Testimonial 9

You got top marks for organisation, everything you’d arranged for us worked like clockwork. The guides were all superb, amazingly well informed, spoke excellent English and/or French and were both punctual, efficient and friendly.

The drivers were always there to meet us on the platform, the cars spacious and comfortable.

I learnt so much about “Mother Russia”.

The journey by train was a great experience, it’s very soporific but not in the least boring even though the scenery doesn’t change a great deal for very long periods of time. We’d get off the train whenever possible to stretch our legs, buy our lunch which was often a bit of an adventure and chat with other travelers . Our provodnista made sure we didn’t venture too far afield . I thought I’d read loads of books but no, once I’d written my journal, snacked, drunk, eaten supper in the dining car and chatted with our travelling companions, the day was over! The first class accommodation is very comfortable, but I don’t think I’d have liked being on the train for more than three nights without a proper shower! Meals in the dining car were very hit and miss and quite expensive. Service was often very slow, not that it mattered, we were in no hurry, and the helpings pretty small. Having tried the beef and pork once we then gave them a wide berth and settled for chicken instead. It didn’t worry us at all though, it was all part of the adventure, we were there to enjoy ourselves!

Moscow : modern functional hotel, staff at reception rather cold but the restaurant and bar staff were very friendly. Perfect location. As well as the main tourist attractions, Nina, our guide, took us to a wonderful restaurant/canteen for lunch, off the tourist track.

Ekaterinburg : interesting hotel with a bit of character, comfortable, excellent location. Personally I particularly liked Ekaterinburg – so much history and a beautiful, open city. Our guide, Svetlana was again excellent and Sergei, the driver very friendly and helpful. We enjoyed lunch in a particularly nice old fashioned restaurant.

Lake Baikal : Chalet Hotel : friendly staff, wonderful view of the lake from the terrace, delicious home-made food, the stairs to the chalet could be rather a challenge for the elderly or those with knee problems especially in the winter. Eugene, our guide was very amusing and peppered his comments with anecdotes. I don’t think he was impressed that we were not exactly fit or particularly interested in sport!!

Irkutsk with Natascha, our guide and Viktor, our driver. The architect museum was impressive and the Decembrists’ story captivating.

Khabarovsk : modern hotel, staff rather aloof. Excellent location. Set off with Mikael, our driver and Igor, our guide to spend a fascinating day with the Nanais on the banks of the river. Sacha and Lina were wonderful hosts : we ate all sorts of different fish and drank an incredible amount of vodka!

An unexpected bonus to our stay in Khabarovsk were the festivities the next day to mark the town’s anniversary. Glorious weather added to the happy atmosphere. A march past along the main avenue included every single institution, company, school, orchestra etc etc you name it, many of the participants dressed up or in uniform – loud music added to the festive atmosphere, the avenue was lined with families intent on enjoying their day, and stalls selling all sorts of things had sprung up over night. We were very impressed that the avenue was cleaned up immediately after the procession with all sorts of sweepers, hoses etc. Our eventful day ended with a visit to the theatre to watch a ballet.

We were very sad when we got off the train in Vladivostok… I do not advise anyone to arrive in a town on a Sunday evening. This was not a good start. Our hotel was an enormous disappointment as we’d been used to modern hotels. The only nice thing about it was the lobby and the cat! Very deceptive. To get to our room we had to go outside in the courtyard and climb endless steps, no lifts. Our room was shabby and bore the stamp of unprofessional DIY. Not what we’d been accustomed to. Breakfast was served in the café next door, not very practical. Please strike this hotel off your list. We wandered along the street to find somewhere for supper, everything was closed and the hotel location wasn’t brilliant. Finally a very friendly Russian with no English stopped and using sign language finally got our gist and actually took us to a lovely restaurant which we’d never have found! We were so very grateful.

Personally I was a bit disappointed with our excursion the following day. Our guide, Nina and driver took us for a little drive round town and our first port of call was a souvenir shop!! I thought we were going on a boat trip but went to view the University buildings instead, I’d have preferred a fine arts museum. We then visited the fortress museum and drove round town some more before settling in a lovely restaurant for a late lunch. Nina again was a very knowledgeable guide and told us all about the history of Vladivostok which had been a closed city for so long.

I was surprised that as we ventured further East people didn’t look more Asian and was a little disappointed as they looked just like us!
It was a truly memorable trip, thanks to your organizational skills, Kim. All very much appreciated.

Leslie and JF Pion, France, May 2016