With ages ranging from 19 to 34 (yes, I was the Grandma of the group) and travel experience spanning the simple mini break in “The Med” to mammoth mileage clocked up in Botswana, South America, South East Asia and beyond, some of us met in St Petersburg and the rest of our respective worlds collided amidst minus temperatures in Moscow. Together we were set to tackle three countries, five cities, one town and a settlement, whilst travelling over 3,700 miles (or 6,065km as the crow flies, but we went round the houses…on a train…not a flying crow, so its quite a bit more!).
In late February 2011 we began our journey on the Trans Siberian Railway and the action packed itinerary that was “The Vodkatrain” , or for those of us who paid a bit less but got more free stuff “The Rusky Huski” (sorry to rub it in folks but this blog malarky is meant to be informative). The Rusky Huski doesn’t include St Petersburg but you can do it independently for a reasonable cost, but its tough going!
Day 1 – Arrival St.Petersburg
Day 2 – St.Petersburg
Day 3 – St.Petersburg and overnight train to Moscow
Day 4 – Early morning arrival in Moscow
Day 5 – Moscow
Day 6 – Moscow and afternoon departure to Irkutsk
Day 7 – Train to Irkutsk
Day 8 – Still on train to Irkutsk
Day 9 – Still on train to Irkutsk
Day 10 – Finally arrive in Irkutsk and minibus to Listvyanka, Lake Baikal
Day 11 – Listvyanka, Lake Baikal
Day 12 – Return minibus to Irkutsk, worlds most expensive souvenir shop and long train ride to Ulaanbaatar, Outer Mongolia
Day 13 – Train to Mongolia
Day 14 – Morning arrival in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
Day 15 – Minibus to countryside and Ger camp
Day 16 – Ger camp
Day 17 – Ger camp and return minibus to Ulaanbaatar
Day 18 – 18 hour train to Beijing, China
Day 19 – Afternoon arrival in Beijing
Day 20 – Beijing
Day 21 – Beijing and beyond…
All of us were travelling for different reasons and at different stages of the life plan (if there was one)… the dream trip of a lifetime, an extended break before knuckling down to a shiny new career, a gap year adventure or just because its “what I do”, but as we did a supermarket sweep style trolley dash around the station hypermarket for on-board supplies, there was a collective sense of mounting excitement and intrepdiation at the long journey ahead of us.
With a final sprint down the very long platform, laden with luggage and shopping bags, we handed over tickets and passports and boarded the ageing train. Bundling our baggage into the four berth (soft sleeper) cabins, which would be our new home for the next four days, there was a flurry of excitement and a frenzy of finding room to fit everything in and still have beds to sleep on!
Don’t know about anyone else, but as we pulled away I felt an overwhelming feeling of emotion and excitement as it literally hit me like a train (pardon the pun) that this was it, I was actually doing it and heading off on the biggest adventure of my life!
For anyone who might be taken by the trip, check out STA Travel if you fancy a tour or if you’re really hardcore and would like to go it alone, Seat61.com has a whole load of great advice about how to get started…