Sep 14, 2006
??? ??, 2007
After a couple of hours of morning lazing on the train I suggested to the girls that we go for some early beers in the restaurant carriage. Soon the beer was flowing and we were comparing notes on Mongolia
. We saw some wild camels from the window and saw the sunset on the Gobi desert horizon. Since we started drinking early we thought it best if we had a break and re-convened later. We never did reconvene though because separate customs stops and passport checks for Mongolia and then China meant that 7am to 2am were a frustrating time confined to our carriage while all the formalities took place. At the first Chinese town, our wheel-bogey-things were changed for different guage ones. Mongolia and Russia are on a different guage to most of the rest of the world so trains passing through have to be lifted up carriage by carriage and have their wheels swapped. I slept through this on the Belarus-Russia border but was wide awake now. The train was shunted into a shed and grumpy looking engineers got to work. We were finally let out of train at 1am. It was really warm and the Chinese authorities were playing march music along the platform that made the whole stop bizarre and almost eccentric. The station was really well maintained - the best we'd stopped at so far. It even had little flower beds on the platform. I think image to the outside world is important and the Chinese clearly want your first impression of the country to be a good one. Back on board it was bed-time but we had another dodgy window that wouldn't close shut. This time it wasn't cold weather causing the problem but it was the Gobi desert sand!
We left the guesthouse at 7.30am. A New Yorker, Edward, had shared our depleted dorm room with us and was also on the train we were about to catch so he walked with us too. In our cabin (Steve and I were sharing now) we had a young Mongolian couple, they had heaps of boxes and bags and were heading to Beijing to holiday with friends. Almost immediately after boarding we met two new Swedish girls - Anna and Nathalie. I don't know what it is about Swedes and the train but if someone said to me "Rob, you're a well travelled man - Where's the best place to meet nice Swedish girls, Gothenburg or Stockholm?" I would have to say "Neither, get yourself a ticket on the Trans Siberian railway and fill your boots"