. On long trips there are often two, who work in shifts. The provodnista
's clean the carriage, make sure everything works smoothly and are famous for their hairstyles.
We passed by huge apartment blocks, steep winding hills and plunging valleys, forests, open valleys and in the Mongolian part of China, rubbish strewn brick villages
. The Chinese dining carriage was a dodgy affair, with an unfriendly and harassed waitress. Despite the extensive menu, only 3 things seemed to be available: pork or chicken with mushrooms and a very unpleasant looking tomato dish. Unfortunately, Franz chose the chicken. Along with the food came a bowl with a solid lump of disgusting rice. We reluctantly returned at dinner and this time both chose the tomato dish. It tasted as bad as it looked. But of more concern was the temperature which was lukewarm, indicating that the meals had been cooked prior to the train's departure and the plates were just stacked up ready to go. The bits of food from other meals that had fallen onto the meal also made us nervous.
We arrived at the Chinese border at 9 pm and in addition to customs formalities, the train's bogies had to be changed as Russia deliberately uses a different rail gauge (for military reasons). We stayed on board as the station looked empty and uninviting. The train moved into the bogie-changing shed and after much shunting and bumping all of the carriages were separated. We watched as our carriage was lifted a couple of meters into the air by a hydraulic system. The Chinese bogies were then replaced with the wider Russian ones and our carriage was gently lowered down again. At 11:30 we left Chinese customs and arrived at a station on the Mongol side where customs collected our passports
. To our fright, the train then departed - but stopped again shortly afterwards at a second station. At 1:30 am, with our passports returned, we departed from the border and began journeying through Mongolia towards Ulanbataar.
In the morning we found ourselves travelling through a barren, tan coloured landscape. We saw livestock and even some gazelle and the occasional white ger tents. We went to the dining car for lunch as we knew it was changed at the border. We were surprised by the exotically carved wooden interior and the friendly service. We had pancakes, goulash and vegetables. Just after 1 pm we started passing clusters of brown fences behind which lurked ger tents or little wooden cottages and by 1:20 we had arrived.
The train from China to Mongolia was a dark green Russian-built train with wood panelling and dark blue carpets. It had the standard trans-Siberian carriage layout which is as follows. In each carriage there are about 9 cabins with 4 bunk beds and a little table. In some of the nicer carriages, 2 berths are available. At one, sometimes both, ends of each carriage is a tiny toilet that flushes directly onto the tracks and hence is locked whenever the train nears major stations. At one end is a samovar, a coal-fired boiler for hot drinking water. Near the samovar is a tiny cabin for the carriage attendant, or