This could only have been achieved by the incredible research & ground work put in by the passionate & dedicated staff at Travel All Russia.
My husband (Jim) & I for the past 25 years have had the Trans-Siberian Railway sitting at the top of our bucket list. Due to work & family commitments the time had never been right. Until a chance conversation with some friends back on the March 2013 saw us hatch the idea of doing the trip together. February 2016 was the earliest date available to us all & we agreed that 3 years would give us sufficient time to save & plan a trip of a lifetime.
Luckily with easy access to the World Wide Web information was readily available & choice of tour companies was endless. We have previously had Bespoke holidays structured for us and early 2015 we started emailing several companies & ask what they could organize for us with a departure date of early February 2016 with our journey to commence with 10 days in China (Terracotta Warriors, Harbin Ice Festival, and Great Wall & Beijing) prior to boarding the Trans Mongolia train from Beijing. Heading into Mongolia and then travelling via the Trans-Siberian Railway to St Petersburg before boarding the Allegro Train to Helsinki, with a detour to Kotka in Finland & finally onto Tallinn via Ferry.
I think there were about 12 companies that I emailed our request to. Vera, Destination Specialist at Travel All Russia in St Petersburg was the only one who actually phoned us direct to discuss our needs. Several we didn’t even get a reply from, & the rest said we couldn’t do what we wanted, when we wanted, but a similar trip in running from April!
Our brief to Vera was that we were after a private 2 berth compartment on all the trains, we are all in our fifties, fit & adventurous. Free time to explore by ourselves & minimum 3 nights in the cities where possible were a priority.
Within days Vera had any itinerary prepared for us, with both our requests & her suggestions on sites to visit included.
It all sounded very impressive, but because this was going to be a once in a lifetime trip I wanted to ensure we didn’t miss anything to make it memorable. I diligently compared our itinerary with those advertised on the web by other travel agents.
Our Travel All Russia personalized itinerary ticked all the boxes. They had all the “Must See” sights covered, with several extras and we could travel on the dates we’d requested, with enough free time to explore the cities ourselves.
Our itinerary was quite complex so Vera & Elena (Logistics Specialist) had a task ahead of them to get everything to connect effortlessly! And by this stage we had 6 of us travelling and an endless supply of questions that we were seemingly emailing on a daily basis. The patience the Vera & Elena extended to us by answering all our questions was impeccable.
As we’d structured our trip to maximise our time, it helped that our guides & drivers were all friendly, knowledgeable, competent & always on time. With English spoken seemingly like their first language.
Because our accommodations were centrally located we could just about walk everywhere in our free time. Plus they were all very comfortable & first class facilitating relaxing warm evenings with friends sharing the days adventures.
As our trip unfolded we realised there were other activities that we wanted to do that we hadn’t allowed for. And because we’d allowed enough free time in our itinerary we could easily accommodate these extra activities.
A private Hovercraft ride on the frozen Lake Baikal was easily arranged by our guide. A behind scenes tour of the Bolshoi Theater and tickets to Romeo & Juliet ballet at the Mariinsky Theater were arranged simply by a few emails to Elena.
Not one to focus on food, I must say that I was impressed. Especially by the fact that we had the opportunity to sample the delicious local food in restaurants/cafes & markets that were frequented by the locals.
Highlights of China, Mongolia, Russia, Finland & Estonia are difficult to name as the diversity in history, architecture, people, geography & culture is vast. We loved the differences as we were endlessly surprised at every turn.
If highlights must be mentioned the following would come first to mind: Harbin Ice Sculptures enjoyed at -28C. Enjoying a 3 hour walk on the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall & getting to the snow covered sections visited by the few tourists. The ger camp and horse ride in the Terelj National Park. Incredible dog sledge ride in the falling snow thru the Forrest at Listvyanka.
The private hovercraft ride on frozen Lake Baikal & then walking onto same while sipping champagne! Troika ride on the snow covered grounds of Catherine’s Palace. The hectic pace of Moscow & the splendour of St Petersburg. To name a handful.
Oh and the endless whiteness of the vast countryside. We live in a sub-tropic area & the experience the exquisiteness of a northern winter was memorable. Travel All Russia ensured we were fully prepared for the coldness & all their recommendations were spot on.
Our itinerary over 36 days, with 3 flights, 10 trains, 1 ferry, 13 hotels & 9 guides & drivers delivered everything it stated it would and more. Most importantly on time with an ease that appeared effortless. This could only have been achieved by the incredible research & ground work put in by the passionate & dedicated staff at Travel All Russia. I feel the key to this is also by having local people as guides & drivers.
This whole blend makes for a very memorable “once in a lifetime” holiday. Congratulations to you all & Thank you