Monday, August 3, 2009

Exploring Russia with a foreigner's touch - tips on destinations

Traveling through Russia with the eyes of a foreigner. See what Nadine from the German Consulate in Novosibirsk can recommend and has done for her smmer holiday in Russia. Few nice tips on how to spend your free time in SIberia...
Where did you go to for your holidays in Russia?
- I love travelling and I want to see as much as possible of Russia during my three years in Novosibirsk. My latest trip I took was together with my parents. We went to Irkutsk and Lake Baikal.

Why did you choose this place?
- My mother really wanted to go there. She had watched a lot of shown on German TV about Siberia and Lake Baikal and its beauty. So she wanted to take the chance to go there while she and my dad were here in Novosibirsk. Lake Baikal was also on top of my travel list. It is the world’s deepest lake and famous for its beauty an rich flora and fauna.

Did you organize everything yourself or did you do it through an agency? - Tell us a little bit about the logistic of the organization of the trip and the trip itself
We organized everything ourselves. At first, I contacted an agency via email. However, they did not reply. Fortunately, my colleagues recommended us a good hotel in Irkutsk which I booked with the help of a Russian colleague. The train ticket I bought myself through a travel agency close to the place where I work in the city. I also booked the flights myself via internet. Trips and excursions in Irkutsk and to Lake Baikal we organized straight after our arrival at the hotel which cooperates with some travel agencies in Irkutsk.

Our hotel “Delta” in Irkutsk called the agency and they made a special program for us covering three days and including a German-speaking tour guide and a taxi. Within a couple of hours we received a very good and detailed program. Everything was well organized and I enjoyed our excursions – sightseeing in Irkutsk, trip to Listvyanka including the open-air museum “Tol’zy” and another tour on the old track of the Transsiberian railway, the Circumbaikal Railway.

Do they usually work with foreigners?
- The travel agency works with Russian as well as with foreign tourist. The majority of the foreign tourists speak English.

How long did you travel for? Did you go by train, car, boat?
- Our trip took six days in total. To Irkutsk we took the train which took us 30 hours. We were then staying in Irkutsk for four days and went back to Novosibirsk by plane.

What was the best part of the trip? ...and the worse?
- The hotel in Irkutsk was great. Also the food was very good. I loved our excursions – especially the one with the Circumbaikal Railway. This was just amazing and I can really recommend it to others.
The train trip wasn’t really nice. I only bought three tickets. So we had to share our compartment – Kupe – with one other guy who was not really friendly. Moreover he was snoring the whole night… So next time I will definitely by all four tickets for a kupe when travelling in a group of four people.

What was the impression of the people who were travelling with you?
- Usually, it is really nice to travel by train and to talk to the people travelling with you. However, this time we weren’t lucky. In Irkutsk it was only my parents and I. Our tour guide and the drivers were really nice and I liked the trips around Irkutsk and to Lake Baikal a lot.

Was this your first trip within Russia? Would you recommend it?
-No, it wasn’t my first trip in Russia. I’ve already been several times to Moscow and to other Russian cities like Saint Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, Tomsk, Omsk, Barnaul. In April I went by trainon my own from Novosibirsk to Yekaterinburg, Moscow and Kiev.
I would definitely recommend a trip to Lake Baikal. If you want to stay in a comfy hotel the better choice is definitely staying in Irkutsk and taking tours from there. However, Olkhon Island in Lake Baikal is supposed to be great spot, too. Accommodation is said to be a little “simpler” there. That's why I didn't go there with my parents. Yet, I hope that I’ll make it to go there as well during the next two years.

Where else are you planning to go this summer?
- In August I’m going to Krasnoyarsk for a weekend with two friends of mine visiting from Germany. We’ll go there by train. Moreover, we’ll spend four days in Altai. I’m already looking forward to it.

Any tips for those who would like to try the same?
- When you speak Russian travelling around Russia is quite easy. It’s worth to consider buying tickets for a whole compartment when you want to make a 100% sure to travel without people who like to spend the night with snoring. On the other hand, it is really interesting to travel with Russians and to have a little chat with them. Most of the times travelling by train alone I was qute lucky. Well, I think it all depends on which type of traveller you are and how much adventure you want. Russia is a fascinating country and I love to discover as much of it as possible.