Trans Siberian Railway
Vodkatrain takes the traditional ideas of group travel (regimented meal times, enforced sightseeing and following strange people holding umbrellas aloft) and gives them a hearty kick up the backside. We prefer to think of it as a collection of young, like-minded individuals who happen to be following the same itinerary of the Trans Siberian / Mongolian Railway.
CHINA - Beijing
It's noisy, smelly and expanding faster than Homer Simpson's waistline, but Beijing still has an undeniable charm. Squashed between the high rises are pockets of hutong life: Buddhist temples tucked next to racy nightclubs, fresh hawker food sold in front of designer clothes stores. A city in the midst of an identity crisis, there's a lot more to it than an old palace and that famous Wall...
MONGOLIA - Ulaanbaatar
UB is the only capital city in the world where you are more likely to get run over by a horse than a Honda. Although this tiny city is dragging itself into the 21st Century, it retains its sense of quirkiness and unpredictability. Stock up on Genghis Khan badges, but mind the local moonshine.
MONGOLIA - The Steppe
You only need to go a few kilometres out of the city to see traditional culture unchanged since the Moghul hoards did their stuff. We stay in traditional 'gers' - felt huts used by the nomads - have the chance to ride with the local horsemen, explore the local countryside and generally space out! Bring your boots and look out for those wooden saddles!
RUSSIA - Vladivostock
Known as the metaphorical end of the universe, Vladivostok remains an isolated outpost of the Russian Empire. Increasingly populated by its Asian neighbours, this Siberian San Francisco sprawls across seven hills and is served by multiple harbours. For pure out-there remoteness, nothing tops this place - send the postcards to prove you were there (but don't be surprised if they take 2 months to arrive home).
Forget the clichés - this is no gulag town. An impressive mix of traditional style and modern attitudes, this sleepy city offers traditional Russian hospitality, but laces it with a hefty shot of Siberian vodka when you're not looking! Fortunately you can escape to nearby Lake Baikal for some fresh air and a sobering icy dip…
There are more statistics about Lake Baikal than you can shake a shaman's stick at - but you're going there to take a break not write a thesis! Staying in a lakeside village, you can steam away the grime of the long train ride in a traditional sauna, take a boat ride or explore along the original Trans-Sib railway line. Pack a sense of adventure as facilities are basic!
One of Russia's more colourful cities, this is where the Americans 'lost' a spy plane in 1960, and the last Russian family (the Romanovs) lost considerably more a few decades earlier. With a burgeoning cafe culture and laid-back feel, this is the ideal spot to break that long train journey from Moscow to Irkutsk. Head out of town and make like Godzilla as you straddle two continents at the Asia/Europe border.
Home of the Bolshoi, the Kremlin, and a lot of good stereotypes involving bread queues. Moscow is enjoying a renaissance - albeit more capitalist than cultural - and its charms should not be underestimated. Extensive renovation of the key attractions, a thriving underground club scene, and the ghosts of KGB agents combine to make this a most interesting place to loiter a while.
Peter the Great wanted it to be the 'Venice of the North' - and he did a pretty decent job. He got as far as the marble palaces and the grand avenue of Nevsky Prospect, but it took the inimitable Catherine the Great to create the world famous Hermitage museum and gallery. Always the home of intellectuals and liberal thinkers, today it is the centre of Russia's alternative culture - and one of Europe's most unusual live music scenes.