It hit about two days ago. I was sat in front of the television watching a show about people who couldn’t understand why they were putting on weight and then BAM! – my brain woke up from it’s stupor and shouted at me: “YOU HAVEN’T TRAVELLED ON THE TRANS-SIBERIAN EXPRESS YET!!” This is how the travel bug bites (is it the same for you?) and once it had I couldn’t think of anything else and so abandoned my banal TV watching to research, research, research!
As some of our regular readers know, we are no strangers to Russia, having driven though there on the way to Mongolia back in 2010 as part of the Mongol Rally. It was easily one of the best experiences of our lives and we will never forget it. Maybe, just one day, I will start to publish more of the videos we’ve been editing from the trip too. It has to happen soon as the memories are fading fast and we’ll start to forget the horrendous rattling that the car made when we drove it, or how hot it was driving through Volograd because we had to keep the heater on (in 40*c heat) in order to divert heat from the engine. You can read more about the heatwave the Russia was experiencing just here. We saw the inside of many a dodgy Russian car workshop and met many a dodgy character.
What we never really did was see the beautiful countryside. Driving down the notorious Russia highways doesn’t give you much time to take in the scenery as you’re either being overtaken by huge articulated trucks or trying to overtake them (a two-person job as the car was right hand drive). By the time we saw amazing scenery, it was in the Altai Mountains and our car was ready for an early grave. We would have to stop often to tie the exhaust back onto the sump or put the engine block screws back in that had worked their way out form the bumpy roads. We were also on a schedule and so needed to hit Mongolia with time to get through the border and cross country in around 10 days. Maybe, just maybe, we didn’t get to soak in as much of Russia as we would have liked.
Had things turned out differently, we would have arrived in Ulaanbaatar and managed to find someone to drive our car out of the country for us (so we didn’t have to pay duty) and taken the Trans-Siberian express to Moscow. Instead, we ran out of money on the trip, so we could just about afford our flights to London (thanks Mum) and that was it. We saw one day in Ulaanbaatar and never got to go and shoot guns.
The rather splendid Seat61 have lots of great advice on how to book worldwide train travel (and we used them last when training it from Bangkok to Chiang Mai) but they really come into their own when talking about cross continental rail travel. The site suggests using www.realrussia.co.uk to plan to legs and the costs and so far it is looking like we could catch a 1st class train at a cost of £464.00 and around £400 for the flights from Ulaanbaatar to London (via Moscow). There would be no accommodation to pay for (unless we wanted to stay a few nights in Mongolia) and visas would be around £100.
The question has to be asked: would we rather spend that on a sunny holiday by a beach or rediscover a rather amazing place travelling by one of the best forms of transport in the world? We’re going to have to have a think about this…If you have any advice for us, please pop it in the comments. We’re going to make up our minds soon!