Last known location: London, England

Six nights on a train

We made a slightly dodgy start to the big train trip – I’d been telling Gem all the time that we were in Moscow that the train to Beijing left at 2pm, when in fact it was 9.30pm! So we actually had an extra day in Moscow that we spent in the State Tretyakov Gallery of Russian art, apparently the best Russian art gallery in the country. We then stocked up on supplies for the journey (mainly noodles, beer and vodka) and sheltered from the miserable weather in the hostel. I managed to fall over twice as well – once on the stairs of the hostel (blaming the wet conditions for that one) leaving a huge purple bruise on my backside, and once coming out of the Metro just before we caught the train. Onto to my face this time, and the fall claimed the vodka we’d bought for the trip and left blood pouring down my arm! Made the train ok though and settled into our compartment.

It wasn’t quite as fancy as the train to Moscow but still fairly spacious, and the train wasn’t full so we had the cabin to ourselves for the time being. Quite a mixture of people; Aussies, Swedes, Americans and a few Germans, but no Russians at all in any of the carriages near us, so it was a bit like being on a tourist train! We had the Chinese train for this trip rather than the Russian (they alternate), so we had Chinese carriages attendants. Our attendant was very friendly (excusing the frequent spitting!) and for the first couple of days sold us cheap Chinese beer.  Unfortunately, along with the Aussies, we quickly drank his supply dry!

We spent a couple of evenings playing Uno with the Australians – turns out Gem is quite the player!  Otherwise we spent the time reading, playing Scrabble, watching films on i-pods and staring out of the window at the changing landscape.  We were on the train, in our cabin, the majority of the time but every few hours we stopped at a random station to stretch the legs and stock up on coal for the Samovar.

This also gave us the chance to buy supplies from the various platform vendors.  We had everything from bread rolls stuffed with potato and filled pancakes to fresh bread, mutton dumplings and caramel filled wafer tubes.  Bar a very dodgy sausage (Dan’s purchase, obviously!) we did pretty well and certainly didn’t go hungry.  This was partly thanks to the Samovar, which provided hot water for back-up dried noodles and endless cups of tea! It also meant we could occasionally have a brief wash in something other than cold water. The train had no showers, only suspect toilets with small sinks.  There was a very infrequent toilet roll supply, so thank God we took a spare!

It’s easy to see why we’ve heard so many drinking stories about the train.  Because it can be a bit dull at times it gets harder and harder to wait until a “suitable” time to have the first drink of the day.  I think the earliest we started was 3pm, but bear in mind we went through 5 different time zones on the trip, so 3 was actually 10am Moscow time!!  Thanks to all the time changes sleeping was also a bit of an issue.  Half the train was sticking to Moscow time but we decided we’d try to keep on local time so we’d be OK by the time we made it to Beijing.  All in all we managed OK, but I don’t think we had one full nights kip.  We quite often stopped at stations in the middle of the night and this tended to jolt you awake. What we also didn’t consider was that we’d be asleep when we were passing things we wanted to see – one morning we woke up expecting to see Lake Baikal, only to find we’d already passed it!

On the Friday night at about 1am our door was opened and we were joined by two other passengers.  Luckily, we’d met them before; it was Dan and Sarah, the couple from our St Petersburg to Moscow train!  Sounds a bit strange, but we’d both booked through the same agency, Real Russia, so I imagine that’s how it happened.  Despite losing half of our cabin it was nice to have some company and we spent the rest of the trip swapping travel notes and listening to music.

Passed through some amazing scenery along the way which seemed to be constantly changing. Starting with scrubland and pine forests with the occasional towns around Moscow, moving through the Ural mountains with never-ending Birch forests. As we entered Siberia the trees started to thin out to huge grassy plains, followed by rugged mountains around the border with Mongolia. After that it got gradually flatter and flatter as we passed through the Gobi desert into China. Managed to spot plenty of wild horses and even the odd camel!  Lots of Mongolian Yurts (tents), too!

The journey involved two border crossings, both of which took around 5 hours. Stern border guards, customs forms and cabin searches were all part of the fun! This happened on both sides of the border each time which got fairly tiresome, but we managed to get through without any drama. The Chinese border also involved changing all the bogeys on the train, so we were shunted into a shed and all the carriages were lifted six feet into the air with us still inside and the wheels were swapped to fit the Chinese tracks.

By the end of the trip we were glad to be getting off, 6 days is quite a while to spend in such a small space and we desperately needed a wash!

1 Comment:
  1. Rose 21 Oct, 2010

    Some very arty pics Dan, especially the sunsets! That large flat area with the birch trees reminded me a bit of New Dairy, Gem!!! Did you try any horse milk in Mongolia? Meant to have rather a unique taste. Thought the yurts were some sort of campsite at first glance. You must be so pleased to have showers and proper toilets!! Enjoy China.


    Mum x x x

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