If Covid-19 had never happened in our lives, I had have already visited Mongolia and China that were the planned destinies for my 2020 travels. Although I was always very curious about the Trans-Siberian railway, I was not planning to do it for several days. But I still have a huge curiosity about this train ride and how amazing it might be.
That’s why today I’m sharing the travel experience of Catarina from Mundo Indefinido that can tell us a bit more about this Trans-Siberian railway and how was her experience. Personally, I prefer to hear about other travel experiences than reading major websites’ travel tips, so here it goes. A testimony about this Trans-Siberian railway journey that made me even more interested in having this experience.
Where did your journey start and where did it end? How long did it take to do it?
The journey started in Saint Petersburg (Russia) and it ended in Beijing (China), with several stops, in a total of 35 days. The majority of the train travel happened during the night, taking several hours. However, the longest time I spent on a train was from Moscow to Irkutsk (both in Russia): 4 days inside a train, passing through 4 different time zones along the way. We are losing time as we are going East. It’s a very interesting experience, and sometimes you lose track of time and have no idea how many hours have actually passed.
What did you like the most during the trans-Siberian railway journey?
First, let me explain one thing: my route was the trans-Mongolian, not the classical trans-Siberian (the latter does not leave Russia). With the trans-Mongolian, you have the opportunity to experience 3 very different countries and cultures in one trip: Russia, Mongolia, and China. That multicultural experience is very enriching and it was one of my favorite things during the journey.
Although it’s fundamental to stop in some of the cities along the way, the train is an amazing place to be. The views outside are stunning and you meet extremely fascinating people, who are using the trains as part of their daily lives, and who are genuinely curious about you and what you are doing there. Even though, in general, they were not able to speak English (and I was able to speak Russian, for example), we always managed to communicate. People will share their food with you and will offer you their smiles. People… Travel is always about people.
What’s the most beautiful part of the track?
The whole track is fantastic, but when we enter China, there is a very interesting part. The landscape outside begins to change, and we find ourselves in the company of mountains and great canyons. The views are wonderful all the way, but about 85 kilometers from Beijing, the excitement begins. Here, trains pass through the mountains, with several tunnels. I tried to count them, and they are around 60. Yes, 60! Sometimes the tunnels are quite long, but the best part is that you never know what the landscape will be like once the tunnel ends. One thing is certain: it is always stunning.
One thing that surprised you positively and negatively.
What surprised me positively was Mongolia, every single thing about Mongolia. I was expecting to like it, but it was an absolute delight. When I was planning this trip, I knew it would probably be one of the places that would impress me the most, and I was not wrong. Mongolia is a country with an incredible landscape and where the nomadic culture is very much alive. People are highly curious and always have a smile to offer. In the capital, Ulaanbaatar, you can still feel the weight of the Soviet era, but there is also a connection with the Buddhist religion. Modernity and traditionalism go hand in hand, with tall glass buildings close to gers (a circular dwelling, that is portable and can be easily assembled and disassembled).
I can’t say that something surprised me negatively, but the train between Ulan-Ude (Russia) and Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia) was a disappointment. Not because of the train itself, but because I was expecting to meet more local people. It was the only train where I was surrounded by Europeans (mainly Italians, Spaniards, and Germans), with no locals…
The happiest moment you lived.
Visiting the Great Wall of China was always a dream of mine. However, visiting it the way I did was absolutely magic. I decided to go to Jiànkòu, one of the unrestored sections of the wall. There, I felt like I had never felt anywhere else before. The grandeur of this magnificent work built by Man was amplified by the surrounding landscape. I felt really small. Especially because I was almost alone there, almost just me and the Great Wall of China.
For a long time, it was just me and my travel buddy. We didn’t come across anyone else. Two pairs of Portuguese feet, alone, walking along something built during the Ming dynasty, almost 650 years ago. It’s a feeling of happiness and you can’t explain it in words. I tried several times, and I failed. I still have a lot of World to see, but I know walking on the Great Wall of China this way was one of the best and happiest experiences I’ll ever have.
Some weird things you saw or presenced.
For me, the weirdest thing is always having people who want to take pictures with me. It happened a lot in Beijing, and also in Mongolia. However, in Ulaanbaatar, I had a very strange episode. I was sitting on a bench in the main square of the city, reading a book explaining all the buildings there, and two kids started coming closer to me. A man (I think he was their father) placed the kids in front of me, really close, and adjusted them to be in a very specific position. Then, the man gets a camera and points it at us. When I understood what was happening, I smiled. The man became very shy and thanked me a lot. Now he has a picture of me with his kids, and I always imagine it to be on display in their living room.
Do you advise other travelers to do it? Why?
It is a fantastic experience, and I advise everyone to do it. It is a trip that can be done by all types of travelers, because the comfort level can be adjusted, as well as the budget. For example, in the trains, you can be in a closed compartment with only 2 beds, in a compartment with 4 beds, or even in a shared space with 54 beds. The people you’ll meet along the way will make you realize or further reinforce the idea that people are genuinely good. Life on the train is a mixture of feelings: it’s exciting, nostalgic, romantic, hopeful, calm, energizing, all at the same time. And then, of course, the opportunity to learn more about 3 different cultures is irrefutable.
You can follow Catarina and her adventures on Instagram: @mundoindefinido