Excerpt from the Journal of Olds – First taste of the Trans-Mongolian

It wasn’t difficult to find our train, and we were on in no time. This was our first taste of the Trans-Mongolian rail journey – a seven-hour overnight from St Petersburg to Moscow. For each of our journeys we were staying in a 4-berth sleeper, best illustrated:

Well, perhaps not quite that small, but pretty small – images are all over the internet for those who want.

Any hopes of striking lucky and getting a compartment to ourselves were dashed as soon as we reached it, and found Alexander, a perfectly reasonable Russian gentleman who didn’t speak a word of English – I only got his name by introducing myself to his friends who were seeing him off.

Just as we had managed to stuff our gear into the various nooks and crannies available for storage another chap arrived to complete the group. Alex, a university lecturer and composer, travelled the route between Russia’s two major cities regularly and spoke perfect English.

Outside of guides and those attending tours themselves this was effectively the first social contact outside of our collective company on our journey so far, and it was great. We spent a good couple of hours gassing, which included a whole host of tips for our first time in Moscow. Our other compartment buddy had very little to contribute but there wasn’t much we could do other than be polite and move into the corridor when he wanted to get his head down.

We eventually followed suit after midnight and a few hours later we were waking up to prepare for our arrival in Moscow.

First impressions of the train? Cramped, over-heated, barely sanitary – not really a very pleasurable place to stay, but I guess it all comes together as part of the experience. Compared to the vast majority of travel we’re sure to be undertaking going forward I’m sure we’ll reflect on the train as far better than it felt at the time, but we’ve certainly been spoiled by air travel.