The 31-hour train ride from Ulan Bator to Beijing turned out to be one of the best legs of my Trans-Siberian rail journey, though I sincerely doubted that at the start of the day. I felt pretty off-colour getting a taxi to the train station, but the alternative of staying and having some time to recover from a funny tummy – and trying to rebook my train ticket as this stage – was a non-starter. Anyway, posing in front of the train, I tried to look my best in spite of wobbly legs and feeling weak.
Since this was the last leg of eight on my actual Trans-Siberian route, I was keen to see if we left on the minute again. For the first seven legs (and also my two trains on the detour to Tobolsk), each train had left on the minute. But I was not to get my perfect record of departures. This time we left the station late. By one minute.
I was quite surprised to hear the voice of Kevin, my former but very recnt mate on the Mongolian tour, saying, “Hi Bjorn, I’m in your compartment!” as he entered with his backpack. With tickets booked many weeks ago, what chance of happening is that, on a train with 16 carriages? Statistically, I mean? Kevin had also booked his ticket in advance of course. Fabulous sharing a compartment with someone you know, though!
Kevin and I shared a compartment with a great German couple – Lars and Katja – travelling the world for 12 months, and as my stomach eventually settled down, the Beijing leg turned out to be totally fabulous. In spite of long stops at the Mongolian-Chinese border, partly due to the bogie change.
We sat for hours talking about different travel experiences. Exactly the kind of situation when long-distance train travel can work really well.
This Chinese train was also very clean, and we even had an electrical socket inside the compartment for charging batteries. A first on this journey.
Talking about coincidences. In the next compartment I spotted the Spanish couple from Ulan Ude. I nodded when seeing them, but said nothing. I wanted to see if they would strike up a conversation after me speaking to them in Spanish several times on the previous train. But no. They never said a word.
But one of my earlier theories of them not speaking to anyone while on holiday turned out of be wrong. They were speaking a lot to another Spanish passenger in their compartment. I’m still trying to envisage someone speaking Swedish to me on one Russian train and then ending up in the next compartment on another Russian train for 31 hours – and never striking up a conversation with them. Not possible in my universe.
On the Chinese side of the border, we stopped for about 45 minutes while we could do some shopping at a small but well-stocked supermarket. It felt like China was a land of plenty after the scarcity of some stuff in Mongolia. Ice cold Diet Pepsi for 50 cents! They were also playing music on the platform during the stop. One piece was the theme music from Love Story I think.
As we were nearing Beijing, we travelled trough this stunning mountainous region. In and out of tunnels, trying to take pictures of the gorgeous bits.
The German couple Lars and Katja surprised Kevin and I by telling us they had already booked 16 stops in China. Impressive planning! I’ve got a hotel booking for Beijing, but somehow not managed to print out the map. Yet.
We arrived at Beijing main train station at 14.04. On the minute in other words.
And with that, I’ve travelled the entire Trans-Siberian Rail journey from St.Petersburg to Beijing. That’s a total of 8,508 kilometres.