The train ride from Irkutsk in Siberia, Russia to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia offered the most beautiful scenery. So I will already warn you that this is an image-heavy post filled with photos of the breathtaking landscape of Russia and Mongolia. We were lucky to be traveling when the colors were beginning to change, so we could see the gorgeous foliage.
If you plan on taking the Trans-Siberian or Trans-Mongolian Express and plan to stop in Siberia, Irkutsk is the city most recommended. Irkutsk is full of history and is just an hour away from Lake Baikal. It’s also nicknamed the “Paris of Siberia”.
When Koen and I decided to make a stop in Siberia, Irkutsk was the obvious destination to spend a few days because of its proximity to Lake Baikal, the world’s largest freshwater lake, containing 23% of the world’s fresh surface water (also the world’s deepest lake, the world’s clearest lake, and the world’s oldest lake)! There were a few options of which city to visit to see Lake Baikal, and in the end we chose Listvyanka, the ‘French Riveria of Siberia’.
Café Pushkin is another restaurant recommend to me by a client from Moscow. I browsed the menu before heading to Moscow and knew we’d do the caviar tasting! We decided to go all out, trying other Russian classic dishes, as well. Such a beautiful café! If you want to treat yourself, I definitely recommend a visit to Café Pushkin!
This defiant island of Russian modernity and Europeanness is a vibrant arts centre filled with cool bars, restaurants and galleries. With an aptly revolutionary name, the former Red October chocolate factory looks straight into the Kremlin’s eyes – a vivid reminder that Russia is not all about totalitarian control and persecution.
Of course you cannot visit Moscow without visiting Red Square. I was especially excited to see St. Basil’s Cathedral in person! Long, long ago when my family first had internet my icon was the St. Basil’s Cathedral. I didn’t know then that it was in Russia, but I was drawn to the tulip shaped domes and bright colors! If you’re visiting Red Square, I definitely recommend you have lunch or dinner at Grand-Café Dr. Zhivago for a Soviet-style meal.
This gargantuan cathedral was completed in 1997 – just in time to celebrate Moscow’s 850th birthday. It is amazingly opulent, garishly grandiose and truly historic. The cathedral’s sheer size and splendour guarantee its role as a love-it-or-hate-it landmark. Considering Stalin’s plan for this site (a Palace of Soviets topped with a 100m statue of Lenin), Muscovites should at least be grateful they can admire the shiny domes of a church instead of the shiny dome of Ilyich’s head.
There are 2 Arbats in Moscow – the Old and the New. By far the Old Arbat is much more beautiful, but just for comparison’s sake I wanted to see both! Plus White Rabbit is located in the neighborhood, so we took the New Arbat to lunch, and left taking the Old Arbat.
When we decided to go to Moscow, we knew that we had to eat at White Rabbit, the 23rd best restaurant in the world. If you have Netflix, it’s possible you saw the episode featuring Chef Vladimir Mukhin, discussing the inspiration and philosophy behind White Rabbit – modern Russian cuisine with locally sourced ingredients. The restaurant is also located on the 16th floor of Smolenskiy Passage with an amazing view of the city.