will find this collection of wooden buildings from the 19th and 20th century. Check the bus schedule in advance, since only a few buses go there every day.

Perm-36. This site was a labor camp for political dissidents during the Soviet period. Now, it has been turned into a museum of that dark side of Russian history. Before going there, check if it is still open, since as far as we know the museum was closed in June 2015.

Kungur ice-cave. You can explore the cave network of 1.5 km with unique ice formations, waterfalls and frozen rivers. Entrance every two hours, in guided tours.

Olkhon Island

Lake Baikal is a must-go on the Trans-Siberian route, being the most attractive and most fascinating place in Siberia. It is the biggest lake in the world for water capacity, more than all the 5 US lakes together. It is also a magical place to visit…

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The West coast is the more frequented and it is reachable from Irkutsk by bus. The East coast is reachable from Ulan-Ude. To get to the Northern shore, take the BAM railway until Severobaikalsk. The problem of the Lake is that there is no road that connects all the shores of the lake. So, if you want to go from Listyanka to Olkhon, for instance, you will have to go back to Irkutsk and take a bus from there to the island.

If you take the train from Irkutsk to Ulan-Ude, you will be able to see the lake from the train. We strongly recommend you to do that: the view is amazing! We took the night train and woke up at 5 am to see the sunrise on the Baikal… There are no words to describe how wonderful the view was.

One must-see location on the Baikal is Olkhon Island. To reach it, take a marshrutka from the Irkutsk bus station. The trip lasts from 6 to 8 hours and the schedule of departure changes frequently, so we suggest you go to the station the day before, ask for departure times and book the tickets in advance at the ticket office. The marshrutka will take you to the village of Khuzhir, the only inhabited center of the island. From there, you can go to the beach, visit the Shaman rocks and book tours around the island.

Spoiler alert! If you like surprises, don’t read this!

In our opinion, it is better to go to Olkhon without knowing anything about it, so your experience will be authentic as possible. You just gotta trust us on this one, go there and you’ll see.

However if you want to know something more about the island, check our diary page.

A deserted village, a sandy and rocky panorama, wild cows, horses and stray dogs, no type of night illumination whatsoever: the perfect setting for a horror movie is what’s waiting for you on this amazing island, the 5th center of Shaman Energy in the world.

In winter, until April, the lake is completely frozen, while the ice melts around May. If you go there in the summer, you may even try to put your legs in the water, and, even though Russians even swim in there, we warn you: it is freezing.

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Shaman rocks

What to see

We strongly recommend to take the one-day guided tour around the island. It costs around 800 roubles, but it is really worth it. A old and super-resistent Russian Lada minivan will take you to the Northern point of the island, from where you’ll be able to admire the immensity of the lake and, if you’re lucky, even spot some Nerpa seals resting on the rocks.

Go to the Shaman rocks in Kuzhir, on the Maloye More (Small Sea) shore of the lake. Shamans from all over the world gather here to hold ceremonies and celebrate the energy concentration of this sacred place. Attention: do not touch the “lentochki” (the colourful laces around the trees and sticks) – it is said to bring bad luck.

A good idea while on the island is to rent a bike and ride around the village and the amazing beaches.

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Sleep

The place where most foreigners stay in Olkhon is called “Nikita’s”, a nice guesthouse with a bar, restaurant and curious wooden architecture. Rather expensive but worth it if you want a private bathroom and running water.

Otherwise, if you want to spend less and are apt to adaptation, take a cheap guesthouse in the village (ice-cold showers, no proper toilets, except from some hole in the ground with a disgusting excrement smell, and very bad internet connection). Still, despite the difficulties, we believe it is the best way to enjoy the atmosphere of the island. We stayed at “Bereg Nadezhdi”. 
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Soon, enjoy your stay here and.. watch out for the cows!

What to eat on a Russian train

You have already booked your ticked, you are at the train station in Moscow and a 25-hour train will take you to Yekaterinburg the next morning… This means you’ll have to eat at least two times on the train. What and where to eat? Here are some tips about how to survive long-distance trains in Russia.

On the train, you have at least four choices concerning food:

  1. Every train has its own Restaurant wagon. It generally offers a variety of different dishes, from soups to salads and sandwiches and prices are not  expensive. Seating in this area is also an occasion to socialize, meet new people or catching a break from your noisy neighbors.

  2. Every 2-3 hours some lady from the restaurant car will stop by your wagon with a basket full of food and drinks.
    You can buy warm piroshki, noodles, vodka and beer. Attention: prices are usually higher in this case, so try to avoid buying stuff on the train.

  3. At the various stations, when the train stops (at least for longer stops, half an hour or more),  you will have time to get off and walk along the railways, where you’ll either find small “produkti” (the typical Russian grocery shops) and kiosks or Russian “babushke” selling drinks, biscuits, ice-cream and delicious home-made pastries for really low prices. Be careful and ask at what time the train leaves before getting off!

  4. You can also bring your own food. But…What to choose?

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Food shopping on the Transsiberian

A typical Russian-style dinner on a train is made of beer and dried fish, with some shots of vodka at the end. You can find these products in every “produkti” and supermarket in Russia.

Too much for you? Then try a smoother version of the Russian food.

In every carriage there is a water boiler (samovar), which you can use whenever you want, just bring your own cup.

Breakfast

Take some warm water and have a coffee, tea or any other warm drink you want – remember to bring with you powder coffee/tea or whatever. Then bring some packs of cookies or croissants and you’ll have the perfect breakfast!

Lunch/Dinner

We suggest two options, depending on how much time you will spend on the train.

  • You can bring with you fresh food. A good choice is bread, cheese, fresh vegetables (carrots or cucumbers) and ham or salami. Take a pocket knife and you’ll be able to make a tasty sandwich with these basic ingredients! Be careful: in summer inside the train it can be very hot, so you should eat this kind of lunch as soon as possible.

  • “Drinking” a noodle soup. Obviously this is a last resource, but sometimes you spend so much time on the train that only dried food can survive. Go to the boiler, fill the container with warm water, wait some minutes and dinner is served! We tried everything, from noodles to instant mashed potatoes, to Russian grechka. Maybe noodles are the best choice, you will find them at a really cheap price in the supermarket. Unfortunately, after a while you will be disgusted by them!

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So, other than food, we suggest you to bring the following items on the train:

  • A fork, a knife and a spoon

  • A plastic dish

  • A cup

  • Tissues or toilet paper

Vladivostok

Brief History

Founded in 1860, Vladivostok was initially an important naval base of the Czarist period, and it later turned into an important railway station, at the Eastern end of the Trans-Siberian rail. Since then, it became a commercial center at the crossroads of Russia, China and Japan, having maintained this role until now.

Why you should go there

Vladivostok is the mythical end point of the Trans-Siberian main route, a place where you go and say “Yes, I did it!”. It is the last stop of your epic trip, a pleasant city to walk around and to admire the nature of the Russian Far East, the desolate lands and the bays in the Pacific Ocean. It is also the major connection in the area, from where you can continue your trip to Japan by boat.

Time Zone

UTC +10 (= Moscow +7)

How to get around

The city centre is only a short walk from the train station, and most of the sights can be easily reached on foot. Still, since Vladivostok is situated on steep hills, walking can be physically demanding but buses and marshutkas are available. Beware of the frequent traffic jams though!

What to see

City center: walk along the three main avenues to see the ancient czarist buildings near Ploshad Revolutsii. Ulitsa Fokina is the correspondent of Moscow’s Arbat Street, that leads to the main beach, bars and shashlik kiosks.

A view from the top: if you take the funicular up to the top of the city, you will have a great view of the whole bay.

S-56 Submarine: take a look at this submarine from the WWII period.

Sleep

Teplo Hostel (ul. Posetskaja 16, about 10 EUR/night) ; Gallery and More Hostel (Admirala Fokina st. 4B, about 10 EUR/night).