Stage Seven – Trans Siberian/Mongolian – overland UK 2 NZ

How do you catch the train across Russia, Mongolia and China? You just get on the TransSiberian and/or TransMongolian Railway. (Start from Moscow/Mockba or Beijing/Pekin and head to the other one.)

Victoria outside Chinese carriage on the TransSiberian/transMongolian Railway
Outside Chinese carriage on the TransSiberian/TransMongolian Railway

If you’re new to my sustainable (?!) journey across the world, here’s a menu to help you find your way:

For fellow travellers who might notice errors and omissions, please add your comments. In fact, all comments welcome!

Please note this is a multi-page post. Although my trip took 6 days, one hour and four minutes to complete, it won’t take you that long to read! That said, you might need a cup of tea and a little snack to take with you.

Hope this account inspires you to explore the world by train, too! Here’s a link for those interested in going the other way!

Tuesday 15th October 2019 – NIGHT ONE – TransSiberian/Mongolian – boarding the train at Yaroslavsky Train Station, Moscow – 23:55

Moscow to Beijing ticket
Moscow to Beijing ticket with a Golden Seal

Two middle-aged men in uniform greeted me at carriage five with some bemusement. They frowned and flapped my ticket. ‘But, do not fold it,’ I cried out mentally, thinking Lena from Real Russia would be shocked to see their carelessness. They gave the precious paper back to me and one fellow ambled inside. Without anything else to do I followed him and he pointed at my compartment and my lower berth number 9.

I said, ‘Xiexie,’ (‘Thank you’ being the limits of my Chinese so far) and he blinked at me before he left. This was not the same train as my previous shiny new Russian train. This was an antique Chinese train. It felt a bit rickety and there was no fancy screen showing time and temperature on the wall. Could it have been a steam train? I could definitely smell coal. Everything smelt of coal in the carriage.

Obeying train-life rules I quickly jumped into comfy nightwear and then serious man gave me a couple of sheets and a pillowcase. I said, ‘Xiexie,’ some more. I got my sleeping bag out as a base layer against the cold and I had brought a pillowcase of my own. I found the pillow on the top bunk but didn’t like to investigate further.

Between the bunks compartment 5
Fleur-de-Lys between the bunks of compartment 5.
No room for push ups here. (Ref: Compartment 6)

The full moon out the window. It was a wonderful feeling as the tow kicked in and the carriage began to move, pulled in the wake of the engine. We were off. We chuntered and chattered and clunkered on and on. We were going to Beijing. From Russia to China through Belarus and Mongolia. I was in for the trip of my life. At least, it would be the longest train journey of my life! Six days, one hour and four minutes.

The air got in and, boy, was I woken by some extreme industrial pongs in the middle of the night! Petrol, gas, plastics; all sorts of foul stenches came up from the walls. I got really cold too. (Mainly because I was too dumb to work out where the blankets were.)

First look at the dunny at night
First look at the dunny at night

The toilet was European-sit-down, metal and grim. I couldn’t work out how to flush it. I kicked a green lever and opened a tap all over my foot. I kicked it off and then noticed the other foot pedal. Actually, I considered the foot-lever thing a good plan considering Goddess Hygienia. Out in the corridor I could see the antique water boiler at the other end of the carriage. I couldn’t see anywhere else to get water.

Our water boiler; the coal fire behind it
Our water boiler; the coal fire behind it

The coffee from Avocado Cafe kept me alive, alive, oh, so I stared out the window at the big shadows and lights of the station and thought I was lucky. I was safe and well. The door locked with a big chunky metal handle.

During the night we stopped for long periods at a couple of stations where, through a tinny loudspeaker, a kind of clarion trumpet call heralded a woman’s shouting instructions. Still no-one else got in my carriage. I began to hope I might have the place to myself.

I got out my test sachet of arnica and dripped the oil over the clean sheet. Not so clean really and definitely made my mark in the pattern of old stains! (My Fisiocream from Spain had finished and, given this interesting twitch in my arms from constantly altering photos somehow uploading upside-down, I needed a new muscle cream. Back in Moscow I’d gone shopping. The cosmetic lady waved me through to the chemist who pondered the ingredients and bought me a couple of options. One had recognisable calendula flowers on the front, and mint, so we were a quarter of the way to the recipe. I pointed to the hypericum on the ingredient list, thinking perhaps pharmacy training might extend to Latin – the old St John’s wort – but with smiles and extensive, ‘Spasibo,’ in action, in the end, made do with her offering. Smelt like toothpaste. On the way out, cosmetic lady pulled me over into a corner. She pointed at the Weleda range. There was arnica. She gave me three sachets – if only she’d gone there first! That’s the stuff I spilled over the sheet. Smelt nice anyway.)

Awoke very cold. Went for a wee and on my return prodded around above me. Piled on the upper bunk I found a long thin blanket to cover the base of the bed and another, wider, to cover me. I was so glad to have these. Not sure who else was in the carriage. All the doors were shut but it felt quiet, empty and cold. Apart from the constant train movement and groan and hum-bumbles of the engine.

Under my bunk in compartment 5
Under my bunk in compartment 5 – the sturdy metal container to the left.

There was, what I took to be, a sizeable air gap over the door. I wasn’t sure who had the key to the door. BUT STOP! I couldn’t be there for almost a week and worry the whole time. I had to give myself over to the power of the moon and my beautiful empty compartment for the foreseeable future. All would be well. My hip sockets existed, firmly pressed against the bunk. Slept, rocked by the irrepressible train.

21 thoughts on “Stage Seven – Trans Siberian/Mongolian – overland UK 2 NZ

  1. Thank you, Nollaig! Sounds like you did much the same trip? Yes, the Chinese waiting room and holding pen are at Erlian for FIVE HOURS! Were you in Chinese carriages or Russian? I think the days of bogie changes may be numbered as the Mongolians are building a wide gauge to match the Russian. ( I agree, though, for the next trip I think it would be worth getting on and off the train for some tourist work, perhaps at Irkutsk, Ulan Bator and Ekaterinberg.

    • I was in the dreaded Chinese carraiges. The handle kept falling off the door from the inside, which meant I was locked in. One night I was bursting to go for a pee when the handle came off – had to keep banging for the guard to let me out !

  2. Great read Vickoz. Wish I had done something similar on my trip. Travelled from the centre of England to Beijing on four trains (Leamington – London, Eurostar to Paris, Paris-Moscow, Moscow-Beijing). Strangest part was when we were all taken off the train for hours at the Mongolian-Chinese border (think it was Erlian). The beautiful classical music and all the false rose beds – some juxtaposition. I thought I was the only Irish person on the train until a guy from Belfast got on at Ulan Bator. Next time I would like to get off at Ekaterinberg and see the house where the Tsar and his family were executed in 1918.

  3. the advertising you don’t know is encouraging people to donate blood for the people in need. The girl is the NO.1Female Pingpong Champion Ding Ning.

    • Spasibo, Tatiana! How wonderful you came along for the ride! Great to think of you in Moscow with your lucky students. I bet you are feeling cooler right now than I am here in humid Taiwan!

  4. Wonderful write-up Victoria, I feel like I’ve experienced it with you! I think it’s a great way to use your time, experiencing the reality of the non-flight long distance travel options and ‘seeing the details’ – whether the loo goes straight to the tracks, how cabins are heated and managed etc – you’re doing great. Also really interesting to get a glimpse of how some of those landscapes that people don’t usually see are managed and the variety of lifestyles of your fellow travellers. Good luck with every connection, accomodation and language challenge – we’re there with you!

  5. I do like you blog, Victoria. And your trip. It’s really fantastic! My English is not rich enough to express what I think about it. I feel like travelling myself!

    • Dear Begoña, I am very grateful you enjoy reading about my travels when you are such an experienced adventurer yourself! I’m very happy you feel inspired. I know you will have a great time where-ever you go – with your language skills and interest in other people – the world is yours!

  6. I have finally got through it.. wow, that was epic
    Page 6 best for me, i needed a sign of the step by step baby steps stepping stones
    You rock our intrepid reporter
    See you real soon in brissie

    • Thank you, Louiselle! Glad you managed to get through it. (Hope you were able to have a shower along the way.) Looking forward to landing in Port Brissie!

  7. OMG! Feels like I wrote that first comment days ago…. (it was after page 1 not realising there were 6 days of blog…YOU MADE IT!!!!
    Bloody hell, I was right there with you. Good job girl…show it how it’s done.

    • Thank you, MA! I am so grateful you managed to get through it all. I am trying to walk the talk but hadn’t realised how much fun it was going to be. Now I’m in hot, humid Taiwan it’s quite peculiar thinking I was looking at snow just a couple of weeks ago!

    • I send best wishes and good luck to all Antons, from Mongolia to Melbourne, may they be happy, healthy and looking forward to eating apples from their own trees.

Please leave a comment - would you travel this way??