On arrival in Beijing you need to make your own way to the group hotel. This evening we have a welcome dinner where you have a chance to get acquainted with your fellow travellers and to hear from your guide about the following day's schedule.
This morning we visit the beautiful Forbidden City, which is a masterpiece of 5000 years of Chinese civilisation and still vividly displays the power and prestige of the former dynasties. Sprawling over acres, the City is a magnificent group of palaces, pavilions, courtyards and deep terracotta walls. Ornately furnished palace rooms, priceless artworks and treasures are all now open to the public after 500 years of seclusion. In the afternoon we will also visit the Summer Palace and in the evening we will attend an acrobatic show. For dinner there will be a chance to sample the delicious Beijing dumplings and other local specialties.
We will make an early morning start today to explore the Great Wall at the Mutianyu section. This is approximately a 1.5 hour drive outside of Beijing, slightly further than the popular and very busy Badaling Gate section. On arrival we will have the option to complete a 2 -3 hour walk along this beautiful section of the wall. Mutianyu is renowned for its Ming Dynasty guard towers and superb views. The scene here is as one would expect of one of the world's great man made wonders, with huge steep ramparts criss crossing this mountainous area. Those deciding not to undertake the walk will be able to enjoy this section of the wall by cable car. The Great Wall of China is one of the Seven Wonders of the World and is one of the world's most unusual and awesome sites. Commenced 2000 years ago, it was built as a defence line to keep out invaders, along the course of several thousand kilometres. The Emperor Qin Shihuang unified the various northern walls into the Great Wall we see today. We return to Beijing in the evening for a traditional Peking Duck dinner.
This morning we transfer to the train station for our overnight journey to Ulaanbaatar. The train journey takes around 30 hours - two days and one night. This is an ideal way to see a changing countryside from the frenetic pace of Beijing through the great expanse of the Gobi Desert and into downtown Ulaanbaatar. The border crossing from China to Mongolia takes place late evening and takes around 4 hours, due to the changing of the train's bogies and the border formalities. Chinese and Mongolian border officials will board the train so expect a couple of interruptions to your night's sleep! This is all part of the adventure. For purchases made on both the train and platforms in China, you should keep some Yuan with you. There is no need to obtain Mongolian Togrog prior to arrival in Mongolia as purchases made on the Mongolian train can only be paid in USD.
The train is expected into Mongolia's capital city Ulaanbaatar by mid afternoon. On arrival we are met by our Mongolian guide who will stay with us for the next 7 days. We will transfer to our hotel in the city. Our afternoon program is a city tour including a visit to the National History Museum and Sukhbaatar Square. This evening we will enjoy a welcome dinner at a local restaurant.
This morning we commence our drive to Khustain Nuruu National Park where the indigenous Takhi (an Asian wild horse) are being re-introduced to its original territory. Known as Przewalski's horses (after the famed Polish explorer who first "discovered" them in the 1870's), the Takhi are in fact the last remaining wild horses in the world. Unlike the wild horses found in many other countries (which are actually domestic animals which have gone feral), the Takhi are an altogether different species from the modern horse. Many consider it the forerunner to the modern horse. For centuries, the Takhi roamed the steppes of central Asia in great herds. However, as human populations grew, hunting and competition with domestic livestock caused their numbers the decline drastically. The last Takhi spotted in the wild was in 1969, in the western Gobi. Tonight we stay in the Ger camp.
After breakfast at the ger camp our journey continues to visit a local Nomadic Family. Our route takes us through the wide, open steppe that Mongolia is most renowned for - past grazing herds of sheep, horses and nomadic gers. We'll be staying with our host family, which will allow you to experience the daily life of nomadic people. During the day we can horse ride or hike in the surrounding mountains and meadows. There will be ample opportunity to taste 'Airag', the fermented mares milk, which is a favourite drink of Mongolians - and an acquired taste! Overnight will be in the ger, which will be set up for you next to our host family.
This morning will be spent with the family riding horses or hiking. After lunch, we will farewell our nomadic hosts and we will head to Terelj National Park for where we will spend the next two nights. We will have dinner and overnight at the ger camp within the National Park.
Today we will spend a full day in Terelj National Park. There will be opportunities for hiking in the surrounding mountains. There is a Buddhist Meditation Center nestled in hills that we can visit . Meals and overnight at the ger camp.
After breakfast at the ger camp, we will drive back to Ulaanbaatar. In the afternoon, we have some time for shopping. This evening we will attend a concert featuring Mongolian music and dancing followed by dinner at a local restaurant. We will overnight at our hotel in the city.
We commence our sightseeing by foot this morning with a visit to The Hermitage one of the world's greatest museums. During our tour of the winter palace and the Hermitage buildings we will be absorbed by the rich art work on display including porcelain and tapestry, the amazing Peacock Clock and a collection of paintings from throughout Europe.
On arrival in St Petersburg (at 08:00) we will be met by our guide who will take us for breakfast before
we commence an orientation tour. We will include a visit to Peter & Paul Fortress, which is the oldest
building in the city and was built in 1703 to protect the city against the invading Swedes. It is however
most famous for being a political prison until 1917 and inmates such as Gorky and Trotsky spent time
here. We then head to our hotel for check in around midday. We will have this afternoon at leisure to
relax and get acquainted with this beautiful city. This city was founded by Peter the Great as a gateway
to Europe, and you will immediately feel that you have arrived in Europe with well planned avenues
and elegant buildings lining the Neva River and nearby canals. Late this afternoon we take a walk
along Nevsky Prospect, Russia's most famous street, before returning to the hotel.
Today has been set aside for a visit to Red Square and the Kremlin and its cathedrals. We start with
a walk through Red Square where we will be overwhelmed by the view of St. Basil's Cathedral. For
those wishing to visit the Mausoleum of Lenin at the foot of the Kremlin wall, expect approximately
a two hour queue. Those wanting to go inside St Basil's will also have the opportunity (a small fee
is applicable). During our sightseeing of the Kremlin, we'll also view the Armoury, where there is an
opulent collection of state treasures. Return to the hotel to freshen up before transferring to the station
for the train journey to St Petersburg just before midnight.
This morning we begin our sightseeing taking in many of the sights of Moscow including a visit to Sparrow Hills were we can enjoy a panoramic view of the city. We will leave the bus and visit the Christ the Saviour Cathedral, before walking to Old Arabat for lunch and free time to stroll through the market stalls which line the pedestrianised street. A visit to Moscow would not be complete without going underground to the elaborate Metro with its walls adorned with imagery depicting Russia's historic and political rhetoric. We'll select 3 or 4 of the most interesting stations en-route to our hotel. Following the Metro ride the rest of the day is free to enjoy Moscow before returning to the hotel.
Today we arrive into Moscow around 2pm. We are met on the railway station and taken to our hotel. The city of Moscow needs little introduction. It has catapulted into post communism bringing with it a wealth of improvements and problems. Whilst the essence of this great city is still evident, the shopping and nightlife have brought an entirely new layer of complexity to the city.
This morning we have some time for last minute purchases before lunch. We then transfer to the train station where we farewell our Mongolian friends and board the train for the 24 hour journey to Irkutsk. The border crossing from Mongolia to Russia commences around 9.00pm and takes approximately 7 hours. Like in China, officials will board the train at both sides of the crossing and we will be able to catch some rest in our cabins as this is completed, however again we should expect some interruptions to our night's sleep. You should keep a small amount of Togrog for small purchases on the platforms prior to crossing the border as USD are not accepted by locals. The dining car is not usually added to the train until we cross into Russia so you should buy something for dinner in Ulaanbaatar before we depart. Breakfast and lunch is available in the dining car if you wish and we recommend you take some snacks.
We leave the shores of Baikal (at 09:00) and return to Irkutsk, visiting the museum of wood carving
in Taltsy village en-route. Irkutsk is located on the banks of the Angara River, which has its source
80 km upstream at Lake Baikal. Irkutsk is easily one of the most attractive cities in Siberia. Irkutsk
was founded in 1651 as a Cossack garrison to keep the local Buryat's in line. The Cossacks were
a rough lot sent as official representatives of the Tsar's to establish remote outposts and they
included trappers, traders, criminals and vagabonds. Later, in the 19th century, Irkutsk was used
as an exile post and received some illustrious aristocratic exiles, giving the city a rich cultural
heritage. The city's location, near Mongolia and China means that strong Asiatic influences abound.
The architecture of Irkutsk includes some of the classic wooden Siberian cottages with beautifully
painted and carved shutters. Other features are the onion-domed shaped churches. During the
Soviet-era planning Irkutsk suffered the same fate as many other Siberian cities with the building of
rows upon rows of ugly white, apartment blocks - still prevalent in the city today. This afternoon we
will undertake at sightseeing tour in the city known as the 'Paris of Siberia'. visiting the main sites
of interest include the Decembrist Houses and the historic churches and buildings. We will also have
time to go shopping for the supplies we will need on the train. We expect to board the train around
4pm and begin our journey to Moscow.
We commence our sightseeing by foot this morning with a visit to the colorful fish bazaar where you can try local specialties including fish (salted, baked or smoked). From here we have a short walk to visit the old wooden St. Nikolai Church. We continue on to the Limnological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, which has an interesting Limnology Museum, where there is a good exhibition on the flora and flora of the lake, including an aquarium.
We arrive into Irkutsk at around 3.00pm where we will be met by our Russian guide for the next few days. We will start with a short sightseeing tour of Irkutsk before the hour drive brings us to the small town of Listvyanka located 60 km's south-east of Irkutsk. Listvyanka sits right at the edge of Lake Baikal, where the Angara River reaches the shores of the Lake at Port Baikal. Located in the southern part of Siberia, UNESCO heritage listed Lake Baikal is the oldest, largest and deepest lake on earth, reaching a depth of more than one kilometer and holding one-fifth of all the fresh water on the planet. Since times long past, the indigenous people living on its shores have revered this beautiful body of water. The Buryat-Mongols tell of Baikal's creation in stories and legends, of the spirits and gods who inhabit its waters and of the mighty conqueror, Genghis Khan who roamed the area. Russian writers, who came to the area more recently, celebrate the lake in ptry, fiction, and song. National parks and nature reserves line the east and west shores of this sparsely populated region, encompassing a landscape of dense forests, snow capped mountains, grassy steppes, lush wetlands, harsh deserts, rocky islands and rugged cliffs. Upon arrival in Listvyanka we check-in to our hotel which will be our base for the next two nights.
After breakfast we visit what is perhaps St Petersburg's most famous and spectacular attraction -
Peterhof Palace. Founded by Peter I in the early XVIII century as a summer residence of the royal family,
and recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Peterhof is a series of palaces and gardens filled
with fountains, statues and pavilions. We return to St Petersburg by "Meteor"(boat) and walk back to
the hotel or do any own sightseeing.
The following days are spent on one of the greatest train journeys on earth, you will watch the changing landscapes. Your travelling companions could be foreign tourists or locals alike and you should make the most of your journey by absorbing the scenery, or relaxing and talking to your fellow travellers. This section of the trip is all about the journey with the anticipation of our approach to Moscow growing by the day. During these days we will have many stops, some from a short 5 minutes others up to 30 minutes where we will have the opportunity to stretch our legs and replenish supplies with purchases made on the platforms.
The trip concludes at the hotel after breakfast.