Toga! Toga! Toga!

Moleskine Entry: April 17th, 2011

Today is Sunday. Last night we threw a fancy dress part and everyone got involved (well, everyone we knew anyway).

— Indian Ben | Toga James —

This was, as you can imagine, quite amusing for the Mongolian smugglers traders on board.

Around midnight Moscow time [4am Mongolian time] we were joined by a couple who had tickets stay in in the Tsar’s Retreat. That’s right, I now no longer have my room to myself. Boo.

The good news is, the couple seem quite cool. One Brit and his American wife. One night of sharing the cabin left ahead and then we reach Mongolia. Well, that’s not strictly true.

We’ll be arriving at Ulanbataar at some point tomorrow. We actually cross the border into Mongolia in a couple of hours. [Hilarious] Russian ticket inspectors are aboard now: two women, late 40s, wearing knee high leather boots, full make-up, bright pink liptstick and a light blue, figure-hugging uniform reminiscent of the flight attendants from the 70s. Possibly the best thing I’ve seen on the whole trip to date.

You wouldn’t believe it. I’d snap a photo if I could but I daren’t. I fear I would be taken outside and shot or worse, taken back and used as a Russian sex slave forced to do their every deed at the crack of a singular, jet-black whip.

I’m clearly still quite drunk.

And still, we’re on a train.

And still the train keeps going

Winding through the Siberian forests

Moleskine entry: April 16th, 2011

Growing up on the relatively small land mass known as the British Isles, I guess the longest single train ride you could take would be London to Edinburgh [8hrs, in December snow]. As such, you can’t really get your head around being on a train for four or five days.

It still blows my mind.

Wooden shacks and settlements pass slowly by as our track meanders around the northern border of Kazakhstan. Having been led through tree-soaked hills and over ancient oxbow lakes, the landscape is now quite barren – we are approaching Mongolia.

I slept for about ten hours last night, maybe twelve. We’re easily way ahead of Moscow time now and drinking ’til dawn is a pleasant experience. It’s 13:30 at the time of writing. The gentle clack-clack clack clack of the tracks below make an oddly comfortable sleeping companion and rest has come easy.

We’re living in two time zones.

Outside it’s 13:37.
Inside it’s 17:37.

It still blows my mind.

Christmas in Siberia

Moleskine entry: April 15th, 2011

My watch says it’s April 15th but honestly, it could be any time. Officially we’re into our second full day of train travel and, at 12:25pm Moscow time, we’re all very hungover.
Also, we’ve established a constitution:


Which so far have fared us well. Plus, to help pass the time (between the vodka and the beer) we’ve organised different things to look forward to throughout the week.

Last night was ‘dress fancy’ night. Seven of us in total ventured down to the restaurant car for an evening dinner and, for a time, we were the only ones there.

Much merriment was had…

Oly & Me

Oly & Me. Good lad.

Later, a fairly inebriated Mongolian woman came to join us at our table and, much to our shared amusement, we soon discovered that the only the only English that she knew was in the form of Christmas carols.

On a train, somewhere in deepest Siberia, in the middle of April, singing Christmas carols… with a drunk Mongolian.

Brilliant. I don’t even have a box for that but I’m ticking it anyway.


Time Travel

Moleskine Entry 14/411

Moleskine entry: April 14th, 2011

Within the train, we’re on Moscow time. The timetables, dining schedule and bar opening hours are all on Moscow time.

When we get off the train however (at various stations and stops along the way), we’re suddenly on local time, which could be anything upwards of +2/3/4hrs more.

Time travel.

Day One*: The Czar’s Retreat

Mongolians packing a LOT for the trip

Moleskine entry: April 14th, 2011

Where do I begin?

It’s 11:30 Moscow time* and we’ve just woken up somewhere in Siberia. It’s OK, we are actually on a train (the trans-Mongolian express don’tcha know) and after a first, somewhat restless night of sleep, we’re around 850km outside of Moscow with another 3800km to go – it should be a long five days of travel ahead.

But that’s just it, it should be. However I doubt very much that it actually will. My four travel companions are quite frankly, awesome and last night – our first night aboard – was hilarious.

First there was the smuggling incident.

Some background: each cabin beds four. There are five of us. The others are two pairs and then there’s me. Which in turn means that there was every chance I’d be rooming with three random Mongolians. Except, I’m not. I’ve got the whole frickin’ room to myself [for the time being, at least]!

Which brings us to the smugglers. Marina, our Honcho in Moscow, had warned us about them already and – before we left – offered some handy advice:

“When you get in your cabin, check everywhere. If something looks like it doesn’t belong, put it outside your room. Not out the window, just put it in the corridor. The smugglers will just take it and move it elsewhere.”

Sounds easy enough, right? Wrong.

I checked my compartment quite thoroughly and still managed to miss two bags of stuff and one plastic torso [don’t ask] – the cabins aren’t even that big! Next door however, a mad Mongolian woman had started taking stuff out of their ceiling!

Mongolian. Smuggling.

The woman was fairly camera shy [they’re smugglers after all], but I managed to get this one of her son who climbed up after her to reach into another compartment within the ceiling.


Later, after said smuggler had left, we realised that my room was free [apart from me – see above] and have since transformed it into a makeshift bar – aka ‘The Czar’s Retreat’.

3800kms to go. This trip, like I said before, is going to be – in the truest sense of the word – epic.


I’m just wrapping up this diary entry and I need to add in one more thing. Sally has just asked if someone could go with her to get beer. “I don’t know where the bar is.” she says. “It’s OK…” we reply “…we’ll draw you a map.”






*Day One on the train, obviously…

Bits + Pieces

James Whatley says Hi

Moleskine entry: April 13th, 2011

“How western are we? After an hour on a train in a communist state, we’ve already created a democracy!”
– said on the group deciding on a bar name for my room. Which, incidentally, was ‘The Czar’s / Tsar’s Retreat’
“Time doesn’t matter, we’re on a Mongolian spaceship!”
– on discovering that, even though we’re crossing four time zones, the time on the train stays on Moscow time. Amazing.
“There were some larger bottles of vodka, but they were more expensive.”
– more at eleven.