Trans Mongolia Express Travel Journal

Moscow, Saint Basils Cathedral

> How it all began...

If you'd like to know how we got the idea of going for this Trans Mongolian adventure, please check the Russia Travelogue.

> Our Plan and the journey to Russia

To read more about our plans and about the preparations for the journey by legendary Trans Mongolia Express we also direct you to the Russia Travelogue. Here you can also find some stories about our trip to Moscow and what it was like in the Russian capital and in Suzdal.

> Trans Mongolia Express day 1

It's almost midnight when the taxi-driver from our hotel in Suzdal drops us at the dark railway station in Vladimir, where our journey with the Trans Mongolia Express (Trans Siberian Express) will finally start. Our train will leave at exactly one o'clock , but we will be taken to the train by our hostess who will show us the right carriage and compartment. We decide to wait for her in the departure hall where you can also buy the tickets. Because of the sinister people that walk around here at night, we go and sit at the only drinks- and foodshop that's still open. Here we drink some tea amidst some Mongolians and homeless people. At 00.15 there's still no sign of our hostess and we start to wonder if she'll come or not. We decide to try get some information, just in case she doesn't show up. At the first ticket-window the response is "njet!" as soon as we've said our first English words. At the second window, we hold up our ticket while pointing at the platforms. Here we get the same answer. Next we try a fellow traveller, but don't have more luck this time. We take a good look around and wonder who would speak a little English or German. A well-dressed lady finally takes the time to look at the tickets we are waving with. Luckily, she speaks a little English. She tries to make clear that the platform on which the train will leave is not known yet, but that announcements are made which trains are arriving on what platform. She will listen to the Russian announcements for us. A couple of messages later, she points up three fingers. We thank her and hurry up the stairs to platform 3.
Trans Mongolian Express When we arrive at the platform, it appeares that half-Mongolia already knew the right track. Tractors with trailers that bulge with cartboard boxes stuffed with merchandise drive on to the platform. Rapidly talking and making busy gestures, there are a lot more boxes taken to the platform. A moment later two lightbeams of an engine are getting bigger and bigger. There is our train, pulled by two engines. The Mongolians become very busy, so get we. On our tickets we already saw that we've got to get to carriage 10, but it seems that all Mongolians are heading that way too. Hissing the train stops, just at the moment we find carriage number 10. The travellers that already entered the train in Moscow, gaze sleepy outside from their already made up beds. The doors open and immediately a Mongol jumps in and fanatically starts to take over boxes from his colleagues outside. The boxes are stacked into the hallway and I understand that speed is our only salvation. I throw my suitcase in and while I want to follow it, the provodnik looks angry to me. She asks for my ticket and passport. Ha! Those I've got for her and a few moments later we are on board. We can just find our way along the boxes and soon we find our four-person compartment, where we meet Espen, a Norwegian on a worldtrip, starting with a Trans Mongolia journey. Trans Mongolia Express We find out that we have the beds that move forward when the train is riding. We'll care about our luggage later. But we change our minds about that when the 4th traveler of our compartment comes in a few seconds later: Sara from Mongolia. Her girl friend completely ignores us and starts to put boxes on the bed above Espen. Sara introduces herself to us and at the same time she shows us the uncovered wound on her hand. Later she tells that her merchandise exists of crystal glasses and she wounded herself with some splinters. Meanwhile she tries to convince Espen and us that there is some room left in our luggage room for some of her merchandise. We don't agree and quickly start to clear away our suitcase and bag. Espen accepts one small box under his bed. And another one. And aonther one. No, now it's really too much. With the promise that they will remove all the small boxes tomorrow Espen accepts one last box. When the entire bed and the luggage room next to it (and still part of our storage room) are covered with boxes both ladies disapear. Even though it's still noisy in the hallway for a long time we make our beds and get in. At 3 o'clock we finally lie down and Yvonne sleeps immediately. Peter has some more problems with getting asleep in a riding train.

> Trans Mongolia Express day 2

At 9 o'clock, Moscow time, we wake up for the first time in a riding train on the Trans Siberian Railroad. Yvonnes view: dozens of boxes. It's a mirracle that none of them fell of during the night. It wobbles and cracks all the time. The breakfast that the hotel gave us for this morning is perfect. Espen gets his breakfast at the first stop in Kirov. Just before the train slows down our door suddenly opens and Sara watches a Mongol who climbs on her bed and opens the ventilation shaft which is in the roof of every compartment. He opens both panels very easily and starts pulling out his merchandise. Apparently this stuff has been there before we got into the compartment. Another Mongol removes the karpet in front of our door and opens a shutter in the floor. A space which is large enough to hide two adults appears and lots of things get out here as well. Trans Mongolia Express As soon as the train stops and the doors open the Mongolians all get off and on the platform they start a very lively business. Umbrellas, trousers, shirts, shoes and much more is sold here. We first enjoy our breakfast and get our second cup of hot water for tea at the samowar.
When the train rides again and everybody is on board a new activity starts: all the merchandise is put away and removed according to a strategy that can only be understood by the Mongolians themselves. We don't understand the least of what's all happening and we don't know why some boxes move in one direction and only a few minutes later in the other direction. Our 4 boxes that should be removed today are still there and if Sara comes by a little later we ask her about them. She assures us that they will be put away soon now. When they haven't been moved some hours later we decide to put them in the hallway, but Sara's friend is very dissatisfied with this and puts them in our compartment again. When he leaves we take them into the hallway again and after some time the boxes disappear and we don't hear anything about them anymore.
Trans Mongolia Express Our second stop that day is Balezino. A crowded platform, covered with Russians of all ages, is what we find here. The Mongolian trading is only starting seriously here. Sara is only watching, because of her wounded hand she can't help. She tells us that this saturday all the goods will be sold. I get our first aid kit to apply a bandage on her hand, so that I won't have to look at her open wound all day. We tell her to see a doctor as soon as possible, also because we see that she's in a lot of pain, but she says that it's really not necessary. In the next hour she and her friend try to convince Espen that he should move to another compartment, so that they can share the compartment with us. It first looks like Espen is interested in their offer, but finally we can persuade him to stay with us. At 18.00 we have another stop in Perm in the Oeral. After this stop we go to the restaurant carriage to eat blini's with sour cream. They taste fine and are served by a waiter who seems to work (and smoke) for 24 hours a day.

> Trans Mongolia Express day 3

Thare is a lot of trading going on at the stations where we stop. But then in the metropolis Omsk the police is waiting for our train. They closed the platform with fences to keep the inhabitants of Omsk out and only the tourists are allowed to leave the train to catch some air. But the Mongolians manage to get out of the train on the other side and cross the tracks to the next platform. The large Russian crowd moves from behind the fences to this platform and trading starts immediatly. Till 5 minutes later when the police interferes and starts pushing the Mongolians back onto the tracks. The officers try by force to stop the merchants, but they climb onto the platform again a couple of meters further. Trans Mongolia ExpressAfter a while the police is fed up with it and starts arresting people. Many merchants, also women and (crying) children are taken away. Sara and her friend do enter the train a little later, apperently they were smart and quick enough. When they stay a while in our compartment, Peter tries to start a conversation with help of our Mongolian languageguide. They really have to laugh about the drawing of a Mongol and a Ger on the front of the book. They certainly don't look like that! With help of this guide, we manage to communicate with them. Regularly they tell us about how the trading went at a station and we find out that they transport crystal from Russia to Mongolia and trade jeans on the platforms.

> Trans Mongolia Express day 4

This day is just like the previous: there's a lot of trading on the platforms and in the meanwhile people are eating, drinking and having fun. We are now 5 hours ahead of Moscow time and nobody seems to know exactly what time it is. An older Russian man walks through the train with an iron basket: "Jooz, wodka, beer...". And when you finished your drink, you just throw the bottle out of the window, because the only wastebin available in the carriage isn't used by anyone. This really is too much for us, so we create our own wastebin in our compartment that we empty on a platform when we stop.
When we want to go to bed in the evening we hear a strange sound.Trans Mongolia Express We get to the provodnik to ask if she wants to listen. As soon as she opens the door she smiles: "Aha!" She disappears again and some moments later she comes back with a key that she uses to open the shutter above our heads. And here we can see what causses the noise: the second shutter to the ventilation shaft. The last time it had been opened they didn't close it very well and all the screws are missing. Our provodnik checks the roof of our neighbours, but there aren't enough screws here either, so she can only get 1. But again the first aid kit is the answer: together with the provodnik I cover the shutter with hansaplast tape. The problem is solved and we can go to sleep. We make sure that the alarm clock is working, as we want to wake up early to see Lake Baikal.

> Trans Mongolia Express day 5

At dawn our alarm clock rings. The light is beautiful so early in the morning, but there is no lake Baikal to see yet. At 8 we have our first stop at the lake. Trans Mongolia Express Babuschka's sell bouquets of fish here, but it's too early to eat fish for us. We ride along the lake for several hours, before we reach a landscape with more and more hills. The people we see from the train look more Asian all the time and the house look very poor here. Many of them don't have running water or electricity. By the end of the afternoon the Mongolians get nervous and they are very busy hiding their merchandise. It's almost 19.00 when we get in Naushki, the Russian border. There is not much left of the boxes in the upper bed of Sara and on our small table there is a crystal vase that wasn't there before.
After all the passports and travel-forms have been collected, everybody gets a stern gaze by the custom-police and we can get off the train. During 4 hours the entire Trans Mongolia Express train is checked and checked double, while we spend our last rubles at the trunk market right behind the station and in the shop on the platform. It's very warm, so we are glad that we don't have to stay in the train. When we have to get aboard again we start moving immediately, but not for long. At the Mongolian border we stand still for the second time and we have to stay inside here. Again we have to fill out all kind of forms and we get new stamps in our pasports. There are Mongolians getting on the train changing our very last Russian Rubles for Mongolian Tugrük, before they get kicked out by our provodnik. After an hour the whole circus is finished, but for some reason we are still standing still at the border. When I go to the door to get some air I figure out why we aren't moving yet. The provodniki and the customs are very busy whispering with the traders. Money goes from one to another. Only one hour later we leave the Mongolian border at Sukhbatar and we are riding again. In Mongolia.
Collecting and reorganising the merchandise keeps on going the whole night for the Mongolians. Only at 4 in the night Sara and her girl friend fall, completely exhausted, asleap on top of some boxes on the upper bed.

> Trans Mongolia Express day 6

The last day on the Trans Mongolia Express. At 06.30 uur our alarmclock wakes us up. First things we see in Mongolia are a sky red like fire and the mountainlandscapes with some gers in the valleys. After we packed our stuff and say goodbye to Espen and get off the train in Ulaanbaatar. After 5 days on the train we finally are in Mongolia.

> Next part of this Trans Mongolia trip:

Do you want to know how our trip continues? Check out the Mongolia travelogue. This country is absolutely worth visiting.

> More Info

Also check our Trans Mongolia Express info page, for more info about this special trip by train and come see our Trans Mongolia Express Photos.