The Last Word on our Wonderful JourneySeptember 24, 2019 in the United Kingdom ⋅ 🌧 17 °C
The rest of our journey went incredibly well. The transit in Helsinki was easy and we landed at Heathrow 15 minutes early at 5pm. We were delighted with Finnair. Our baggage was almost first out and our taxi driver was waiting so we were indoors, showered, changed and in our local pub for 6.30. We couldn’t have wished for a better journey.
So just a few words on China…
Firstly we must say it’s their Country so they can do what they want but we found it quite difficult in several ways. We have never been to a Country where the Government has such control. There are uniforms everywhere (the wearers always intense), police stations every few hundred yards, CCTV on a gigantic scale and then there is the internet, with virtually every platform that we would use on a daily basis banned (including Google Search and Mail, WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube). We were just pleased that FindPenguins was OK and surprisingly FaceTime too were still available to use. Big Brother is always watching you for sure.
As there have been decades of this kind of all consuming ‘control’ the people accept it without question. We heard it said ‘If the Government says something has to happen, then it does’. Of course there have been compromises and Beijing has some of the largest and most ostentatious Shopping Malls we have ever seen, filled with designer stores. The young and wealthy do not feel disadvantaged in that way and also they can now travel abroad without question, but everyone is quite clear who is in charge and conformance to this principle is absolute.
Just to close on this subject, whilst we enjoyed the sights in China and met some notably nice people, we found the general population to be unfriendly, brusque and often close to downright rude. We had already decided that we had little interest in returning to the Country even before our final encounter with ‘a uniform’ resulted in the ridiculous, and totally unwarranted, confiscation of a battery pack on exit.
So after a month away we have completed the Trans-Mongolian journey and absolutely loved it. All travel arrangements worked well and every departure and arrival was to schedule. We booked through ‘The Trans-Siberian Travel Company’ and their overall service was first-class, with their chosen local agents and guides adding so much value to our trip.
The weather was incredibly kind to us and well beyond what we should have encountered, just 2 days with some rain out of our 28 days away and blue sky and unbroken sunshine on virtually every other day. We were also lucky not to have had any illness en-route (we were warned about the possibility of stomach upsets). The only minor blips being a few mosquito bites in St Petersburg and some self-inflicted head injuries (lumps and abrasions) caused by the low entrances to the Gers in Mongolia!
We loved our time on the train and would have been happy for there to be more ‘train time’ than there was. We had a mix of beautiful hotel rooms and hard-bedded rustic accommodation, we dined well in top restaurants and we ate Russian dumplings on a farmhouse table, but the variance in City time and rural living was what made the trip so interesting. We met some wonderful people who we hope have good futures and gave them all ‘Special Pens’!
We visited three new Countries which were all very different. The biggest Country in the World, Russia, which has changed beyond recognition in 30 years and looks to have a bright future, the wonderful Mongolia, to which we hope to return one day, with its diverse culture and fully functional traditional rural population. And then there’s China.
One thing that definitely surprised us was the issue we faced along the whole route with language. Spoken English was often in short supply and the use of the Cyrillic alphabet in Russia and Mongolia, plus Chinese script sometimes made things difficult to find. Despite our extensive travel in the past this was unusual.
Our low point was definitely the wait of several hours at Erlian Station on the way into China. The high point was definitely the magical day in Mongolia visiting the horse herding nomads in the morning and climbing the Dunes in the afternoon. The evenings spent in the train bar with Tony from Twickenham, Kirstine from Copenhagen and Will from Swansea whilst travelling through Siberia was also unforgettable. No excuses for repeating photographic memories of them below.
It’s been good to know that so many people have followed our journey - so thanks for your feedback (even the rude bits!). The cases are now going up in the loft as we need a bit of ‘home’ time but as with any landmark travel adventures we have a lifetime of memories to take forward.Read more