I’m back from Russia! I just spent 25 amazing days in the cold Russian winter. Coming from a temperate climate (both back home and here in Sydney) it was quite a shock to me, but a very interesting experience nonetheless. Totally worth it considering that the purpose of the trip was not sunbathing, but travelling with my Buddhist teacher.
For the last 25 years, my lama has been travelling through Russia twice a year. The summer tour is good, but it’s the winter tour which attracts more students. The below-zero temperatures allow you to watch your mind when your body is uncomfortable. Not to mention that vodka and cognac are better appreciated when it’s cold!
The winter tour is done via the Trans-Siberian railway and has a different itinerary every year. Below is a map of the whole train route.
Photo credit: Stefan Ertmann & Lokal Profil
This time we went West to East, from St Petersburg to Vladivostok, and included stops in 7 cities (St Petersburg, Moscow, Samara, Omsk, Tomsk, Ulan Ude, and Vladivostok). I’ve heard 10 years ago they visited 18 cities in 23 days!! The main reason behind this change is to try to make the trip less demanding for our lama, who is now 72 years old.
Cities in the Winter Tour 2014
However, Russia is big and has Buddhist groups in many cities and towns. That’s why there are arranged meetings with local Buddhist groups in several long (30-40 minutes) stops, where the lama and whoever else is keen get off the train, or the locals come into the lama’s carriage, for a blessing, quick chat and often short meditation.
This year the winter tour was limited to 350 people, after a chaotic 2013 tour with 600. There were two categories available: space or bliss. Space means more comfort and privacy, bliss means more fun. Obviously, bliss is cheaper. Guess which one I chose.
16 Jan 2014
Ange, Jeff and I took the same flight to Russia: Sydney – Dubai – St Petersburg in Emirates. They both have access to the first class and were kind enough to downgrade to business to let me in. The buffet was the first paleo challenge of the trip, with lots of pasta, bread and pastries. The fish was crumbed and the chicken fillets coated in flour, but fortunately this was Sydney, where everyone speaks English and most hospitality staff know what is gluten. One of the waiters suggested the lamb tagine, which I ate with some steamed veggies. We drank some good shiraz and champagne in preparation for the 14-hour flight to Dubai.
Once again I decided not to choose the gluten-free meals for the flights to avoid being served gluten-free junk. Instead, I came prepared with paleo jerky, organic macadamias, nut butters and dark chocolate.
On the plane we were served dinner. As most airlines, Emirates offers two options for each meal, which are conveniently printed out in menus available for every passenger. I chose the smoked chicken on a bed of lentil salad with a coriander and mint dressing, roast herb chicken topped with a rich basil and tomato sauce, spinach risoni, buttered carrots and peas, tiramisu, a box of gourmet savouries (crackers, mini toast, Mediterranean vegetable spread, sweet chilli jam), tea or coffee and a chocolate. I basically ate the chicken and vegetables, saved the butter for later, and tried to get some sleep.
Sydney – Dubai dinner
17 Jan 2014
Very early in the morning we were offered a snack. Choices were chicken and mushroom pie and Thai vegetable pie. Yikes! Fortunately, there were also bananas and apples, so my snack was a banana with a sachet of pecan butter, plus some macadamias, tea and soda water.
Later on we had breakfast: fresh seasonal fruit (melon, watermelon, pineapple), a dry and rubbery cheese omelette with sautéed spinach, roast potato wedges and a grilled tomato half, tea, and the stuff I didn’t eat: bread, jam and a croissant. I did save the butter for later.
Sydney – Dubai breakfast
Once in Dubai we went to the business lounge for a shower, wine and food: smoked salmon, Persian pickles, scrambled eggs, olives, gherkins and horseradish cream. I also had some berries (raspberries, blueberries and blackberries). Just as we were getting ready to board the plane, Ange noticed there was a whole section with curries and coconut chutney. We were so sad we missed it!
Dubai lounge food
In the 6-hour flight from Dubai to St Petersburg we were served lunch: tuna salad with sweet corn and vegetables, Cajun chicken fillet served with roasted potatoes and seasonal vegetables, and the stuff I didn’t eat: bread roll, apricot banana cake, cheese and biscuits and a chocolate.
Dubai – St Petersburg lunch
Overall, food in Emirates was good and easy to navigate for a seasoned paleo eater. Service was excellent.