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Published: February 22nd 2012
As we stood on platform 9 of Beijing Railway Station, awaiting the departure of the first train of our trip from Beijing to Moscow by the China, Mongolian and Russian Railways, we couldn’t help feeling exited at the prospect of the longest overland journey of our lives. A distance of 7500km stood ahead of us.
The first leg of the trip was from Beijing to Ulan Bataar, the capital of Mongolia. Within a few hours of setting off and leaving Beijing behind we entered the hills of northern China. The scenery was immediately beautiful, as we travelled through valleys & over rivers, our eyes constantly glued to the window as we watched the picturesque chinese villages pass by whilst listening to the hypnotising sound of the train wheels turning.
As we settled into our first day on the train, we realised how captivating such a journey could be. For hours we sat quietly contented, watching the changing landscapes go by.
Our first major stop was Irlian, the China-Mongolia Border. Border crossings can often be a pain when travelling but 10 hours to clear the formalities seemed a bit excessive! When we found out why we were stopping for
so long, we actually found it amazing. As we were leaving the Chinese Railway system and heading into Mongolia, the train could go no further until it had changed its wheels!
In WWII times, the Russians made a decision to make the size of their train tracks a little different to those of their enemies in Europe to prevent invaders utilising Soviat train tracks. Mongolia followed suit and we are left today with a situation that Mongolia and Russia Railway tracks are 10cm different in width than the train tracks in China and most of Europe. The folks that run the Trans-Siberian Railways have this well mastered though! We rolled into the China-Mongolia border, got off, had some food and beers whilst the Railway technicians got to work in changing the entire under-carriage of the train. This was an amazing process and these people are doing this almost daily as Trans-Siberian trains pass through.
After Irlian, we travelled into Mongolia and it was another 15 hours or so until we reached the capital
Ulan Baataar. We left the train here for the first time and spent 4-5 days travelling through Mongolia.
We explored Ulan Baataar clearly
a city expanding quickly. The beautiful hillsides, age old temples and the iconic main square seem to be battling with overdevelopment from soviet style apartment blocks continuing to increase the size of the city.
We were very excited to reach Mongolia as this was one of the places we wanted to visit most on our trip.
It has vast landscapes that stretches as far as the eye can see. We loved being in the countryside locally known as the Open Steppe, the views of hills, valleys and constant breathtaking scenery really let us know that we were in Mongolia.
We stayed in a nomadic campsite for a few days, which was a great way to give us a feel of how nomadic Mongolians live. We slept in a traditional Mongolian ‘Ger’ which is a kind of tent, beautifully decorated with brightly coloured furniture and a fire in the centre of the room for warmth & cooking.
Today, many Mongolians still live a nomadic lifestyle, moving their lives and homes to follow the seasons, continuously moving to where there is plenty of grass and water for their sheep and cattle to graze.
Back on the train
we continued our journey north-westwards towards Russia. It was a very strange experience to fall asleep in Mongolia and wake up 8 hours later on the Russian Border where the temperature had dropped drastically, every person on the train couldn’t believe how cold it had gone. We learned that for the whole night we hold travelled in a pretty much northerly direction and the temperature had dropped something like 10 degrees!
After crossing the Mongolia-Russia border, our next stop was a town called Irkutsk. This town is the gateway to the amazing Lake Baikal, famed for being the ‘deepest’ lake in the world, holding around 10% of the freshwater on the planet! We travelled down to the lake and stayed on the shores for a few days in a town called Listvyanka . This was a beautiful little town, wooden houses, forested hillsides and scenic lakes views. We chilled, ate lovely local food and relaxed around the lake. Benn tried fishing in the lake, but caught nothing. He then tried jumping in the lake, but the 6 degrees water was unbearable! We managed to find some local guys who run diving trips and then together with an Aussie guy
that we met called Matt, went scuba diving in the depths of lake Baikal. In three month’s time this lake would have ice a meter thick over it and outside temperatures of -25. The locals tell us that the ice is thick enough to drive cars over but in mid August when we were there, the water was…just about….bearable. Amazing day though, Matt & Benn loved it!
After Lake Baikal, we headed to Irkutsk, one of the largest cities in Siberia that is full of history. The old wooden houses were very impressive and we enjoyed strolling around admiring the city and the many war photographs and tributes which lined the city’s parks.
Our next stop was a place called Ekaterinburg, home to the former Royal family of Russia who were all murdered during the Russian Revolution. We spent a couple of days roaming the city and found it a very cool place.
We went to the circus one afternoon which seemed like it is the typical Russian family outing if you have kids. The city has several stunning churches with amazing décor and artistry inside. One of these churches is the burial place for the royal
family and is probably the key landmark of Ekaterinburg. This city was formerly the major weapons development base for the whole of the Soviet Union and as such it was off limits to foreigners until around 20 years ago. We enjoyed our time here and had some good nights out in the many bars around the city.
In the final couple of days as we drew closer to Moscow we began contemplating the past two weeks of travelling across the vast beautiful landscapes of China, Mongolia and Russia. We met a ton of nice travellers along the way, all full of stories to tell and vodka to share. It had been an amazing journey which we did not want to end.
The train rolled into Moscow, sixteen days after we had set off from Beijing and our journey was complete. We took the obliqatory ‘end of journey’ photos at Moscow station and then treated ourselves to a nice meal as a reward for living with too many cup-a-soups for the last two weeks on the train. That night we went to the Russian ballet which was a great show and a great night enjoyed with Suzanne from Berlin
who we had met on the train.
For the next couple of days we walked for miles around the streets of Moscow which was amazing. We found Moscow an awesome city full of life and things to see and do. The Kremlin, St Basils Cathedral and Savior the Christ Cathedral were all stunning. We visited a grave yard where many famous Russian people are buried including Military Generals, Government figures, Artists, Sports people etc.
Our Transiberrean journey was over and we had now arrived in Europe where we will spend the next three months and more adventures await us!
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