The Grand Trans-Siberian Express Experience Part 2: Novosibirsk and Krasnoyarsk

This is the second entry of a in a six-part series of blog posts about my experience onboard the Grand Trans-Siberian Express. To read the other parts, click here: 

Part 1: Moscow to Yekaterinburg

Part 3: Irkutsk

Part 4: Lake Baikal

Part 5: Ulan-Ude and Tarbagatay

Part 6: Ulaanbaatar and Terelj National Park, Mongolia

The video above is a 7-part anthology of short films that capture my experience onboard, a highlight reel of memorable experiences onboard the Grand Trans-Siberian Express, taken during the summer of 2017.

The Grand Trans-Siberian Express is the premium version of the legendary Trans-Siberian Railway journey. The GTSE is an all-inclusive "cruise on rails" using a private charter train, with luxury accommodations and fine dining from start to finish onboard the train and at designated stops along the way. Our chosen route took us from Moscow to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, over the course of 12 days, with guided day trips in between long hours in transit on the train. I had the good fortune of joining this trip thanks to Aeroflot Russian Airlines.

PART 2: Novosibirsk and Krasnoyarsk

DAY 5 is another long day in transit as we cross from the Urals and into Western Siberia. As it will be for half the trip, the terrain outside the window is a flat expanse, with intermittent patches of shrubs, rivers, and Siberian taiga.

This is the first thing we learn and notice about Siberia: while the name calls to mind images of brutal cold and armies vanquished by unforgiving winters, in its brief months of summer, it is as green and balmy as anywhere else. Not what we expected --- Moscow was chilly, dipping down to single digits Celsius in the evening, while in Siberia, temperatures could approach the 30s.

As the train rolls along, we have another lecture from Larisa, this time on Russian history, and an introduction to the Russian language and Cyrillic alphabet, which would prove useful as the trip went on.

I savor these long intervals aboard, such that I sometimes wish we didn't have to disembark. I'm often perfectly content to drift in and out of sleep while looking out the window at the interminable plains. There is rarely mobile reception or Internet, so this is the principal way to pass the time. I don't mind.

We pull into the station at Novosibirsk in the late afternoon, where we are warmly welcomed with music and dancing. Welcome to Siberia --- no bears here, just a normal city in the summer. We head over to the Marriott for dinner and a good long rest.

Day 6 is a full day tour of the city. Novosibirsk is Russia's third largest city, the largest in Siberia, and generally considered its center. It was founded in 1893 as the future site of the Trans-Siberian railway bridge crossing the River Ob. As a relatively young city, it doesn't have the striking architectural and cultural heritage of the cities we've seen so far, but our highly educated (all our guides seem to be) guide's enthusiasm for her city make it interesting enough. We begin our visit by walking by the city's famed Opera House, the largest in Russia, and stroll along Lenin Square.

At Lenin Square near the Opera House in Novosibirsk

A park with a monument to lab mice (yup) in the university district of Novosibirsk, nestled amidst the taiga

One of the highlights of this excursion was a visit to the largest open air railway museum in Russia, a collection of more than 60 showpieces of steam, diesel and electric locomotives as well as several old passenger cars. Here we got to board passenger trains of years past, which still look invitingly ready to ride today, their wood-paneled interiors exuding a romance modern trains no longer have. There's even an old prison train and a medical carriage from World War II.

An old third class cabin at the Novosibirsk Railway Museum

Soviet era markings

WWII medical train carriage

Prison train carriage

From here we rush to catch our boat for a cruise along the River Ob. This is my favorite part of the day: a relaxed meander down the river, with abundant cheese and champagne.

Cruising down the River Ob

Cheese!

Enjoying the cruise on the River Ob

Once the cruise is over, we bus back to the train and continue our journey. We have dinner shortly, and are treated to the loveliest sunset of the trip so far.

Enjoying this sunset from our cabin window

The morning of Day 7 brings us to Krasnoyarsk, a central Siberian city bisected by the mighty Yenissei River, the foremost of the river systems flowing to the Arctic Ocean. It is the capital of a sprawling krai (region) of the same name, a vertical fin of the Russian landmass that extends from the Arctic Ocean in the north nearly all the way down south to Mongolia. 

Our local guide is Yar, an associate professor with a Ph. D. in linguistics and an engaging conversationalist. We ask him non-stop questions on the city and on Russian history and culture as we take an extended stroll across the main square and along the river.

Looking out towards the Yenissei -- and the first mountains we've glimpsed in Russia, more than halfway through the trip.

Across the river, we see some rock formations atop mountains, a national park I wish we'd had time to visit.

Looking across the river into an island that the locals enjoy as a recreational area

The bridge leading to the island

After our stroll, we board our minibus and climb up to the top of the city to witness a traditional flag raising ceremony with an enormous flag of Krasnoyarsk, culminating in a deafening cannon firing.

Flag-raising ceremony in Krasnoyarsk

View from the top of the city

After a relaxed long lunch, we visit the local museum, with its Egypt-inspired facade. Here we learn about the varied peoples and tribes inhabiting the region, particularly its frigid Arctic regions, as well as the past and present flora and fauna of Siberia. There is a full-sized wooden ship inside and even reconstructions of typical homes of both aristocrats and peasants of the past.

 The Krasnoyarsk Regional Museum of Local Lore

The Krasnoyarsk Regional Museum of Local Lore

From the museum, it's a short ride back to the station and we say our goodbyes to Yar.

Yar receiving Filipino treats from our group

Back on the train earlier than usual from an excursion, I take advantage of the downtime and good light to take some pictures of the train interior as it traverses a long curve towards eastern Siberia.

The hallway outside the Deluxe Gold cabins and our carriage's cabin attendants enjoying the scenery

Another dining car, assigned to the Spanish/South American group

Today, once again, we're treated to a stunning sunset onboard the train, even better than the one the day before. I take my customary perch between two dining cars and start shooting.

The sun slowly coming down...

... exploding into a brilliant show after dinner

Dissipating into soft hues at dusk

After two full days, the longer rest onboard with all my baggage within reach is welcome. We look forward to what promise to be the high points of the trip: Irkutsk, the "Paris of Siberia," the great Lake Baikal, and beyond.

END OF PART 2

Proceed to Part 3: Irkutsk

Many thanks to Regina Laquindanum and Lizette Jocson of Aeroflot Russian Airlines for having me along for this trip. If you are from the Philippines and would like more information on booking this trip, you may contact Aeroflot Philippines at:

GSA: VITA Travel Services

Unit 809 8F Tower One, PSE Plaza Ayala Triangle, Ayala Ave. Makati City

T:+632 759 2191 / 759 2192 / 836 8975

E: info@aeroflot.ph