Editor’s note: This article was published before the coronavirus pandemic, and may not reflect the current situation on the ground.

Fewer tourists, snowy scenes, long conversations and vodka shots—there’s a coziness and unity that makes traveling on Russia’s legendary Trans-Siberian Railway over winter extra-special, finds Caroline Eden.

The Trans-Siberian Railway, stretching 9,288 kilometers from Moscow to Vladivostok, is at its best in wintertime. Gone are the other tourists—and the mosquitoes that plague Siberia in the summer—and taking their place are more Russian commuters, cozy carriages and heart-stopping snowy scenery, from frozen lakes to miles of snow-clad forests.

The train ride is much more than an A-B trip. It’s the chance to travel across the largest country on earth on a seven-day journey—and an opportunity to shift perceptions about Russian people, who are generally, and contrary to popular belief in the West, warm and friendly, not cold and distant.