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Boarding an international train under the soaring arches of St Pancras Station always produces a shiver of anticipation. But when you’re setting out on an 8,000-mile odyssey across 11 time zones ending in Vladivostok – the sense of occasion is multiplied.
My journey across Russia on the glorious Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express exceeded its promise as one of life’s great travel experiences.
From the moment my partner and I were greeted in London by the expert tour manager from Great Rail Journeys and we began to mingle with the select few passengers who would be sharing our journey, it was luxury and exquisite dining all the way.
To join the Golden Eagle, we first travelled by rail to Moscow via Berlin and Warsaw. There was ample time to discover the charms of the Russian capital and we marvelled at the multicoloured onion domes of St Basil’s Cathedral in Red Square. The welcome banquet at our five-star hotel offered the chance to swap tales with the other guests.
A fanfare from a military band in the Imperial Waiting Room at Kazansky Station – and a flute of chilled champagne – seemed an appropriate introduction to the Golden Eagle, our home for the next 12 nights. The beautifully restored steam engine, which hauled away on the first leg of our trip, gleamed in blue, red and gold, and the carriages were every bit as elegant.
Our sumptuous private cabin had a double bed, TV and DVD player, clever storage space and even underfloor heating in the en-suite shower room.
The convivial atmosphere on board makes the travelling as pleasurable as the destinations, and little touches, such as the harp recitals in the plush lounge car, made us feel very special.
The food, too, was a journey of discovery: as well as opulent caviar dinners with fine wines and chilled vodka, we were introduced to such specialities as baklazhani (roasted aubergines stuffed with cheese and tomato) and evraziya (pork fillet with a pineapple jus).
It is difficult to pare such an epic trip down to a few highlights but for me, the fascinating city of Kazan ranked among the most memorable stops. It is most notable for its Kremlin, a fairytale complex in ivory-coloured sandstone that is now a Unesco World Heritage Site. On a guided tour that was carefully organised by Great Rail Journeys, we learned all about the historic links to Ivan the Terrible and Peter the Great.
It was also a delight to sit in the lounge car and watch the tundra, forests and mountains of Siberia glide by. One of the most scenic sections was Lake Baikal, the deepest and largest by volume freshwater lake in the world, where the train paused for guests to enjoy a waterside barbecue of fresh fish.
And I won’t forget my first taste of Mongolia: at Ulan Bator we were able to immerse ourselves in an ancient culture that’s utterly unlike any we had encountered before; we loved the treat of meeting a nomadic family in a traditional yurt.
It was comforting to know that everything was included in the price: top-quality meals, wines, excursions and the flight back home. Great Rail Journeys makes it astonishingly simple to explore one of the world’s most intriguing regions while revelling in the romantic age of rail travel.
This article first appeared on www.telegraph.co.uk
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