So the train journey begins with a 28 hour trip from China to Mongolia. Our four berth cabin only had the three of us in it, off to a good start! Free lunch and dinner vouchers, an even better start! After we get settled we head for food and a beer, to celebrate and toast the last part of our journey! We reach the China-Mongolian border and our passports are checked. The train needs to get its wheels changed for the different tracks over in Mongolia. We stay on the train as it is lifted and the wheels changed. Bizarre. Mongolia customs officers arrive at 2am to check our passports and luggage. Bed time!
Day 2- Mongolia
Arrive into Ulaanbatar to a great welcome, apart from the 1 degree weather! It's freezing! We are collected and brought to our hostel, where the first person we meet is from Mullingar! It's a small world. We head out for food and refreshments (ahem!) and find ourselves in an Irish bar. The refreshments quickly turns into a salsa bar, trying to dance with locals, but making lots of new friends. The people of Mongolian are some craic!
Day 3 - family stay
We head off into the wilderness to visit and stay with a traditional family. We will be staying in their ger and spending time with them. We pack loads of clothes, it's now zero degrees, but forget essentials like hats and gloves, as we are all dealing with a slight hangover! We are craving hangover good but have a lunch of mutton and some milk tea (heated milk, green tea leaves, salt and butter!! I kid you not) we are as polite as we can be! The family have a farm, full of baby goats and lambs so we entertain ourselves with them for the afternoon. The farmer arrives back and he looks like he's from Kerry with his rosy cheeks and paddy cap. He compliments my eyes and asks me to marry his brother or nephew! The choice is mine! We retire to our ger where the stove has it all cosy!
We endure some more milky tea, thank the family and head on our way. It's snowing now! We head horse riding and wear as much clothes as we can, socks become gloves, t-shirts become hats. We hike up to a temple in the snow and cold, and return for some lunch to heat us up! Back to the hostel for the hot water showers!
Day 5 - Mongolia
A gang from the hostel head out to watch the boxing (Mayweather and Manny). It disappoints but the beer is good and the craic is better. We head back to enjoy some drinking games. We are back on the train tonight at 21.10. We get a great farewell and head for the train. We are as giddy and think photobombing group photos is hilarious! Onto the train, for the next 36 hours, there will be lots of sleeping.
Day 6 - Mongolia to Russia
Awoken by Chinese officials at 7am, passports checked. The train stops for two hours, toilet is locked, not allowed off the train, back to sleep so! Russian customs are next. Thorough checking of passports and luggage, photos taken, drug tested! No banter out of them! We get off the train for a 3 hour stop, we are starving and have no currency. We find the one cafe that accepts visa, we eat very well!
Day 7 - Russia
We are awoken by some Russian instructions from the train attendant at 6am, no clue what she said. We arrive in Irkutsk at7.30am. We are greeted by Leo and brought to our hostel. We head out for a stroll, it's snowing and two degrees, brrr! We see all the churches and monuments and it's still only 8.30am. We have a feed and head back for a nap. It's brighter that afternoon and not so bleak on our second discovery walk. We are fitting in here, not as many stares, we look like everyone else. A man stops me and asks me am I lost?! Eh no.... Turns out we definitely still stand out!
Day 8 - Lake Baikal
We head for the town of Listvyanka to the famous Lake Baikal (no I never heard of it either!) Leo gives us a tour on the way, two museums and an aquamarine, it's surprisingly very interesting. It's still freezing cold. We arrive at our warm wooden hotel for the evening.
Day 9 - Lake Baikal
The myth of the lake is that by bathing in it you will add years onto your life. We aren't getting any younger so today is the day for swimming in the cold waters. Bear in mind the lake is frozen for several months of the year. We head down to the lake and book a hovercraft for later on. We need a bit of (Dutch) encouragement before the swim and end up with some champagne sitting on the edge of the lake. The sun makes an appearance and we grab our chance. It's freezing, my toes are numb after about 5 seconds, but it's over before we know it! So we do it again and dive in! I blame the champagne ! Yep, all agreed, it's bloody cold! We feel younger already! We finish the day with a hovercraft tour in Russian (haven't a breeze what's going on) and an evening in the sauna.
Day 10 - Irkutsk
We return to Irkutsk and stroll around taking in all the activity. The next day is the celebration of the end of world war 2. The Russians celebrate it in style, there is music and activities on most corners. The sun has also made a reappearance, it's 3 degrees now! We are back on the train for our longest stint tonight, four days!
Day 11 - Irkutsk to Moscow
We awake to find no one occupying the fourth bed of our cabin! Result! The cabins are small and tight so you either hope for no one or Brad Pitt to be in the last bed. We were happy with no one! We got lucky, our neighbours include a cat, a dog and a lot of children! We spend the day reading, relaxing, napping, eating and playing cards.
Day 12 - Irkutsk to Moscow
The train has stops along the way, some are 2 minutes some are 20 minutes. For the longer ones you are allowed off the train. And you feel free! You feel like you could run and run. Then you remember there are no showers on the train and you'll be stinking. So you get off, stretch the legs, buy something in the shop you don't want, eat it anyway!
More reading, chatting, games, napping and eating to pass the day.
All times on the train are in Moscow time. We are passing through several different time zones. So we have two times - night and day, never actually having a clue what the real time is!
Day 13 - Irkutsk to Moscow
I sleep for ten hours, I went to bed at 12am, it's 7am according to the clock?! We check the food rations, we might be in for a feast today. We play cards and are joined by a Russian man who has no English, but a translation app on his iPad. We communicate through that, it's like waiting on a reply to a text ! We have a beer. Three more men arrive into the cart and buy us some champagne, we were hardly going say no! It's followed by more, then some bad dancing and as much as you can have with people who don't speak each other's languages! It's a long day, still no one knows what time it is!
Day 14 - Moscow
We arrive in Moscow, we survived! The longest train journey in the world is completed! And just for the love of trains we are back on another one tonight, heading for Estonia! But this one I am extra excited for, cause I'm on the way home to Ireland!