It was a great trip for us. We could not only discover gems such as the many orthodox churches and the Lake Baikal but also have very educational insights on the Russian history. The trip with the Trans-Mongolian train was very interesting; it has enabled us to witness the local life in Siberia (including the one in the train) and to experience the feeling of going progressively eastwards. But, as expected, the landscape (through the window) was a bit monotonous.
What we liked most
- Moscow (including St Basil Cathedral, the Kremlin, Nikutin Circus, Bolshoy, and our Airbnb).
- Suzdal market (for Florence).
- Maly Turish (everything: the honey, the factory, the countryside, the banya, the accommodation, the guide).
- Yekaterinburg (for Ludivine).
- Lake Baikal, for the whole family (mainly its beaches for Isabelle and the kids; we also all enjoyed our trek very much). We’d like to see it in winter.
- Beautiful Orthodox churches and monasteries (and the fervour of the practicing Christians).
- Russian history. It’s fascinating. This trip (and the explanations of our guides + the texts of the guide books) gave me the desire to read more about this history, which is very much related to the European history (unlike the other countries that we are going to visit during our world tour).
- Very few foreign tourists.
- Feeling of security at all times.
- Local people willing to help when they realize that we are lost.
- All trains super punctual.
- Life in Russia is relatively inexpensive (except in Moscow). A bus ride costs 25 cents and a good meal for 5 costs 40 Euro.
- The size of the beers (for Isabelle).
What we liked less
- Tomsk (mainly because the trip to this city was a bit long and tough). This stop was not really worth it (according to the kids). It’s during the trip to Tomsk that Jules asked me in the bus: “Dad, are our TV and our sofa in our container going from Saudi to Belgium?” I don’t know whether it was related to a sudden need of a comfortable place or not but the coincidence was disturbing…
- Train stations without escalators (maybe we took too much luggage…)
- Barrier of the language, not only to communicate with people but also because all explanations (in museums e.g.), directions, instructions are in Russian only.
- The fact that we didn’t have bilingual guides in Ust-Barguzin region. The guides we’ve had during our trip in Russia were usually very interesting; it adds a lot to the trip when you are able to fully grasp the history and traditions of the region.
- Cold people in most hotels, train stations… basically when they are in the execution of their duties.
- The pace of the trip didn’t really allow us to do as much homeschooling as we had anticipated… It also didn’t allow us to play to the many board games we bought before living.
- The quality of my pictures. I hope that the problem was linked to some wrong settings of my new camera, which I changed…
What surprised us:
- Russia is so huge! Forests are everywhere…
- Time during train journeys (sometimes more than 20 hours) passes quickly.
- Size of cabins: Jules and Florence had anticipated them to be much smaller…
- The (huge) number of churches (and the “very few mosques”), for Florence.
- Ludivine was astonished that the Muslims in Russia apply the rules of Islam very much less obediently than in Saudi (most of them drink alcohol but more surprisingly some of them even eat pork).
- Kids were surprised to discover the ‘Asian’ Russians (as from Ulan-Ude), especially the Buryats, with slanting eyes. In their stereotyped vision, they had imagined all the Russians being white and tall.
- Kids were happy not to receive porridge for breakfast too often (I must admit that I usually told the hosts that they didn’t like it…). I indeed scared the kids before the trip with stories of omnipresent porridge (which they really dislike since our trek in Ethiopia) for breakfast in Russia.