The end of this epic journey approaches, as Helen and Charles near the end of their Trans-Siberian adventure.
Having started in Moscow in part one, travelled to Irkutsk and Baikal in part two, they now find themselves heading onwards to Beijing, before exploring one of the most incredible cities in the world.
It was good to be active in Irkutsk ahead of our next 3 days on the train again. A chance to catch our breath and reminisce and relax and mingle. It transpired we were the only people in the whole carriage, which not as plush looking as our first train, functioned much better, the beds were more comfortable and were cleaned daily. A Chinese family boarded later on who were really nice neighbours.
The dining car not as nice as the first one, but we had stocked up in Irkutsk and actually did not get that hungry as we were stationery most of the time. We followed the stations along the way and liked anticipating where we would be stopping next and for how long. Very few vendors on the stations, but the few which did have, we shopped at, mostly ice cream and airtime! I was intrigued by the female voice making the announcements at ALL the stations en route and the number of female railway workers in overalls or uniforms. In our country it is strictly male dominated. This train was a steam train we realized, which was interesting in itself, and much smoother than the first train. The female Russian conductors were efficient and quite friendly, which made a change for our first train which was manned by Chinese men, rather gruff and not terribly friendly. We did get the odd smile out of one of them!
The second train (Vostok) quite different to the first, as I may already have mentioned. Definitely cleaner and more comfortable. I considered what it would have been like had we booked on the Golden Eagle (which I think is your top train and very expensive). And I realized we would not necessarily have enjoyed it more. The basis of the train trip was that we would have passed the same scenery, stopped at the same stations, and not had much to do on the train other than what one had brought with one and mingling with other travellers. I felt sure it would not have been as easy striking up friendships on the Golden Eagle. Our neighbours were down to earth types and easy to chat to. The awe of knowing one is crossing 7 time lines and the famous Russian/Siberian countryside was constantly in my mind. It was meaningful to me.
I do think the first train (Chinese train 4) should have been cleaner and that the water should have worked in the shower, definitely.
I was astonished at the 6 hour stop in Zabaykalsk and then another 6 hours at the very next station! I visualized we could have used that time in Beijing! The Russian officials were more concerned at our leaving their country than the Chinese our entering theirs. A part of the trip we will never forget and an exercise in crossing borders.
And then our arrival in Beijing. Lilly spotted us straight away, no waiting involved and walked us to her driver. When we got to the hotel it was established that we could not go straight up to our room as it was not 8.30 and also that we could not have breakfast as it had been booked for the following morning! An awkward moment which we made the best of. We definitely wanted to shower and get our cases up to our room and prepare for the long day ahead. So, we arranged with Lilly that she would leave us and come back at 9. Whilst waiting for our room to become available we strolled out of the hotel and found a place to have breakfast. Eventually we were allowed into our room and a quick shower – then off to first the Jade factory and then The Great Wall. We realized we were not going to fit in the silk factory, taking into account traffic in Beijing that day ahead of a special day in China the very next day. Lilly was friendly and accommodating and gave us some interesting background to Beijing and Jade, and The Great Wall.
Once at the Great Wall, Lilly led us to the starting point of The Wall and left us to climb as we wished, which we thought was appropriate. Because we were several hours on the Great Wall there was not enough time for lunch. I think, had the travel time in rush traffic been taken into account it could have been established, at the time of preparing the itinerary, that we would not fit all of the places in!
We had a couple of hours back in our room to collect ourselves before Lilly returned to walk us to the chosen restaurant. Because time was of the essence, we were a little alarmed at the long walk we took to get there. Lilly explained she did not know exactly where it was, just a vague idea. It transpired that we could have taken a much shorter route as she realized after the meal we had taken the long way round. I was a little on edge as we had to be at the airport by 8. Meal was very nice and we loved the Peking Duck. Once again traffic was an issue and we got to the airport an hour later than advised but it did not seem to matter.
And, we headed for home … With sights and sounds dancing around in our heads.
A real adventure of a tour Alla, I loved all of it. 14 days was the right length. I am impressed at the way the tour flowed, all our guides were punctual, friendly and accommodating and well informed.
I believe the slight hitches we experienced were due to the language and in fact, in my opinion added just that bit of surprise, thereby enhancing the tour.
Thank you Helen and Charles for your fantastic tale and feedback.
Anyone else feeling inspired to hop on the Trans-Siberian now?
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