FOR Lindsay Dann and wife, Robyn from Shepparton this was to be the realisation of a trip they had dreamed about. They would travel to Russia and travel by sleeper train through Siberia and Mongolia to China and Beijing.
It all started when Lindsay was researching the holiday. He told his friends what he was planning and as word spread, their group multiplied to 16 with friends joining in from Shepparton, Eildon and Stall.
The group flew to Russia. Their first stop, St Petersburg. They had three days there to explore the city. Lindsay says you could have spent the whole time at The Hermitage Museum, which holds some of the great works of art from around the world.
St Petersburg is a fascinating city built on canals that you can explore by boat but all good things must come to an end, so they took the train to Moscow.
As they arrived in the city they were told there was a Military Tattoo that night in Red Square. It was just magic, with military bands playing at St Basils Cathedral forming a grand backdrop and the Kremlin standing guard.
From Moscow, they moved onto Suzdal from where they would board their sleeper train to travel across Siberia.
It was fascinating travelling on the train. Even though they had a buffet car, most people would visit the local supermarket at each stop and bring their own food on board.
The train was basic but comfortable with four people sharing a cabin. Lindsay was taken back by the Siberian landscape as their train snaked its way along. It was the start of Winter and there was snow starting to appear on the ground.
In southern Siberia they left the train and took a side trip by bus to Lake Baikal, said to be the biggest fresh water lake in the world. Lindsay says it was about 80km long and 600km wide and they were told it held about 20 percent of the world’s fresh water.
They stayed the night at a small village of about 600 people. Their homestay was in a two storey house sleeping upstairs and dinning down. The house featured a Banya or sauna, which was fired up twice a day. There was no shower so it was into the Banya and a friendly slap with a birch to give you that refreshed feeling.
Back to the train, they made a number of stops where more supplies could be obtained but there seemed to be no fixed time in each location. It could be 10 minutes or an hour so you had to keep one eye on the train, which would slowly start to pull out without any warning.
They had entered Mongolia and in Ulaanbaatar, the capital, they took a visit to a Ger; a round tented portable home used by the locals out on the open plain. There, they attended a cooking school and then feasted on the results, a traditional pastry.
They stayed in the Gers that night and even with snow on the ground Lindsay says they were quite cosy inside, but the ablutions were in another building and it was quite a brisk experience.
The next day, on the way back to the train, someone had mentioned they could visit the Genghis Khan Museum. As they travelled along, out in the middle of nowhere just before them there it was, a huge stature of Genghis Khan mounted on a horse. It was spectacular and inside was a museum dedicated to the history of the Khan.
Now back in Ulaanbaatar they visited another local family to hear about life in the region, before reboarding the train and heading to China.
At the Chinese boarder the rail gauge changed, so they used huge jacks to lift the carriages off their bogies and replace them with ones for the new gauge. It takes six hours and you must remain on board the whole time. You are forewarned that during this time the toilets will be locked so you have to make the necessary physical and mental preparations.
The train was now heading to Beijing. Lindsay had visited China’s capital before many years ago when it first opened up to foreign visitors. There had been massive changes since then and he was looking forward to seeing modern China.
Finally they arrived in Beijing, completing their incredible train journey. They had two nights there and toured The Great Wall, Forbidden City and the Tiananmen Square.
Lindsay says Beijing is a fascinating city and it had changed so much since those early days. Back then everyone rode a black bike and there were hardly any cars. Now, it seems everyone has a car and pollution is a growing problem.
But it was fascinating to see this modern China. The most populous country in the world, with so much to see. They could have spent more time there.
But all good things must come to an end and it was now time to travel home. Returning to Shepparton, the whole experience had been incredible but the two things that remain bright in Lindsay’s mind are the night of the Military Tattoo in Red Square, Moscow and the giant statue of Genghis Khan still commanding the Khans power over Mongolia.
Lindsay would like to thank Kate Mudford at Escape Travel in Shepparton for arranging everything.
Until next time,