Places Visited

Beijing, Erlian, Ulan Bator, Ulan-Ude, Irkutsk, Lake Baikal, Novosibirsk, Kazan, Moscow, Gobi Desert, Great Wall of China, Kazan, Yekaterinburg, Siberia

Day 1

Beijing – First View of the Temple of Heaven

Beijing has served as the political center of China for more than eight centuries, holding an important role in the culture, historical, and economic life of the country. The contemporary skyscrapers add layers of reflective glass and steel to the skyline, with the CCTV Building reaching a height of nearly 770 feet above the surrounding streets. The structure connects a series of horizontal and vertical sections, resembling an irregular cube when seen from certain angles, embodying the creativity and modernity of a city radiant with ancient splendor. Your flight lands at Beijing Capital International Airport, where your private transfer greets you upon arrival.

Restaurants brim with people, from the upscale pageantry within the business district to the labyrinth of tiny stalls hidden around corners and within narrow alleys offering the enticing aromas of vegetable dumplings and succulent noodles. You take your time basking in the comforts of your 5-star hotel before meeting your guide in the lobby, taking you first to the grounds of Tiananmen Square, located near your accommodation. The plaza is one of the largest in the world, encompassing 4,736,120 square feet. Chills run down your spine as you replay the image of the “Tank Man,” a single man holding grocery bags, challenging a tank within the confines of the infamous square.

The gate to the Royal Palace of the Ming and Qing Dynasties runs along the plaza’s northern edge. The orange tiles atop the sloped roof stand out from the polished red wall, which reaches a height of nearly 115 feet above the paving stones. People pass through the square on a daily basis without referencing the historical impact of the single day in contemporary Chines history. You notice your feet echoing off the stone as you walk. The decorative hedges reflect off the shimmering red wall of the Gate of Heavenly Peace. You stand beneath the granite tower of the Monument to the People’s Heroes, which was erected in the 1950s along two rows of white marble railings for a simple and elegant tribute to China’s more contemporary history.

Day 2

Beijing – Walking with Emperors

In the morning, locals of Beijing enjoy the familiar flavors of jianbing, a savory fried crepe stuffed with egg, wontons, and herbaceous cilantro. The aroma of spiced scallions and chili sauce drifts through the streets as the city returns to life. The neon signs of the night fade as the bright sunlight washes over the narrow lanes and wide boulevards around the city center. The light glints off the steel and glass frames of the high-rises. After breakfast, your guide greets you in the lobby and escorts you outside of the city to stroll along the ancient stonework creating a portion of the Great Wall of China.

Construction on the grand edifice began around the 3rd century BC to protect the newly founded Qin Dynasty from Mongolian nomads. However, the 370 miles of wall around the Jingjinji Province were erected during the Ming Dynasty, between the 14th and 17th centuries AD. You venture to the preserved section of wall at Badaling, wandering along the crenulated features and beneath the watchtowers. The scent of spice emanates from the surrounding trees. You have a pristine view of the power, prestige, and defensive marvel reaching over the lush hill, and beyond the horizon.

You continue to the Ming Tombs, located along the foothills of TianShou Mountain. The complex acts as the final resting place for 13 of the 16 Ming emperors. Wild streams rush along the nearly 50 square miles of land. The Long Tomb is the largest of the tombs in the complex and stands beneath the TianShou Shan Mountain. More than 3,000 artifacts were excavated from the structure. The aroma of cedar emanates from the trees brought from Nepal to decorate the grounds.

Day 3

Beijing – Inside the Forbidden City and Train-Car Ready

Beijing moves quickly in the morning, with locals eagerly moving through the streets. Vendors and small restaurants hidden in the narrow alleys offer the traditional breakfast of congee, rice porridge. Patrons choose to brighten their breakfast according to their tastes, adding peanuts, pork, or pickles to enhance the flavor. After breakfast, your guide leads you into the heart of the Forbidden City, the palace complex erected as the home of the Yuan Dynasty in the 13th century and continuing to house 24 Ming and Qing emperors in total. The walls stand more than 32 feet tall behind a moat stretching nearly 165 feet wide.

The water ripples in the cool morning air, offering a serene ambiance amongst the display of prestige and power embodied in the walls. You enter the marvelous Meridian Gate at the center of the wall. You can imagine the sounds of gongs and bells once used to mark the return of the Emperor, for whom the gate was utilized. The tranquil atmosphere provides a different view of historic Beijing, away from the endless movement of the contemporary city. You reach the Hall of Supreme Harmony, which was first erected in the 15th century. The Dragon Throne adds a wealth of intricate design to the interior gallery, demarcating the spot from which the emperor would rule.

Within the emperor’s presence, the presiding court would touch their heads to the floor nine times. Before leaving the complex, you visit the Hall of Union to view the 18th-century water clock. The bronze vessels glint in the light, along with the impressive collection of imperial jade seals on display. After your time in the Forbidden City, you continue to Beijing Station and board your private train compartment to indulge in the mixture of contemporary luxury and antique charm, creating an unforgettable, welcoming ambiance aboard the train.

What’s Included: breakfast, lunch, dinner, tour, accommodation

Day 4

Gobi Desert – Discovering Unique Arid Beauty

In the morning, the dining car fills with a combination of exciting and enticing aromas. The scent of steeping black tea fades beneath the fragrant, rich aroma of freshly brewed coffee. People from around the world mix their coffee differently. You notice a Russian couple sweetening their coffee with three sugar cubes before adding a dash of cream. Outside the window, you notice the vast arid landscape of the Gobi Desert, the most expansive desert region in Asia. The Gobi spreads across northern China and southern Mongolia, reaching a height of nearly 5,000 feet above sea level along its northern borders.

Dry grass tufts punctuate the golden sand leading to barren rock and hidden dunes and cliffs blazing with red hues. At the border of Mongolia, the train stops, and you transfer to the luxuries of your new train compartment, streaked with velvet drapes and gorgeous embellishments, referencing the golden days of train travel. Bactrian camels, the camel with two humps, graze on the sporadic tufts of grass. A herder stops along the golden glow of the landscape, letting her charge enjoy a relaxing moment. The camels leave hoofed trails behind as they venture farther along the horizon. After stopping in the border town of Erlian, the train continues through the flat, arid landscape before the barren rocks give way to lush grasses of the Mongolian steppe.

What’s Included: breakfast, lunch, dinner, tour, transfer, accommodation

Day 5

Ulan Bator – Capital Wonder in Mongolia’s Capital

In the morning, the train pulls into the station at Ulan Bator, the capital of Mongolia. Large squares and sporadic high-rises overtake the pristine countryside bordering the cityscape. Businessmen dressed in Armani suits wander down the streets beside nomads freshly arrived from the edges of the Mongolian steppe, displaying the unique blend of custom and contemporary culture. The aroma of freshly made noodles emanates from the restaurants and street vendors, mixing with the rich scent of coffee drifting out of a modern café. Your guide leads you on an introductory tour of the city, leading you to the glistening architecture of Choijin Lama Temple Museum, located in the heart of downtown.

The structure was erected in 1904 and became a museum in 1942 to display the feudal traditions of Mongolia’s past. Golden figures burst from the doorways, surrounded by vibrant red hues. The pillars contain murals of movement cast in lush greens, blues, and yellows. The largest temple in the museum complex is the Maharaja Süm, which features various statues depicting the historical Buddha. Relics of Choijin Lama and Baltung Choimba are kept inside the statues of the historical figures. The dancing demon ceremonial masks known as Tsam are on display in the gallery. The vibrant and spiritual figures contain wide eyes but differ in their meaning. Their variety and intricate details offer an enchanting piece of Buddhist history. In the evening, partake in a dynamic performance of traditional Mongolian music, listening to the deep, guttural hum of Tuvan throat singing.

What’s Included: breakfast, lunch, dinner, tour, transfer, accommodation

Day 6

Mongolian Alps – Grand Galleries to Open Views

The morning light stretches over the Zaisan Memorial around the city’s southern edge, which commemorates the soviet soldiers killed during World War II. A mural circling the monument depicts an everlasting friendship between the peoples of Mongolia and the USSR. After breakfast, you set out with your guide to view the preserved spiritual ambiance of the Gandan Khiid Monastery. The structure was erected in the 19th century and survived the religious purges of the 1930s, now connected to more than 600 monks.

Pigeons nibble feed along the cobbled courtyard. Woman and men spin the gilded prayer wheels. The main pathway leads to the temple of Migjid Janraisig Süm. The white walls radiate images of the Buddha of Longevity, looking through the copper and gilded statue depicting Migjid Janraisig. You continue out of the capital and along the swirling tan and gentle green grasses of Mongolian steppe to reach the stunning Alps. Your guide leads you to meet with the nomads of the hills who make their living caring for animals, from horses and sheep to yaks and goats.

You find a family amongst the lush greenery of the fields set beneath the rolling snowcapped peaks. Wood frames help keep steady the cloth of the yurts. The matriarch welcomes you into the center of the yurt. A fire warms the interior and puffs smoke through the thin pipe-chimney. Horses graze on the jade-colored grass spreading across the plain. The patriarch passes you a jug of fermented mare’s milk, which locals refer to as “Nomadic Beer.”

What’s Included: breakfast, lunch, dinner, tour, accommodation

Day 7

Ulan-Ude – Over the Russian Border

The sunlight washes over the emerald grasses of the Selenga River Valley. The water rushes along the banks and shimmers beneath the spreading light. The aroma of traditional Russian blini, thin pancakes, topped with tart berry jam, fills the dining room, accompanied by the herbaceous scent of steeping tea. The Selenga River travels more than 630 miles through Mongolia and Russia before connecting to the waters of Lake Baikal. The train docks at the station in Ulan-Ude, your first stop within the borders of Russia. The ambiance remains uniquely Asian, with locals practicing Buddhism instead of connecting to the Orthodox Christian Church. The streets maintain a calm and relaxed feel in a city, considered the capital of the Buryatia Republic.

While exploring the city, you venture to the central square, where a giant bust of Vladimir Lenin watches over the wide stones. The bronze statue stands more than 25 feet tall and was crafted to commemorate Lenin’s 100th birthday. An elegant statue of Mother Buryatia adorns the Selenginsky Bridge, standing more than 52 feet tall. The figure embodies a warm welcome to those entering the heart of the city. The sunlight glints off the chalky-white walls and blue domes of the Odigitrievksky Cathedral. The 18th-century edifice contains Siberian baroque architecture with a series of gilded iconoclasts decorating the nave. Nearby, the monastery of Ivolginsky Datsan remains the largest source of Buddhist teachings inside of Russia.

What’s Included: breakfast, lunch, dinner, tour, transfer, accommodation

Day 8

Lake Baikal – Blissful Lake Baikal

Today the train arrives along the stunning shores of Lake Baikal, the world’s oldest freshwater lake, with the lakebed reaching depths of nearly 5,400 feet. The landscape creates a gorgeous contradiction to the Siberian scenery you expected. The waters shimmer with flecks of turquoise and cobalt hues against rustic-red shores, emerald trees, and craggy boulders gilded with pyrite. The shoreline reaches dramatic cliffs, looking down at the sunbathing Baikal seals. The unique species of freshwater seals average nearly four and a half feet and can weigh up to 330 pounds.

Their steel-gray coat allows them to soak up the warmth of the sun spreading along their backs. The scent of pine emanates from the surrounding forest. The train settles in the quiet village of Port Baikal. The scenic trip overlooks views of the pervading glassy surface of the lake and travels through a marvelous collection of tunnels. The village remains a preserved piece of history with wooden homes and shops decorated with a bright window and door trimmings. A small ferry continues to run from the town across the lake to the main station of Baikal Lake, connecting trains to and from Moscow to the Siberian wilderness.

Indulge in the faded grandeur of the 1920s spa town of Arshan. The fabulous surrounding landscape features the snowcapped peaks of the Eastern Sayan Mountains. You can dip into a refreshing and serene spa located on the main street of town to bask in the naturally heated pools. The hot water spreads across your skin and soothes your muscles. The rich minerals in the soil and water have been known to help cure ailments of all kinds. Outside of the spa, the Kyngarga River flows with icy water, from the mountains and meandering beneath the twirling prayer wheels decorating idyllic streets.

What’s Included: breakfast, lunch, dinner, tour, transfer, accommodation

Day 9

Irkutsk – Siberian Grand

In the morning, the train pulls into the station at Irkutsk, one of Siberia’s largest cities. The scent of a traditional Russian breakfast of sausage, dill, and sunny-side-up eggs fills the dining car. You set out into the city after the meal for an unforgettable experience in the bustling Central Market. En route, you pass the Lace House, which embodies Russian baroque architecture from the 19th century. The refined exterior has preserved the wooden ornaments and intricate carvings. Vegetable vendors offer ripe tomatoes and large onions.

Along the outskirts of the market drifts the aroma of borscht, Russian beet soup. Fish vendors call out to passersby. The fishmonger happily offers samples of Baikal Omul, a tender fish caught in Lake Baikal and often served smoked or fried. Inside the rectangular covered marketplace, you find boutique shops along the second floor brimming with jewelry, sweaters, and fur hats. The hats are soft and warm on your skin, protecting locals from the bitter Siberian winter.

On the first floor, vendors offer samples of caviar, and the aroma of fresh pastries lingers beneath the vaulted ceiling. You continue to the whitewashed façade of the White House, which was erected as the governor’s residence in the mid-19th century. Today, the house maintains the main building of the local university library, allowing its neoclassical façade to represent a pillar of education for the community. The Natural History Museum stands across the street. The structure was erected in the 18th century with a Moorish design contrasting the traditional Siberian architecture. The local wooden homes contain intricate carvings above their doors and windows to represent incantations warding off evil spirits.

What’s Included: breakfast, lunch, dinner, tour, transfer, accommodation

Day 10

Siberia – A Day on the Railway

The train travels through the Siberian landscape today, venturing through the stretches of emerald forest overtaking your views in the window. The mountains rise and fall along the edges of the tracks. Rivers break through the trees, rushing with whitewater before fading behind the forest canopy once again. At breakfast, the scent of fresh blini (thin pancakes) and coffee fill the dining room. A Russian couple spreads a tart, berry jam over the thin, crepe-like pastry. You take the time watching the beauty of the Siberian countryside before partaking in one of the many lectures offered during the day as you continue deeper into Russia.

Engage with a military historian on the importance of the wilds of Siberia from a uniquely military perspective. Or you could listen to a history of the railway with one of the foremost historians and enthusiasts of the majesty of the Trans-Siberian Railroad. For a unique experience, you engage in a lecture offering insight into the distilling of vodka, Russia’s national drink. Your instructor leads you on a tour of the country through samplings of the various types of vodka produced throughout different cities and regions. The traditions of drinking vodka are taught along the way, beginning with the fact that a person never drinks without reason, making every sample a toast.

What’s Included: breakfast, lunch, dinner, transfer, accommodation

Day 11

Novosibirsk – On the Trail of Tradition

In the morning, the train pulls into the station at Novosibirsk to the sounds of traditional Russian folk music echoing along the courtyard. The third-largest city in Russia embraces the role as the gateway to Siberia while traveling east and the exit to the Siberian countryside when traveling west. The wide streets lead to narrow lanes and contain a relaxed pace for such a large city. The waters of the Ob River rush against the banks near the railway, and wood-lace architecture retains its original charm beneath the contemporary structures scattered across the lanes.

Dancers dressed in colorful, heritage costume dance in the forecourt of the station. They grab your hand and twirl you around, welcoming you to the streets of Novosibirsk. You participate in the easy movements with your heart pulsing with joy at the fun-filled introduction to the city. Your welcome continues the local Bread and Salt custom. The bread represents wealth. The salt helps ward off evil spirits. A woman dressed in a white blouse with colorful lace and a long, flowing skirt brings a plate covered with a brightly woven cloth. She opens the towel to reveal the bread.

You tear a piece to represent your portion of riches before dipping it into the salt. You leave the ceremony with happy friends from the local community. The remainder of the day takes you into the heart of the city to visit some of the marvelous museums dedicated the local culture and history of Novosibirsk. Venture to Lenin Square to walk among the Soviet era statues adorning the forefront of the Opera and Ballet Theater. The statue is one of the largest Lenin figures in Russia, utilized as a central meeting place for couples.

What’s Included: breakfast, lunch, dinner, tour, transfer, accommodation

Day 12

Yekaterinburg – Over the Asian Border to Europe

The train reaches across the ancient Ural Mountain Range to arrive in the city of Yekaterinburg, located on the border between Asia and Europe. The city’s tallest building expands to 51 stories, adorned with a restaurant serving European cuisine accompanied by a tremendous view of the neighborhoods stretching to the horizon. The dining room fills with the aroma of baked apple and creamy potato soup. The house of Kirillov represents preserved fairytale architecture in the city with native art depicting the famous self-taught blacksmith. Patterned paintings and ornaments contain the Orthodox symbols of flowers and stars.

The domes of the Church upon Blood glint against the bright sky, commemorating the site in which the Russian Revolution claimed the lives of the Romanov Family. The Plotinka, an arch dam that the city erected to control the water flows of the Iset River, offers a glimpse of high-tech design amongst the architectural innovations of the city. The sunlight glints off the windows of the surrounding flat-glass buildings. The water rushes beneath what resembles a regular bridge where couples enjoy a romantic stroll. Locals enjoy boating along the waters or stroll along the banks and feed the ducks. The structure was erected with wood from the Ural Larch, a tree hardened by water, embodying the spirit of those living in Yekaterinburg.

What’s Included: breakfast, lunch, dinner, tour, transfer, accommodation

Day 13

Kazan – Where Cultures Meet

Much like Istanbul in Turkey, Kazan combines the cultures of the continents with preserved architecture, along with a connection to Islam and the Russian Orthodox Church spreading along the banks of the Volga River. A mixture of spires and minarets adorn the skyline in a city more than 150 years older than the capital of Russia. Locals enjoy the relaxed ambiance and artistic connection to the international and Russian dishes served in the Art Café. The Suyumbike Tower was on the site of a tragic fable, and now has the reputation of Russia’s own leaning tower. The structure was erected around the 18th century and stands nearly 200 feet above the surrounding streets, shimmering with baked brick.

Your guide leads you along the mixture of cultures spreading through the city to reach the colorful, storybook edifice of the Temple of All Religions. Domes and spires decorated with vibrant swirls, textured dots, and spiked embellishments offer a harmonious mixture of architectural flourishes. The complex does not maintain an actual chapel but embodies religious unity, leading your eyes to the gorgeous contemporary replica of the 16th-century Qolsharif Mosque. The teal dome and spires crown the pearlescent exterior connecting the antique grandeur of the Muslim city with the contemporary culture of the Russian city.

What’s Included: breakfast, lunch, dinner, tour, transfer, accommodation

Day 14

Moscow – Arriving in the Russian Capital

Before arriving in Moscow, you partake in a traditional Russian breakfast in the dining car. The scent of dill filters through the sweet aroma of coffee mixed with sugar and cream. The herbaceous flavor cuts through the richness of sausage and egg. The train pulls into the station where you wave goodbye the comforts of your train compartment. Your private transfer escorts you to a luxury hotel near the edges of famed Red Square where you can indulge relax for a moment before beginning your tour of Russia’s capital.

Izmailovsky Market brims with locals and visors searching for a bargain. Artisan craftsmen display traditional matryoshka dolls, each hand-painted and shimmering with gloss. Traditional fur hats rustle in the breeze, and Soviet memorabilia offers a glimpse into the city’s past. The aroma of rich spices emanates from a vendor offering mulled wine. You make your way into a snapshot of Russia’s imperial past by visiting the Kremlin with your guide. The complex offers a detailed panorama of tsarist influence as the seat of Russian power for centuries.

The high walls run for nearly a mile and a half. The Grand Kremlin Palace inside the complex represents a gilded age for Imperial Russia from its construction in the 1830s. The gilded exterior shows pride and pomp alongside the onion domes of the Assumption Cathedral. The original church was crafted in the 15th century as the site where all tsars were to be crowned. The religious history is tangible within the church, as the gilded mosaics glint beneath the flickering chandeliers along the walls, columns, and ceilings.

What’s Included: breakfast, lunch, dinner, tour, transfer, accommodation

Day 15

Moscow – Farewell to the Moscow Highlights

In the morning, your guide meets you at the hotel for an early tour through the highlights of the city, passing the familiar walls of the Kremlin and the rushing waters of the Moskva River. The grand façade of the GUM shopping center faces the Red Square, framing the crimson tiles of Lenin’s Mausoleum and the candy-like décor of St. Basil’s Cathedral. The structure contains rainbow stripes and bulbous domes, tall spires and gilded embellishments for a breathtaking image endlessly associated with the beauty of Moscow. For a more unique view of the city, your guide leads you to the Lubyanka, the former headquarters of the KGB.

The unassuming façade embodies the power, secrecy, and imminent fear held within the intelligence agency of the USSR. Enemies of the state were imprisoned, interrogated, and sometimes even tortured within the halls of a structure resembling a quiet office complex. The yellow brick and neo-baroque style are preserved from the original late 19th-century construction. The museum inside offers exhibits of Cold War propaganda for a different perspective on the conflict that changed the world. After your thorough exploration of the city, your private transfer meets you at the hotel and escorts you to Moscow International Airport for your flight home


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