The Winter Olympics come to a close this weekend in Sochi, Russia. KPLU travel expert Matthew Brumley spent the games reflecting on his time in Russia.
Brumley, who was once an exchange student in Moscow and worked on the the Trans-Siberian Railroad in the 1980s, says you should consider making the trip.
“It’s a time capsule,” Brumley said. “When you travel through Siberia, it’s as if someone set the clock back a hundred years.”
Still, “Siberia” isn’t a word people tend to associate with vacation.
“If you like vodka, you’re in the right place,” he said. “[The people] are extremely warm, the villages are quaint and charming.”
Along the way, you’ll see the country’s influences change from European to Asian. You’ll get near Mongolia, or perhaps even enter it, depending on your route. And of course, there’s Lake Baikal, which is huge, picturesque “and freezing to get into,” Brumley said.
Go in May, early June, or September. July and August get pretty hot, but springtime wildflowers and fall foliage are both worth seeing.
“You have a lot of time to have great conversations with people as you sit in your car or cabin, and look out the window, and see the earth roll by you,” he said.
The trip Brumley led didn’t go all the way across Siberia, but turned into Mongolia and ended in Beijing, China. You can do either.
Russia, of course, has been in the news for a variety of difficult issues. Beyond the logistical troubles Sochi experienced prior to, and even during, the Olympics, there have been big concerns about gay rights and free speech. Those things can keep some visitors away, but Brumley says people should take the trip anyway, regardless of how they feel about the country’s political issues.
“History has really shown us that when you blockade a country and separate a group of people, misunderstandings increase,” he said. “Go to Russia, have some lively exchanges with people there, and I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised that it’s not a big, scary place. You’ll improve relations by doing so.”
You might call it “tourist diplomacy."
Matthew Brumley is the founder of Earthbound Expeditions, which organizes group travel to destinations around the world for various clients, including KPLU. "Going Places" is our new travel segment exploring all aspects of getting from Point A to Point B. Tell us what you think about responsible travel, or suggest topics for future installations of this series. Have a travel hangup or a tip? Let us know in the comments.