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Edinburgh – Hong Kong

Further East to Harbin and The Karate Kid

My carriage fills up with a few Chinese passengers once we are on the way to Harbin. It’s good to have some company in the carriage, but they are mainly very noisy and not too social. Late in the evening I pass a short but very fit man in the corridor who now lives next door. He has tied back shoulder length grey hair and he bows deeply when he sees me, with his hands clasped together. He makes a sound like you hear in a martial arts dojo – “Ouooooooos”. Am I now in the company of a reincarnation […]

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Escape from Zabailask

Sergei hurries me off the train once we reach Zabailask, I have no idea why. I literally just grab my day bag and get off the train. I’m not clear how this is going to work. There seem to be some immigration people here, but all they seem to be interested in at present is their lunch. I play it cool, and see if I can do the same. Once inside the station, all I find is an empty waiting room next to an empty immigration room. There seem to be about six of us and I think the others are […]

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Into the Heart of Manchuria

I’m pretty confused about the border ahead – I can make no sense of the timetable and everyone has a different version of it, so I’m going to need to be flexible with my planning.    Valerie has taken to passing me notes with helpful things written on, as his English is nearly as bad as my Russian. This morning his note says just one thing “-31C”. This kind of ties in with my bathroom experience, as the toilet had frozen solid. If you want a technical explanation, this is because the water supplying it should be heated, but my WC […]

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The Restaurant at the End of the Trans-Manchurian Express

I woke this morning without any real expectations of the day ahead and have been rewarded with an amazing few hours staring out over Lake Baikal whilst drinking reasonable coffee in the restaurant. I chat to Valerie whilst Mrs Chef organises my blinis. This is my favourite place on the train. I feel very welcome here. Something between a Russian version of “Fawlty Towers” and “Robin’s Nest”. There are not too many customers today, just a thick set Russian chap eating a bowl of Solyanka accompanied with a small carafe of vodka. A range of officials and paramilitary pass by, […]

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Ice Cold in Barabinsk

It is perhaps a bit of an obvious subject, but I feel I have mention the temperature. It has been getting progressively colder at each stop for the last couple of days, and it has now reached the point where I can confirm to you that it is “proper cold”. This isn’t a technical term or an absolute temperature, but based on the fact that I can feel the air being sucked out of my lungs as I cough and splutter when making the perilous jump between carriages. Over the last 24 hours on average I would use Sergei’s carriage […]

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Krasnoyarsk

I woke to the smell of ham and fried eggs in my compartment. Unless I can now smell things like cooked breakfasts in my dreams, I think that Sergei must prepare his breakfast in the fire of our carriage samovar in the morning – well before I rise. I had to work quite hard to get up today, but we were due to stop in Krasnoyarsk at around 09.00am Moscow time. A 22 minute window for resupply of my onboard larder and to take some exercise. People often remark that they don’t sleep well on trains, but I think this […]

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Deeper into Siberia – Ishim to Omsk

I meet Sergei in the outer compartment at the end of the carriage as we approach Ishim. Depending on your choice of time zone, it was a bright and sunny start to the day. Sergei can be a man of few words, but his English is excellent. He breaks it down into two words for me today – “Cold, problem”. I’m not sure at first of the nature of the problem, but I think it is that the carriage outer door has frozen closed. Its clearly not insurmountable though, as he has a range of heavy metal implements to beat […]

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Towards the Ural Mountains and Siberia

I need to get the map out and calculate our actual progress, but roughly the train covers about 1000 km every 24 hours. It’s not going particularly fast, but it’s nearly always moving, so it really crunches through some serious distance. Despite being only a day east of Moscow, the temperature has started to fall. At our first stop in the morning in Kirov the temperature is -9C. The fresh snow covers black ice, and I manage to fall over and make a fool of myself in front of some very tough looking soldiers. They would look even tougher if […]

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"Vostok" – the Midnight Express to Manchuria

The “Vostok” leaves Moscow’s Yaraslovsky station every Saturday night at close to midnight. Yaraslovsky is not a particularly sophisticated place, and once through security there are really just a few seats, a ticket office and departure board inside. Outside, a few drunks and mad men are on the streets looking for people to accost and share their stories with. I give them a wide berth. I had stocked up on supplies earlier in the day at my local Sokolniki supermarket, and now had an extra three bags to carry containing assorted noodles, biscuits, and porridge, not to mention a stash […]

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The D10 "Schnellzug" to Moscow

My time in Warsaw passed far too quickly. After a day out with a local chap called Mariosh whizzing round the Praga district in a converted police van (that’s another story) I got back to my hotel to prepare for the journey to Moscow. Rather touchingly the general manager was there to wish me a safe trip and she kindly said that she would never ever forget me. I could pretend to you that this was because I had inspired her with my love of Warsaw, but the truth was rather more comical. When I checked in had to change […]

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