So, my last day in Moscow was really nice. What was going to be a tiresome day killing time until 23:45 turned into a lovely day of learning and discussion. The last think I learnt being that my torch exploded and the battery juice is all over it.
I met 3 new people and we just talked the afternoon away. Julia and Chris from Germany and Terence from Los Angeles. Initially we spoke about technology, science, amazing things the brain is capable of. We discussed why and where we were all travelling and before you know it we’re all starving and it’s time for dinner!
As we walk around the now lit up streets of Moscow, the conversation drifted into more touchy waters. Religion, the state of the world, a common dislike of our group mindset. General a lack of understanding as to how history keep repeating itself and the human race seems not to learn.
It was a very pleasant evening before getting on this mammoth train ride! Once this was finished I hit up the supermarket for some obligatory Trans-Mongolian purchases. Pot noodles, nuts, biscuits, Nutella, pickles and 0.5L of vodka (which cost £2-3). Being my usual overly punctual self I was first in the cabin. Later joined by Anton, who was only travelling to Novgorod, a mere 461km (6 hours) away. Anton the engineer left me alone in my cabin of 4. Now we wait for new companions to break bread with.
Working through my book and trying to create a phonics chart for Mandarin between Kirov Pass and Glazov, a Canadian from Montreal called Jonathan popped his head into my cabin to say hello. He’s travelling with his girlfriend Camille and they’re both lovely and friendly! Move forward to our stop at Balezino and we had 25 minutes to stretch our legs and explore the train station. We bumped into two other travellers (first class travellers might I add!) Natalya from St Petersburg and her boyfriend Reeta (sp?) from Switzerland. They invited us all to their cabin for the ‘best coffee on the train’, some vodka and some rum. It was a good laugh as although the hours were early they had already made a good start on their collection of spirits, putting them, in high spirits. It was an entertaining little soiree as Reeta was quite hammered but made an incredibly accommodating host.
Making our ways back to our cabins that was the first real night (ignoring the boarding night). An older gentleman of 61 greeted us and we spoke in a combination of our broken English and Russian. I didn’t catch his name but he mentioned that he was a colonel so that’s how we chose to refer to him. He brought us some vegetables from his garden including some pickles that he had made himself. This sharing nature is exactly what I’ve been hoping to encounter on my travels. The Colonel was on his way to Irkutsk, and from what I could gather, the hospital.
After tree, after tree, after tree, the fire vastness of Russia speeds past my window. Not just Russia speeds by but also my time on the train is running out before I have time to realise I’ve been on it for 3 days. It’s very confusing as the clocks at all the train stations run on Moscow time regardless of how far you are from that actual time zone. Opting to follow local time makes your days shorter but I feel it helps with prevent any, well not ‘jet’ lag but…I don’t know what you’d call it, when I arrive in Ulan-Bator.
Once we arrived at Irkutsk many people got off (including the Colonel) but also a few new faces got on. Micheala and Katrine from Germany joined my cabin. With new company we got a little crazy, singing songs and probably disturbing the whole carriage. The scenery changed from the constant beech trees and we were treated to a few hours alongside lake Baikal. Oh and apparently the cause for my knee pain is that my hamstrings are super tight (the German girls are physiotherapists) but then again they said it’s very strange how it’s that tight given the flexibility in opposing muscles.
As we moved towards the Mongolian border the scenery became more mountainous and had less trees, but it was a welcome change of pace. The border crossing was a long ordeal but altogether very simple. Check the visa, passport, cabins then sit down while they check everyone else. It was the same on both sides of the border. Then you get 5 hours sleep before arriving in Ulan-Bator, Mongolia.
A brisk 6am start walking to Ulan-Bator station for the next leg of my journey. I am greeted by a train covered in balloons celebrating 30 years of this train route. The train was a lot prettier than the Russian one, we even have music in our cabin, and it’s clearly a much newer vehicle. My new cabin is incredibly multicultural; Elodie, from France; Danni, from Germany and Iide, from Finland. We’re all solo travellers so we have some common ground to get the conversation rolling.
Although technically not part of the train journey I would like to mention a wonderful evening with my Canadian friends. We met up for a feast of a hot pot and intended to go on a free tour but turned up too late. We ended up drinking cocktails in the sky lounge. It was quire surreal as this was never in my mind as something I would be doing in Mongolia. Being serenaded by the house band , who managed a great cover of Lionel Richie’s ‘Hello’ it was quite the odd atmosphere. But with brand new friends it was a really nice way to spend my first night in Mongolia.
With it being a shorter journey between Ulan-Bator and Beijing it was harder to form deep bonds as we all went about our planning for Beijing. That being said when we had passed the borders and our trains were hoisted up to have the ‘wheels’ changed we attempted to make contact with the carriage parallel to us through iPads, I think someone agreed to get married.
Shortly after a good nap we arrived an Beijing, ready to begin our Asian Adventure!