February 8, 2013

Wash up – route planning

Now I have been home for a couple of weeks I thought it might help to reflect on my choice of route in case it helps with your Trans-Siberian trip planning..

I used a route option based around a Seat 61 suggestion, (coming from the North of England) and it worked well, but like any plan was slightly exposed to the vagaries of timetable change. Without knowing I also chose to travel just a few days after the start of the European winter schedule kicked in. This had some minor consequences to actual train times, but worst of all Russian Railways cancelled their direct service from Amsterdam to Moscow leaving me with an unplanned and unwanted train connection.

So if I were doing it again tomorrow, would I choose the same route? Probably..

The ferry from Newcastle to Imjuden was pleasant enough, and a day in Amsterdam is fun. I must confess to being a bit too worried about missing my train to have too much fun though! Getting a sleeper train at 19.00 is a good time to depart in my book.

The Jan Kiepura from Amsterdam to Warsaw is an excellent train – the Polish First Class sleeper carriages are new, clean and functional, and the breakfast service is exceptional. It was a bit stressful wondering if I would make the connecting service from Warsaw to Moscow. There was an hour to do this but my train was two hours late – but I still made it as they held the train (Prague – Moscow) in Warsaw. If I were doing it again tomorrow I would actually stop off here and have a night in Warsaw and hop on the train the next day (at lunchtime), safe in the knowledge that you won’t miss it. I enjoyed Poland on the rails and imagine a night in Warsaw would have enriched my feeling of travelling East.

I would also have liked to stop off in Berlin, but the timetable means that would be getting on and off in the middle of the night.. So not really practical.
If the London – Paris route had a direct service to Moscow that looks half decent, and I was not going to stop overnight in Warsaw, I would probably also consider this as an alternative – after all it only takes three or four hours to get down the East Coast mainline..

The train I took from Warsaw to Moscow was not so good.. No restaurant car, and I was unlucky enough to have a really old carriage. Not that it stopped me having fun though. If I were doing this again I would perhaps research the other two or so trains doing this run each day – they might possibly be more “premium” than the one doing the Prague – Moscow run.. Don’t get me wrong though, this was an enjoyable journey as it was my first experience of the very “social” atmosphere on board a Russian train!

That takes me up to the Trans-Mongolian, Chinese train number #4. The private shower facility here that was part of my decision to use this train turned out to be a bit of a white elephant – its just not needed and an occasional liability because it takes up space and was also liable to occasional freezing and flooding. It was also pretty grubby and there was no real flow of water. That’s the downside, but the upside was everything else was good on the train, other than the temperature between carriages, which ranged from too cold to too hot and there was little that could be done to regulate this. I have no comparison to the Russian train service – people I met spoke highly of these – but also very hot! I would use this train again if I was in First Class, but don’t dismiss the other options if you are hoping off – you could mix and match a bit more.. I suspect that Russian trains are overall a bit cleaner and more tightly managed than the Chinese one, but no big issues.

The Chinese G trains are amazing. If I were travelling again tomorrow I would use the brand new route from Beijing down to Canton – just 8 hours as a daytime train – then a quick hop on a commuter train across to Hung Hom (Hong Kong).

Beyond my route I’m inspired by those I met that it would have been possible to continue and cross from China through Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand to Singapore. The real trophy journey for me would now be Newcastle to maybe four weeks with time to stop off a bit more..

I hope that helps. More to follow on packing and equipment!

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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