Our Diary News from Trans Siberian Railway

Ulaanbaatar was still in party mood as we boarded our train to Moscow, 7,000km away. A military parade and a civic send-off were both competing with each other; one group of soldiers were being sent off to Moscow - probably on some secret assignment - and a group of Korean delegates were on their way to Irkutsk.

The train was new - probably less than 12 months old - and looked resplendent in its shiny blue, red and white Mongolian regalia. We had booked first class for the four day trip to Moscow and were looking forward to some luxury after our "guest hostel" accommodation in UB.

Were we lazing in Pulham style compartments? Sinking into soft luxurious feather down couches that convert to swan-down beds? Waited on hand and foot? Not quite! The reality was a functional bench with a foam seat and a drop down shelf which converted to another bunk. No shower handy - and one toilet at the end of the carriage. The "first class" element was not sharing the compartment with anyone else!

Still, it was clean and new. Our stewardess cleaned it every day and was on hand, but could not speak English so communication was difficult. Catering was the biggest disappointment.

The utilitarian Russian restaurant car was not attached until we reached Irkutsk. We ate there once - very expensive, mediocre and unsatisfying. This meant that we spent each stop foraging through the small kiosks at each station. We didn't starve, thanks to supplies bought in UB - bread, cheese, ham, instant noodles, fruit, wine and Scotch. By the last day we were down to sharing one pot noodle with stale bread and Vegemite! Christine's beloved spread goes with us everywhere…

Overall the trip was fast and efficient. The scenery and landscape was ever changing; although birch forests predominate, there were many small villages, rivers to cross and lakeside vistas. In far eastern Siberia the villages were ramshackle with the inhabitants eking a living from small holdings interspersed with industrial towns. We were dismayed by some of the houses in Siberia - no apparent insulation or double-glazing, and just wood-burning stoves to heat them through the bleak Siberian winters...

All along the way we were impressed by the extensive rail network; the vast amount of rolling stock and the extensive forestry operations, producing kilometre-upon-kilometre of processed lumber for construction and manufacturing purposes. As we got closer to Moscow the villages became increasingly affluent.

At Irkutsk we waved goodbye to the Korean delegation and also to a large number of tourists who went exploring Lake Baikal, the deepest and largest (by volume) fresh water lake in the world. We would have liked to join them, but getting off the train meant waiting 3-4 days for the next one - we had a deadline to meet! At least the railroad passed the shores of the Lake so we had a good view.

After Irkutsk the train emptied; there was only one other couple (Australian) left in our coach - with a number of completely empty coaches on the train.

Days went by - it was very similar to long sailing passages; from habit we both found ourselves doing "look outs" every twenty minutes! On the fourth day we arrived in Moscow. The Mongolian soldiers in their uniforms heading off to their new homes - we headed for the Metro to a good night's sleep and decent meal in our hotel.