FAQs

Private Train A - Z

Activities programme
Each evening you will receive a programme in English for the next day with all activities and times. This will be posted in the carriages. Guests from different countries may have differing schedules.

Adaptors
The sockets in the train are standard two-pole Europlug sockets, but they are sometimes different in the hotels. If you want to be absolutely sure, you should bring along an Eastern European plug adaptor and one for China too, if necessary.

Air-conditioning and heating
The whole train is equipped with air-conditioning. However, this only works when the train is moving and the windows are closed. Once the train sets off, it takes about half an hour before the desired temperature is reached. If necessary, when the train is stationary, the conductor can open a window in the corridor. Passengers travelling in Category IV and V compartments can set their air-conditioning and heating individually during the trip.

Announcements & programme
See also “On-board announcement system”.
The activities programme for each day will be posted in the middle of each carriage on the previous evening after dinner. Your tour guides will also regularly inform you about the route and each day’s programme.

Bar service
After dinner, bar service is provided in the restaurant cars. They are open until midnight. You can relax here in the evenings over a glass of wine, beer, etc. and enjoy conversation or a game of chess or cards. You may pay for your drinks in euros, roubles or US dollars. At the start of the trip you will receive a “drinks card”, where the drinks you order will be noted down. You will then pay your tab in cash at the end of the trip. Prices are published in euros and roubles and will be adjusted according to daily exchange rates.

Borders / border formalities
The log book contains detailed information about border formalities.

Checking in and out of hotels
Please note that you will not usually be able to check into your hotel room before 2 p.m. and that you will need to check out by midday. This is common practice around the world. Sometimes we can arrange an early check-in but this is a courtesy on the part of the hotel, not an obligation.

Churches and mosques
Please avoid wearing shorts or miniskirts when visiting churches and mosques, even if the weather is warm. If you do, you may not be allowed to see some churches from the inside. You must remove your shoes before entering mosques. If you do not wish to walk barefoot, you should bring along an extra pair of socks on excursions. Please remember to bring appropriate headgear. Women are required to cover their hair with a headscarf or shawl in Russia’s orthodox churches. In most cases, men may not wear shorts inside churches.

Clocks/watches
You should take along a second clock or watch and keep it set to local time. We also recommend that you bring a travel alarm clock. As a special souvenir, we have created a unique Zarengold watch with two separate dials. This watch can be ordered online or bought on the train.

Clothing
Casual clothing is usually worn on the train, including at mealtimes. Please make sure you wear sturdy, comfortable shoes for the excursions, and particularly for the city sightseeing tours. The months of May and September can be quite chilly. Most hotels will have turned the heat off by May and won’t start it up again until September. If necessary, we will turn on the train’s radiators. Even if you have booked a summer trip, you should bring warm clothes for cooler days and rainy days, in addition to your summer clothes. During boat rides, especially on Lake Baikal, you may well be exposed to chilly breezes, even in the summer months. A light jacket or sweater is advisable (also for restaurants with strong airconditioning). And those brave enough to take a dip in Lake Baikal shouldn’t forget to bring along their swimsuits. Also, remember to bring headgear – for protection against the sun and to wear in the Orthodox churches.

Coffee and tea
Coffee, tea, mineral water, beer, biscuits and waffles are available for a small charge from your conductor. At certain times these can be purchased in the restaurant car, too.

Complaints
If you feel that our s ervices fall below your expectations, please contact your tour operator immediately. Please note that refunds are only legally possible if you report any shortcomings immediately to your tour operator. Otherwise, the tour manager is authorised to reimburse you for justified complaints during the trip. In any case, we would be grateful if you reported anything that bothers you to your tour guide.

Delays
Unfortunately, we have no control over delays. In the last few years these have become quite infrequent, however. If we are delayed, the train manager and tour manager will do everything they can to make up for lost time so you will not miss out on any part of the programme. Our trains are given priority treatment in all three countries.

Doctor
A Russian doctor will be travelling on the train on the route from Moscow to Erlian (on the Mongolian/Chinese border). He or she will be on call 24 hours a day. The doctor’s compartment is marked on your carriage overview. The doctor also takes appointments and offers drop-in sessions. If additional, specialist medical treatment is required, the on-board personnel can contact other doctors via radio. Doctor’s fees must be paid in cash after consultation (see Fee Schedule for Medical Services). Should you become seriously ill, you can be taken to a hospital in any of t he larger cities. Beijing and Moscow have hospitals of international standing.

Electricity/sockets
Sockets are available in t he corridors of t he sleeping carriages but not in the compartments (except in Categories III, IV and V). Please ask your tour guide or conductor as most sockets are 110 volts, intended for the use of personnel and using them could damage your electronic devices. Every carriage has 220 volts AC sockets, intended for charging electric razors. However, we recommend you get the conductor to show you these sockets or that you bring along sufficient extra batteries for your electronic devices.

Health
No vaccinations are required for the trip on the Trans-Siberian Railway. The German Foreign Office recommends a doctor’s check of the status of your immunisation against tetanus, diphtheria, polio and hepatitis A. Please get all additional information on vaccinations and other preventative measures well ahead of the trip. You may want to consult your doctor if you are at risk of t hrombosis or other health problems. We also suggest that you consult health offices, doctors experienced in travel medicine, tropical medicine specialists, information services and national health institutes. In Siberia, the risk or being bitten by a tick is high from late May to late July, like in several other places in Europe (e.g. the Black Forest). If you regularly have to take medication for a health problem, please ensure you bring an adequate supply with you and keep it in your hand luggage. Never pack important medication in your hold luggage as this could get delayed. You should not assume that you will be able to purchase fresh supplies along the way.
We expressly warn against buying and consuming food items from cheap roadside stands or obscure markets. Purchase alcohol in large shops only. Sometimes the homebrewed spirits offered for sale can cause health problems and even death. In any case, we recommend you consult your GP before embarking on the trip.

Identity documents
It is helpful to bring a copy of your passport and several passport photos in case you lose your passport. Your passport, visa and other identity documents should be kept separately from their copies.

Languages
The passengers on board the train come from many different places. You may meet travellers from all over Europe and perhaps beyond. German, English and French are the official on-board languages. Announcements will be made in these languages. If guests from countries with other languages are on board, announcements may also be made in their languages. The service personnel on board the train usually speak very little English or German. Please don’t hesitate to contact your tour guide if you have any communication problems.

Library
We have a small but interesting collection of books on the countries we travel through and the people that live there. You are welcome to borrow these books free of charge at the times printed in the day’s programme. Please make sure you return the books after reading them, so that other passengers get a chance to enjoy them too. If you wish to pass on any books of your own, we are always happy for any donations.

Luggage
Instead of bringing one large suitcase, we recommend using two smaller pieces of luggage, as they are easier to access on board the train. Travel bags are best and hard-shell luggage is not recommended. You will also need a small bag or cabin suitcase for the overnight stays in hotels, e. g. in Irkutsk, when you will probably want to leave the larger portion of your luggage on the train. The luggage will be loaded on board by porters at the station in Moscow and in Beijing. Please make sure you attach a Lernidee label bearing your carriage and compartment number to all your bags. If you need new labels, please ask your tour guide.
During the trip you can stow your luggage in a luggage compartment above the door. Except in Categories IV and V, the compartments do not have a closet. Hooks and coat hangers are available.

Luggage storage space

Category I and Category II

  • Luggage container under bed (36 cm / 14” high, 40 cm / 16” wide, 65 cm / 26” long)
  • Luggage compartment above door (149 cm / 59” wide, 31 cm / 12” high, 55 cm / 22” deep)

Category III:
Luggage storage for suitcase and box for hand luggage under the bed.

Category IV:

  • Small closet (35 cm / 14” wide, 46 cm / 18” high, 85 cm / 34” deep)
  • Large closet (35 cm / 14” wide, 158 cm / 62” high, 85 cm / 34” deep)
  • Compartment above door (118 cm / 46” wide, 22 cm / 9” high, 45 cm / 18” deep)

Category V:

  • Small cupboard (61 cm / 24” wide, 50 cm / 20” high)
  • Large cupboard (61 cm / 24” wide, 156 cm / 61” high)

Guests travelling in Categories IV and V are provided with bathrobes and slippers.

Important note: If your luggage is misplaced or damaged at the airport – thankfully a rare occurrence – report this to the airline as well as to the airport authorities and make sure you get documentation. Please also inform your travel guide. You will have the chance to do laundry at a reliable laundrette in Irkutsk.

Meals
The cuisine served on board the train is fresh, diverse and nutritious. Mineral water and juice are included in meal prices. Please pay for all other drinks in cash. On average, prices are 40 percent lower than those of railway restaurants in Germany. If you require vegetarian food or have any other dietary requirements, please inform us before the journey so that the chef can take your needs into account. Please bear in mind that certain special food items like gluten- o r lactose-free products are not readily available in Russia, Mongolia or China. Also, labelling obligations are nowhere near as strict as in Germany. Meal times are indicated in the daily schedule. Because of the limited seating capacity, meals may sometimes have to be served in two sittings. In this case, sittings will be switched around halfway through the trip. If you are part of the first group to eat, please make your seat available to others 45 minutes after breakfast, and one hour after lunch and dinner. This way we can guarantee a smooth meal service for passengers in the second group. Since 2008 black caviar is no longer served on the Zarengold as sales are now forbidden in Russia. The sturgeon is facing extinction after decades of overfishing and is now a protected species. Instead, we serve red caviar and hope that you enjoy that just as much.

Mobile telephones
The phone service between Moscow and Beijing is usually good, except for in sparsely populated areas such as around the Gobi desert in China and Mongolia. You will thus be able to use your mobile phone almost everywhere on the route and in all the cities (if, that is, your mobile phone is activated for foreign countries, which it usually won’t be if you have a prepaid card account). If you have any further questions please contact your service provider before the trip. Please remember that roaming costs in Russia, Mongolia and China can be as high as € 6 per minute – both for making and receiving calls. It is much cheaper to send text messages.

Money and prices
On board the train we accept roubles, euros and US dollars. The restaurant drinks menus, which can be found around the train, state the cost in each currency. If paying with US dollars, please note that you will receive change in euros.

Otherwise, you can only pay with roubles in RUSSIA. Prices are sometimes indicated in “conditional units” that correspond to US dollars, but you must pay in roubles. The salesperson calculates the cost in roubles based on the day’s exchange rate. The train is almost the only place where it is possible to pay in euros or US dollars.

When you arrive at the hotel, if possible exchange some of your money for roubles. Make sure you are given a good amount of change. We recommend exchanging an initial amount of € 50 to € 100 per person and always taking small euro notes with you (€ 5 and € 10) so that you can exchange more money if necessary or in an emergency. Please take care not to accept damaged or torn notes (or those with stamps, scribbles, etc.).

In MONGOLIA we recommend taking along small US dollar notes. You do not usually need to exchange money. If you wish to do so, we recommend using the hotel reception.

In CHINA you must pay with yuans (renminbi), but in the hotels you can also pay with euros. You can exchange money at banks, at bureaux de change in shops or in hotels.

Exchange rate as of March 2013:


Roubles: (Russia)       € 1 = 40 rouble    USD 1 = 30.62 rouble
Tugrik: (Mongolia)    € 1 = 1810 tugrik    USD 1 = 1385 tugrik
Yuan: (China)    € 1 = 8.19 yuan    USD 1 = 6.26 yuan

As fees are high, it is not advisable to exchange foreign currency back to euros. At the hotels, in international restaurants and good department stores you will often be able to pay with major credit cards. Eurocheques are not accepted.
It is not always easy to cash travellers’ cheques and this is only possible at a few banks, which may well be closed precisely at the time you need the money. Now you can use EC cards (Maestro) and your PIN to get cash in all cities in Russia, including in our hotels along the way, and often in China as well – up to € 300 per day. Conditions vary from bank to bank.

Mosquitoes
See under Sun Protection.

On-board announcement system
The on-board announcement system is used to give important information and hold lectures. In your compartment you will find a knob that allows you to control the volume. Please keep this turned up between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m.

Passenger questionnaire
At the end of the trip we will ask you to take a moment to fill out a questionnaire. Once you have completed it, please hand it directly to the tour manager or send it to our Berlin office. We are grateful for any advice and suggestions on how to improve our services and better meet our passengers’ needs.

Pharmacy
Please bring sufficient supplies of all the medicines that you need on a daily basis or that a doctor has prescribed for you. Please keep these in your hand luggage. Some guests may wish to bring laxatives, as the lack of movement on board the train can lead to digestive problems. Others may need anti-diarrheal drugs because of the change in diet. You may also wish to bring cold remedies and pain killers that you know work for you. If necessary, our on-board doctor can have Russian medicines delivered within a few hours. During the first night on board the train, some guests find it difficult to sleep. A mild sleeping pill may help in such cases.

Photos and videos
Make sure you have an adequate supply of spare batteries for your cameras, as power sockets are limited and not always reliable. If you have any questions, please speak to your tour guide. Also, bring along two more films, memory cards or video cassettes than originally planned. Slide films cannot usually be purchased along the route. We recommend using high-ISO film – otherwise your snapshots out of the train window are likely to turn out blurred.
Times have changed and these days photography and filming are permitted everywhere. But, like anywhere in the world, you should not get too close to people with your camera without their permission. Photography and filming is prohibited at all border controls. In museums, etc. you will sometimes have to pay an additional fee if you wish to take videos. For example, in 2008 people wishing to take photographs in the Lama temple in Ulan Bator had to pay around $ 5; those wishing to shoot videos had to pay around $ 10.

Postcards
During the on-board library’s opening hours, a variety of different postcards will be available for you to buy. Unfortunately, not every Russian city has postcards of its sights. Please ask your local guides for more information.

Safety and security
The Trans-Siberian Railway is one of the safest railways in the world. No thefts have ever been reported on board our trains. Conductors are on duty 24 hours a day. We are in constant contact with control via the radio in the train manager’s compartment (on regular trains, the only radio set is in the locomotive) and can ask them for help in emergencies (including medical emergencies) or get them to contact the police for us.
When the train stops, only one door per carriage is opened – i n each case the door nearest the conductor’s cabin. No one who does not hold a reservation for a sleeping compartment on the train may embark. That means no one can get on board and try to sell you anything. Before leaving Moscow, every one of our trains is cleared by the Russian health authorities. The checks are very thorough, and they demand high standards of hygiene in the restaurant, the toilets and the washrooms. They also make sure the sheets and towels are spotlessly clean. As when travelling anywhere in the world, it is a good idea to avoid wearing valuable jewellery and watches or hanging expensive camera equipment around your neck. Try to carry your cash, credit cards, passport and plane ticket close to your body, e.g. in a money belt around your neck or hips.

Shopping at stations or at roadsides
You are advised against purchasing certain items from people selling on station platforms and at roadsides. T hese include vodka, caviar, unpackaged food items and any kind of fish. (An estimated 50 percent of all vodka offered for sale on station platforms is fake). You may be offered things like theatre tickets, caviar, etc. We expressly warn against purchasing anything like this without first consulting your tour guide.

Smoking
In each carriage, you may only smoke in the designated area at the opposite end of the carriage to the conductor’s cabin. Smoking is prohibited in the compartments and corridors and in the restaurant car during meals.

Stamps
In Russia VAT is always charged on top of the price printed on the actual stamps. The tour guides are happy to help you purchase stamps. Unfortunately, hotels often sell stamps at excessive prices.

Sun protection / mosquito repellent
In summer, temperatures can soar and the sun can be intense – especially in Mongolia and China and on the boat trips in Russia. Please make sure you bring along sunscreen with a medium or high SPF. Annoying bugs like mosquitoes only tend to come out a few days per year. Bring along mosquito and tick repellent just in case.

Taxis
Russia is probably the country with the largest number of taxis in the world. Just stand at the side of the street and wave – any car that stops is a taxi. You will be expected to bargain over prices – but make sure you agree on a fare before starting your trip! If you’re going in the same direction the drivers are headed you will usually pay less than if you make them go out of their way. The taxi stands right outside large hotels, airports and railway stations are often controlled by unscrupulous groups who artificially hike prices. A ride in a taxi from outside the hotel might cost ten euros, whereas the same ride from 100 metres away would cost only three euros. Ulan Bator and Beijing have inexpensive taxis everywhere and at all times.

Time zones


UK London: 0:00 (GMT = Greenwich Mean Time)
Russia Moscow: GMT + 3 hours
Kazan: GMT + 3 hours
Yekaterinburg:    GMT + 5 hours
Novosibirsk: GMT + 6 hours
Irkutsk: GMT + 7 hours
Ulan-Ude: GMT + 8 hours
Mongolia    Ulan Bator: GMT + 7 hours
China Beijing: GMT + 7 hours

All time announcements on board are made in local time, but Russian railway officials use Moscow time throughout the country. That is why train station clocks facing the tracks show Moscow time and those facing the city show the local time. The time changes as we pass from time zone to time zone are always printed in your daily programme. Clocks and watches are usually put forwards or back after dinner.

Tips
More detailed information is provided in this on-board book.

Tour guides
Of course, all the tour guides on board the train are happy to help you. However, we would ask you to turn first of a ll to the tour guide responsible for your group if you have any questions (e.g. on the trip schedule, about the train, or about the places we travel through) or problems. You can ask your tour guide for his/her carriage and compartment number at any time.

Tour manager
The tour manager is the mastermind behind the scenes who is responsible for ensuring that the entire trip between Moscow and Beijing runs smoothly. Because this is such a complex task, the tour manager will not always be available and will not always be able to spare time for long conversations. He or she has an open ear for your questions or problems, but we would ask you to turn first of all to the tour guide responsible for your group. The tour manager is usually t o be found i n Carriage 1. His or her compartment is clearly marked on the train overview displayed in each carriage.

Towels and sheets
Small towels and sheets are provided on the train and in the hotels and these will be changed regularly. It might be useful to bring along an additional small hand towel and washcloths. If you require larger towels please bring these with you.

Use-by date on packaging
Unlike in Western Europe, where it is usual practice to print the use-by date on products, in Russia the date of manufacture is usually printed. (Next to it will be printed, e.g. “must be used within six months” or “shelf life six months” in Russian.)

Wake-up call
Every morning on the train you will be gently awoken by your tour guide knocking on the door of your compartment. In the hotels we will order a general wake-up call, but you are welcome to order your own, too. However, we recommend you bring along a travel alarm clock or use the alarm function on your mobile phone in case you wish to take a nap at any time.

Water
Please use water sparingly, as it can only be obtained at a few train stations. The water on board is perfectly safe for washing or showering, but it is not suitable as drinking water. Pure, filtered drinking water can be obtained from the conductor and in the restaurant cars. The water provided in carafes at mealtimes is still mineral water. The ice cubes at the bar are also made from this water.

Weather

*best travel season

Moscow

Siberia

Mongolia

Beijing

May

Sunny or changing weather
Between 12 and 22°C

* Mostly sunny, clear view
Between 10 and 30°C

Changing weather or sunny, windy
Between 5 and 25°C

* sunny, dry
Between 18 and 28°C

June

*sunny, continental dry
Between 15 and 36°C

*sunny, dry
Between 12 and 30°C

* changing weather
Between 12 and 25°C

hot and humid, rain showers
Between 22 and 32°C

July

* hot, sunny, rain showers, short heatwaves
Between 15 and 36°C

* continental dry, warm, short heatwaves
Between 15 and 34°C

* sunny, rain showers
Between 12 and 30°C

hot and humid, rain
Between 22 and 35°C

August

* warm, dry
Between 15 and 30°C

* warm, dry, rain showers
Between 15 and 30°C

* warm, dry
Between 15 and 26°C

hot, dry
Between 24 and 34°C

Sept.

* sunny, dry
Between 15 and 24°C

* high-pressure weather, sunny, hardly any rain
Between 10 and 22°C

Changing weather, snowfall possible
Between 0 and 25°C

* warm, dry
Between 22 and 28°C