Across Russia by Train

tsx-lisa-tilley-213 The Trans-Siberian Express

Completed at the end of the 19th century, the Trans-Siberian Railway allows adventurous travelers to journey 6,000 miles across Russia’s great expanse. Smithsonian Journeys and Academic Travel Abroad offer a unique travel experience in 2009 aboard the newly-renovated, luxury Golden Eagle Express, traveling from the enigmatic Russian Far East and its legendary outposts to Moscow’s Red Square, crossing eight time zones and two continents.  Along the way stopping in remote outposts to learn about the fascinating peoples and cultures of Siberia and Mongolia, visit museums, and enjoy a traditional meal in a private ger (tented home). Exclusive lectures by historian George Munro highlight Russian history from before the Romanovs to the present. Even the most experienced travelers will be spellbound by this special journey. Click here to read more…

The Trans-Siberian Expert:

George Munro

George Munro

George Munro is Professor of History at Virginia Commonwealth University. He received his Ph.D. at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and is the recipient of several Fulbright grants, fellowships, and distinguished service awards. George has lived and studied in the former Soviet Union and served as Study Leader for many Smithsonian Journeys.

In a recent interview, Dr. Munro reflected on train travel in Russia:

“For a century and a half trains have been one of the important means of transportation in Russia. Railroads figure largely in Russian literature-see Anna Karenina! Railroad workers and factories producing equipment for the railroads played a critical role in Russia’s revolutions in the early 20th century. From train windows one glimpses some of the most beautiful Russian scenes as well as the disadvantaged areas that no country deliberately shows its visitors. The view from the train combines a little bit of everything in Russia. To actually live on a train while seeing Russia is a real treat.”

Learn more about this unique adventure here

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presented by Smithsonian Journeys
and Academic Travel Abroad

Mongolia – Land of the Blue Sky

The warm people of Mongolia

Mongolia, the Land of the Blue Sky, is a destination that intrigues, delights, and rewards the adventurous traveler. This August, I had the pleasure of managing the fourth National Geographic group to Mongolia.

Having just opened up to tourism in 1990, Mongolia is the perfect destination for the adventurous traveler who arises each morning and asks, “What lies in store for me today?” Those who prefer a more structured itinerary may experience some frustration.

Our expedition began in Ulaanbaatar. We used the Hotel Ulaanbaatar as our base. The location of this hotel is perfect for exploring the capital. The property itself is quite comfortable. A number of services are offered including a spa. We returned to Ulaanbaatar at various points during the expedition. Each time it was a little like coming home. Ulaanbaatar is a city like many others. The infrastructure continues to develop. The services which one would expect in a capital exist. ATM’s can be found throughout the city. Quality restaurants abound. Our visits in Ulaanbaatar included the requisite museums and monasteries. I have two highlights from our time in UB. The first was very touristy. On our walk up Zaisan Hill, we came across a Kazakh man with a golden eagle. He allowed individuals to hold the eagle, tethered of course. I was impressed by both the weight and majesty of this bird of prey. The second highlight for me was our visit to the home of Tserendorj, a decorated Mongolian musician. He and his family warmly welcomed us and treated us to a wonderful concert.

Two gers serve as nomadic dwellings.

Our time in Mongolia allowed us to see various parts of the country with vastly different landscapes and climates. Our first experience, which was truly delightful, was in the Gobi. There are no roads, per se, in the Gobi. There are simply van tracks which from the air look like so many veins and arteries. We lodged at the Gobi Mirage ger camp. This was my first time staying in a ger and I was not disappointed. The cuisine at the camp was quite good. This is how camping should be! The best part of staying at the ger camp was getting up late at night and seeing the canopy of stars which covers the desert at night. There is tranquility in the Gobi which cannot be expressed adequately in words. My favorite experience in the Gobi was our visit with a local family. They demonstrated various aspects of Mongolian horsemanship for us including lassoing.

Beautiful Lake Khuvsgul

From the Gobi, we traveled to the Lake Khuvsgul area. The contrast could not have been more pronounced. Lake Khuvsgul is one of seventeen ancient lakes worldwide and one of the most pristine. Our ger camp here, situated at the edge of the lake, was equally as comfortable as the one in the Gobi. Because of the much cooler climate, the evenings and early mornings were quite chilly. Fortunately there was someone to light a fire each night and each morning. How romantic it was falling asleep with a fire crackling in the fireplace.

Travelers look on as an athlete competes

Our group missed the official Naadam Festival in UB. To my mind, we had something better – a mini Naadam just for us in the Terelj National Park. The setting for our Naadam was spectacular. We were also able to visit with the athletes after the competitions. It was here in the Terelj National Park where we saw the milking of the mares. It was here, too, where we tasted the national drink – airag. Airag, for the uninitiated, is fermented mare’s milk. The conclusions you’re drawing are probably correct!

The people of Mongolia are historically nomadic. For this reason, time is relative. Not unlike the US, flights leave more or less when they want to. This can have a serendipitous impact on the itinerary. When traveling to Mongolia, it might be better to leave the watch at home!
Adventure awaits those traveling to Mongolia. It is a country that rewards its visitors richly. Hurry to Mongolia before progress steals the sense of exploration each visitor experiences. You won’t be disappointed.

To learn more about this tour, visit our website HERE

or visit: www.nationalgeographicexpeditions.com

Safe travels,

John David Kling
Tour Expedition Manager

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