Trans-Siberian rail in winter

By Nyckle Wijbrandus
This item appears on page 26 of the August 2013 issue.
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I read the article “The Great Train Journey — Vladivostok to Moscow” by Jack Ogg (March ’13, pg. 20) with great interest, as my longtime companion and I also were booked on the MIR Corporation trip, ours to take place March 9-23, 2013.

This was our first experience with MIR Corp., and we consider it to be one of the top travel companies we have dealt with over the years. Andrew Barron, Director, Scheduled Group Tours, is extremely efficient and responsive, and our air reservations, transfers, hotel bookings, etc., all were arranged flawlessly.

For the two of us, we paid about $37,000. This included all airfare; a hotel night each in Seoul, Korea, and in Vladivostok and Moscow; transfers; all meals and drinks on and off the train; entry fees, and tips.

She and I flew from Albuquerque to Dallas to Seoul to Vladivostok. It was our first time flying Korean Air Lines and they were wonderful. Although the Dallas-Seoul flight was 15 hours nonstop, the bathrooms on board were as clean when we landed as when we started. Flight attendants were on duty at all times. We flew economy, and the food was excellent, drinks were plentiful and the seats better than adequate.

The train ride and sights across Russia were much as described by Mr. Ogg, although the temperatures were, of course, dramatically different. Given a choice, we would take the winter tour over the summer’s. There were plenty of sunny days; still, the falling snow was lovely to watch and created a clean, gorgeous panorama, and places were well shoveled. We were told that in summer it can get very hot and dusty and at some locations there are plenty of bugs. 

To combat the cold, each Golden Eagle express guest was provided with wonderful felt boots, woolen socks, mittens and a scarf, fur hat and backpack for excursions — all items complimentary (to keep) and brand new. 

Cabins on the train are a tight fit, so a minimum of luggage is recommended, especially since informality of dress is the rule of the day. Food, service and drinks were excellent and unlimited. Contrary to what the article stated, laundry service on the train was not free.

Restaurants all were great, and there were many museums and sights of interest as well as a few shopping opportunities. Our tour guides were excellent. 

One limitation of choosing a MIR winter tour involves the group size. There had been 16 people on the Moscow-to-Vladivostok run and there were only 10 of us on the Vladivostok-to-Moscow run. During the summer there can be as many as 100 guests. (There was no mingling with the passengers on the regular train to which our private cars were attached.)

A number of things happened as a result of the small size of our group. The run was done by attaching the Golden Eagle to regularly scheduled Russian trains instead of a dedicated locomotive. Most disappointing, the dining and bar cars were eliminated and replaced with a small, uninspiring car with a bar/lounge/kitchen combination. 

The replacement car was barely adequate and certainly not on the same level as the two beautiful cars we saw in the brochure. Seating in this lounge was limited and uncomfortable, and it was not a good place to gather and talk, watch the DVDs presented, play cards or be entertained (as there was entertainment provided). 

Even though the members of our group got along very well, we usually all got together only right before a meal, as it was not comfortable to stay afterward.

Heading home to Albuquerque, the flight from Moscow to Los Angeles on Aeroflot was the cheapest flight. Although Aeroflot has upgraded to Airbus aircraft, their in-flight service has not yet been upgraded. Seats were extremely tight, and the food was a great example of bad airline food. 

Drinks were dispensed begrudgingly and in very small quantities. Until that flight, I’d never had wine poured from a cardboard container into a cardboard cup. Beer was available only for purchase. 

The flight, itself, however, was uneventful and got us home on time. 

In summary, we feel that our Trans-Siberian rail trip was a unique experience and well worth the money.

NYCKLE WIJBRANDUS

Albuquerque, NM

 

ITN sent a copy of Mr. Wijbrandus’ write-up to MIR Corporation and received the following in a reply.

 

I’d like to thank Mr. Wijbrandus for his kind words about his experience with MIR and on board the Golden Eagle winter program.

Both of the 2013 winter programs on the Golden Eagle were run on an attached-car basis. We discussed this with all travelers five or six months ahead of the departure. The majority of travelers agree that it is a huge plus. There are no other opportunities to experience rail travel of the Golden Eagle’s caliber — making use of such accommodations and service — on such an intimate basis, as departures that aren’t “attached car” have 60 to 100 travelers or more.

Further, the Golden Eagle cars were kept completely separate from the rest of the train. Really, the main effect, from a logistics standpoint, is that when the train was waiting on a station siding during a day’s touring (and was not moving nor populated), there was no engine attached to it. Touring, privacy and schedules were unaffected.

However, being on an attached-car basis does limit to four the number of cars that the Rail Ministry allows the Golden Eagle to operate. According to Golden Eagle Luxury Trains, the original plan for these departures was to take one Gold-class sleeping carriage, one Silver-class sleeping carriage, one saloon car (with a single long dining table for 10, a small kitchen and staff accommodation) and a bar car with seating for 35. 

Shortly before departure, though, the saloon car that was reserved was withdrawn from service by Russian Railways. Fortunately, Golden Eagle was able to acquire, at the last minute, a brand-new, combination restaurant/bar car, and this car was taken to replace the unavailable saloon car and bar car. As the restaurant/bar car had no staff accommodation, they also took a staff car (making four cars in total).

Mr. Wijbrandus notes that the bar car was not as pictured in our materials and was a smaller car serving double duty. MIR and Golden Eagle apologize for this unexpected change in the amenities. We were not able to notify clients of this change prior to departure. 

Our materials do advise that “decor and layout of dining, bar and sleeping cars… may differ from the sample images depicted in our (materials),” though, of course, in normal circumstances we would strive to notify clients of changes before the program. 

We are thrilled that Mr. Wijbrandus found the program to be worth the money and, overall, enjoyed his unique experience. We’re also looking forward to working with Mr. Wijbrandus again in 2014 on his next MIR trip, booked to Kaliningrad and the Baltics.

ANDREW BARRON, Director, Scheduled Group Tours, MIR Corporation, 85 S. Washington St., Ste. 210, Seattle, WA 98104

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.

I read the article “The Great Train Journey — Vladivostok to Moscow” by Jack Ogg (March ’13, pg. 20) with great interest, as my longtime companion and I also were booked on the MIR Corporation trip, ours to take place March 9-23, 2013.

This was our first experience with MIR Corp., and we consider it to be one of the top travel companies we have dealt with over the years. Andrew Barron, Director, Scheduled Group Tours, is extremely efficient and responsive, and our air reservations, transfers, hotel bookings, etc., all were arranged flawlessly.

For the two of us, we paid about $37,000. This included all airfare; a hotel night each in Seoul, Korea, and in Vladivostok and Moscow; transfers; all meals and drinks on and off the train; entry fees, and tips.

She and I flew from Albuquerque to Dallas to Seoul to Vladivostok. It was our first time flying Korean Air Lines and they were wonderful. Although the Dallas-Seoul flight was 15 hours nonstop, the bathrooms on board were as clean when we landed as when we started. Flight attendants were on duty at all times. We flew economy, and the food was excellent, drinks were plentiful and the seats better than adequate.

The train ride and sights across Russia were much as described by Mr. Ogg, although the temperatures were, of course, dramatically different. Given a choice, we would take the winter tour over the summer’s. There were plenty of sunny days; still, the falling snow was lovely to watch and created a clean, gorgeous panorama, and places were well shoveled. We were told that in summer it can get very hot and dusty and at some locations there are plenty of bugs. 

To combat the cold, each Golden Eagle express guest was provided with wonderful felt boots, woolen socks, mittens and a scarf, fur hat and backpack for excursions — all items complimentary (to keep) and brand new. 

Cabins on the train are a tight fit, so a minimum of luggage is recommended, especially since informality of dress is the rule of the day. Food, service and drinks were excellent and unlimited. Contrary to what the article stated, laundry service on the train was not free.

Restaurants all were great, and there were many museums and sights of interest as well as a few shopping opportunities. Our tour guides were excellent. 

One limitation of choosing a MIR winter tour involves the group size. There had been 16 people on the Moscow-to-Vladivostok run and there were only 10 of us on the Vladivostok-to-Moscow run. During the summer there can be as many as 100 guests. (There was no mingling with the passengers on the regular train to which our private cars were attached.)

A number of things happened as a result of the small size of our group. The run was done by attaching the Golden Eagle to regularly scheduled Russian trains instead of a dedicated locomotive. Most disappointing, the dining and bar cars were eliminated and replaced with a small, uninspiring car with a bar/lounge/kitchen combination. 

The replacement car was barely adequate and certainly not on the same level as the two beautiful cars we saw in the brochure. Seating in this lounge was limited and uncomfortable, and it was not a good place to gather and talk, watch the DVDs presented, play cards or be entertained (as there was entertainment provided). 

Even though the members of our group got along very well, we usually all got together only right before a meal, as it was not comfortable to stay afterward.

Heading home to Albuquerque, the flight from Moscow to Los Angeles on Aeroflot was the cheapest flight. Although Aeroflot has upgraded to Airbus aircraft, their in-flight service has not yet been upgraded. Seats were extremely tight, and the food was a great example of bad airline food. 

Drinks were dispensed begrudgingly and in very small quantities. Until that flight, I’d never had wine poured from a cardboard container into a cardboard cup. Beer was available only for purchase. 

The flight, itself, however, was uneventful and got us home on time. 

In summary, we feel that our Trans-Siberian rail trip was a unique experience and well worth the money.

NYCKLE WIJBRANDUS

Albuquerque, NM

 

ITN sent a copy of Mr. Wijbrandus’ write-up to MIR Corporation and received the following in a reply.

 

I’d like to thank Mr. Wijbrandus for his kind words about his experience with MIR and on board the Golden Eagle winter program.

Both of the 2013 winter programs on the Golden Eagle were run on an attached-car basis. We discussed this with all travelers five or six months ahead of the departure. The majority of travelers agree that it is a huge plus. There are no other opportunities to experience rail travel of the Golden Eagle’s caliber — making use of such accommodations and service — on such an intimate basis, as departures that aren’t “attached car” have 60 to 100 travelers or more.

Further, the Golden Eagle cars were kept completely separate from the rest of the train. Really, the main effect, from a logistics standpoint, is that when the train was waiting on a station siding during a day’s touring (and was not moving nor populated), there was no engine attached to it. Touring, privacy and schedules were unaffected.

However, being on an attached-car basis does limit to four the number of cars that the Rail Ministry allows the Golden Eagle to operate. According to Golden Eagle Luxury Trains, the original plan for these departures was to take one Gold-class sleeping carriage, one Silver-class sleeping carriage, one saloon car (with a single long dining table for 10, a small kitchen and staff accommodation) and a bar car with seating for 35. 

Shortly before departure, though, the saloon car that was reserved was withdrawn from service by Russian Railways. Fortunately, Golden Eagle was able to acquire, at the last minute, a brand-new, combination restaurant/bar car, and this car was taken to replace the unavailable saloon car and bar car. As the restaurant/bar car had no staff accommodation, they also took a staff car (making four cars in total).

Mr. Wijbrandus notes that the bar car was not as pictured in our materials and was a smaller car serving double duty. MIR and Golden Eagle apologize for this unexpected change in the amenities. We were not able to notify clients of this change prior to departure. 

Our materials do advise that “decor and layout of dining, bar and sleeping cars… may differ from the sample images depicted in our (materials),” though, of course, in normal circumstances we would strive to notify clients of changes before the program. 

We are thrilled that Mr. Wijbrandus found the program to be worth the money and, overall, enjoyed his unique experience. We’re also looking forward to working with Mr. Wijbrandus again in 2014 on his next MIR trip, booked to Kaliningrad and the Baltics.

ANDREW BARRON, Director, Scheduled Group Tours, MIR Corporation, 85 S. Washington St., Ste. 210, Seattle, WA 98104