We’re on the train!

January 15, 2009

Sorry about delay in posting..China won’t let us blog (why is that?!!) so have eventually got it to Paul so he can put it up.

We are in China until 19th and then on to Hanoi. Trans Mongolian Express (January 6th-12th 2009) The journey across Russia, Siberia, Mongolia and into China has been absolutely incredible but 6 days on a train (and 5,000 miles) makes for a lot of experiences so I’ve decided to just list highlights with some wonderful moments that just had to have full sentences! Arrive at station Tues Eve Left Moscow in gloom of falling snow. Station hectic. Train efficient, on time. Dark brown wood carriages and compartment…first class!! Samovar in each carriage…hot drinks on tap. Tiny, compact compartment. Shared shower….hand held! Shake, rattle and roll – getting used to the various creaks and groans was hard at first, soon became soporific – we slept really, really well.

Day 1 – Russia Waking to a parade of snow covered fir trees with great tear drop dollops of snow weighing their branches down. Line after line of skeletal silver birches, silhouetted against a heavy rose sky as an orange sun rises. Thick snow flying against small dachas (fairy tale gingerbread houses) deserted for the winter months. Animal tracks clearly seen but not identified! Snowy landscape, I’m in heaven (or a Christmas card). Other travellers…photographer, administrator, intensive care nurse, students, Swiss, French, American, Dutch, German, English living in Katmandu (loved talking to Nick and Gisela.)

Day 2 – Siberia Another magnificent sunrise, followed by more silver birches showing off. Unexpected and occasional signs of industry…oil refineries, factories of an indeterminable but smoking nature and just when we think we are in the middle of absolutely nowhere, a city appears…how do cars manage such snowy streets ? Teaching English to Nee-Chin (one of the Chinese attendants), unaware that we were giving him a northern accent until he replied “Thanks very much” in pure Mancunian! Sunset comes early and defies description. Snow is fine, powdery consistency of icing sugar and doesn’t make good snowballs. Fox! Getting used to knowing when train is about to stop for 10 minutes, putting coats on in readiness (it’s anything between minus 10 and 20 out there) getting off the train and walking around briskly/jumping up and down/running on spot etc for the exercise.


Day 3 – Siberia Buying bread, potatoes, piroshki and Russian beer from baboushkas selling them from tartan shopping bags on railway platforms. Legoland crossings, huts (in white, blue and red bricks) and guards wave yellow batons as we pass. Owls. Police beating a man up at the side of the platform at one stop – he limped away. Mile after mile after mile after mile of stunning snowscape. The moon is clear in the sky at 10.30am….we try and balance Moscow time with train time with daylight hour time with the time we will change to in 3 days so we can get the most of the limited daylight hours.. Complicated. Vodka helps.

Day 4 – Siberia – Mongolia Fast and furious snowstorm at dawn. Sunrise over Lake Baikal ( 20% of world’s fresh water, huge…may be bigger then UK!) Jeeps, people ice fishing. Thick, solid ice sculpted shore line. Suddenly, less snow – rivers, streams are white ribbons across golden ferns. Eagles. Plum coloured hills and red sunset. Russian customs – thorough, unsmiling, lots of forms. Mongolian customs – thorough, unsmiling, lots of forms, officials all chewing gum. Dogs and people check for hidden ….. what?

Day 5 – Mongolia Ulan Bator at dawn – snow has returned. Yurts smoking in blue haze of dawn. Thick frost sparkles on snow smoothed hills. Vast, vast space and oh the light! Genghis Khan flies past on a horse. Occasional signs of poverty and open cast coal mining. Children trying to sell lumps of quartz at stations. Mile after mile of snowy flatlands. Animals and birds dotted at intervals – sturdy ponies, cows, yaks, deer, larger horses, eagles, 6 huge vultures hunched round a carcass (really….they looked evil), camels (really…this is a desert after all….they were the most ridiculous, shaggy creatures!) Drinking Mongolian beer as the red skyline slowly receded and a massive red full moon sailed across a deep blue sky. You couldn’t make it up. At the end of the day we moved into China…this involved a fascinating 3 hours of moving our train from Russian to Chinese bogies (?!) We floated in the air which was quite fun but anyone wanting more detail of this spectacularly interesting excursion into railway technique will need to speak privately to Eddie.

Day 6 – China Wanting to be in Beijing now…no snow, flat landscape, everything looks brown except the lakes that are frozen solid..more fishing and ice skating. Line of frozen washing with a plucked chicken hanging on one end. Solar panels on roofs of the most unprepossessing of houses, even on street lights in tiny villages. Another sunny day -we realise that we have been incredibly fortunate with the weather. Contemplating best parts of this journey – the snow, ice, different landscapes, animal sightings, Mongolia, the changing light, sunrises and sunsets.. Magic. So now we leave our cosy cocoon for the undoubted chaos of a big city – how will we cope?


4 Responses to “We’re on the train!”

  1. Rod Says:

    At last, thought you had put on a one woman demonstration somewhere on the journey and been dragged off to prison. Journey sounds breathtaking. On a personal note I assume you have email access so expect something from me soon. Note for Eddie – lots of rumours about Kaka – £100m and anything between £200k and $500k per week. Believe it when it happens.

  2. gill hartley Says:

    Do you need to get land legs after train motion or is that just ships?All sounds so beautiful.Let me know how the communication goes in Beijing.

  3. sue & chris Says:

    Mongolia Ulan Bator at dawn – snow has returned. Yurts smoking in blue haze of dawn. Thick frost sparkles on snow smoothed hills. Vast, vast space and oh the light!

    ….ahhhh beautiful.
    much love

  4. Diane and Steve Says:

    How lucky are you- not only a world trip but when you get back your book will be almost ready to publish! It sounds superb and really interesting. Charlie headed off yesterday- when did we all decide to start a school abroad?

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