In the Netherlands or Belgium, a journey by train is a necessary travel. The two-hour train ride from Neerpelt to Leuven from college to home was a very long train ride by our standards. Many trains do not even have a toilet on board, and certainly no dining car or a sleeping area. A long train journey in Canada or Russia is a completely different experience. The train is a journey, an adventure and much more than a necessary journey. It is one of the most beautiful ways to see a country, discover the culture and get to know people. We did two long train journeys, the Trans Siberia Express and the Trans Canada. Both are fantastic experiences, but completely different.
The Trans Canada goes from Vancouver in the west to Halifax in the east, a journey of no less than 6,350 kilometers. This makes it the second longest train journey in the world. The most popular route is the four-day trip between Vancouver and Toronto with the magical Canadian Rockies as the highlight. This train is called "The Canadian", and has symbolic number 1 (Toronto-Vancouver) and 2 (Vancouver-Toronto).
The longest train journey in the world is the famous Trans Siberia Express, from Moscow to Vladivostok, on the east coast. The total length is no less than 9,289 kilometers. A seven-day train journey, although the most popular route is the four-day trip between Moscow and Irkutsk on Lake Baikal. From there, most tourists transfer to the Trans Mongolia Express, which goes straight through Mongolia to Beijing. An extra addition is the route between Saint Petersburg and Moscow that lasts only one night, but feels exclusive due to the stately music on the platforms and the train attendants that are standing in front of each door.
The Trans Canada's economy class only has seats, which have plenty of legroom and are comfortable. Each train also has a panoramic car with a beautiful view. There is a sleeper plus class on the Trans Canada, but for this you pay more than double the price of the economy class, although you get three meals a day and a shower. If you really want to travel in luxury, you can take the prestige class. Then you have your own bedroom with shower, all-inclusive treatment and a personal butler. The price tag: at least € 5,000
In the Trans Siberia Express you can choose between first, second or third class. For tourists, the first and second class are the most chosen option. All cabins, both first and second class, are double or quadruple that you share with other travelers unless you reserve a full cabin for yourself. During the day you sit on the benches, which in the evening are transformed into two bunk beds. Each carriage has two toilets, but no showers. In the third class there are no separate cabins, but the bunk beds are only separated with a curtain. This means you lose part of your privacy, but it is the cheapest option.
If you choose economy class on the Trans Canada you will have to bring your own food or buy food on board. There is hot water, pepper, salt, mayonnaise, peanut butter and jam for free. You can buy snacks, soft drinks, coffee and meals on board for reasonable prices. The meals also look good, but are served in disposable trays. In the sleeper plus class and prestige class all meals are included. The train occasionally stops a bit longer in a station, but the arrival times and waiting times are unreliable so you cannot just go for a walk and buy food.
The Trans Siberia Express is standard without meals, although there are luxury tickets with all meals included. You can eat in the train restaurant, but the food is expensive and the portions are very small and simple. In each wagon is a boiler with hot water, a samovar, so you can easily cook noodles or other instant meals. During the stopovers, there are always Russian females selling home-cooked food, freshly picked fruit or dried fish.
The Trans Canada costs in economy class, the cheapest variant, around € 350 between Vancouver and Toronto. A cheaper option is the Via Rail Canada Pass, especially if you want to combine several routes. You can travel all the way from Halifax and make a detour to Churchill to spot polar bears. Viarail often offers a discount and you can buy a 30 day pass for less than € 400 if you are lucky. The sleeper plus class (from € 800) and prestige class (from € 3,500) are a lot more expensive, but include three meals a day and a shower. We took the economy class, the cheapest way by train through Canada.
Travelling on the Trans Siberia Express between Moscow and Irkutsk is possible starting from € 180. If you want to travel further to Beijing, you pay about € 400 extra. In addition, you must take into account visa costs for Russia, China and Mongolia. The train between Saint Petersburg and Moscow costs about € 80.
In 2014 we paid € 640 for the entire train from Saint Petersburg to Moscow.
You can easily plan and buy the Trans Canada online via the ViaRail website. If you fly to Canada you must apply for an eTA visa online. Once in Canada, you will receive a stamp from the customs officer to travel in Canada for up to six months.
The Trans Siberia Express is a lot more difficult. Booking train tickets yourself is not that easy and getting a visa for Russia must be arranged well in advance. We bought our tickets at the Treinreiswinkel that can tailor the trip. If you add the Trans Mongolia Express to the trip, you will have additional visa applications in Mongolia and China.
The Trans Canada is used by a mix of local people and tourists. Because everyone speaks English and you have a shared panorama car, you will quickly connect with people. Time flies by while you enjoy the beautiful landscapes. You will experience the vastness of Canada and will learn a lot from Canadian culture through conversations with the local people on the train. Especially in the summer months, the sleeper class is fully occupied by tourists, so winter might be the best season to take the Trans Canada. If you want a local experience, then economy class is your best bet. We have been a hundred hours in the Canadian, but we were not bored for a second.
The Trans Siberia Express is largely packed with local people and a small group of tourists. A dozen other tourists were on our train, whom we discovered only after a few days. You spend most of your time in your own cabin. Most Russians on the train speak little English, but they are very open and will do their best to talk to you and share a bottle of vodka. Along the way you will see the real Russia, the poverty and the endless tundra. It often feels like traveling back in time and experiencing something unique. Every wagon has two provodnikas, train attendants who always look strict and are the real boss. You will have to listen and keep everything neat. We wrote several stories about our train journey through Russia, Mongolia and China (in Dutch, but you can have a look at the photos).