Saturday, August 11, 2007

Transsiberian Railway

As previously mentioned one of the main reasons for starting this blog is to talk about my planned 4-weeek trip with the Transsiberian Railway. Right now while I'm in the middle of preparations you'll probably find a lot of b******* and complaining about different embassies, visa-regulations and whatnot. While I'm out there travelling I hope to make this somewhat of a central location for keeping everyone informed on what I'm up to. Basically an online diary of sorts. I'm also hoping to spare myself from sending long copy-pasted e-mails about the latest events on the road to different people. After I return I might upload some photos from the trip and just draw a general summary of what I've seen.

Anyway, I'll be travelling with one of my best friends, a guy I met during my Zivildienst (social-service, the alternative to mandatory military-service here in Austria) and two of his university collegues. We're an international group (2x Austria, 1x Poland, 1x Portugal) and a bit on the techno-centric side in terms of our studies (2x Physics, 2x Computer Sciene). Should be good fun!

The current plan is to fly out to Bejing from Munich (and via Dubai) on August, 25th - exactly two weeks from now. We'll then spend a couple of days in Bejing with jetlag and some touristy sight-seeing. We found a very nice Hostel which is said to be "in a traditional Chinese courtyard " and only a "10 minutes' walk away from the alleyways to Tian'anmen Square". Plus they have a Beer Drinking Competition! :-D We'll also try and make it into one of those Peking operas, I've been wanting to see one in person for quite a long time.

From Bejing we'll head up to the Great Wall of China with local trains, I'm really really looking forward to seeing that massive structure with my own eyes. After that we'll slowly be moving towards the Mongolian border, again relying on local trains. Our original plan was to take one of those direct international trains from Bejing to Ulaanbaatar (capital of Mongolia). However we had to abandon that plan as these trains only seem to leave from Bejing on Mondays and Tuesdays. As we'll only be getting there on Sunday afternoon this is definitely too early for us. Apparently there's also a train leaving on Thursdays however this one can't be reserved in advance so we'd have to try our luck at the Bejing train-station once we actually get there. There's also the added annoyance of not exactly knowing when the border between China and Mongolia is open. From what we know Sundays are definitely closed, Saturdays might be closed and on all other days the border closes at something like 4 p.m. or 5 p.m.

As you can see our plans and information are barely adequate and we'll have to improvise as we go. There are of course a number of agencies here in Europe that can organize all the details of your trip. Though you can expect to pay quite a bit for their services. So being travellers on a (low) budget we hope to get by cheaper by organizing things ourselves. Plus there's the added excitement of actually having to talk to people instead of feeling like a pensioner on completely pre-planned tour with guides at every step of the way. We'll see how it goes!

Moving on...

Once we actually make it to Ulaanbaatar we'll start looking for a jeep + driver and maybe a guide/translator. The current idea is to head to a place called Bayankhongor (a provincial capital if I'm not mistaken) which is south-west of Ulaanbaatar. From there we'd like to head south into the Gobi desert for 2 or 3 days before we go back up north and check out a National Park. The issue again here is that we're not quite sure how we should organize that. Apparently it's quite hard to find good English-speaking guides outside of Ulaanbaatar so we'll probably start checking there first. The other option is to go to Bayankhongor (or Arvaikheer) by bus and hope to find jeep / driver / guide there. Again, at this point there's not much else to do but hope that everything goes relatively smoothly. So in case I suddenly stop blogging once I've left Ulaanbaatar you can figure that (a) I'm stuck with a dead jeep somewhere in the middle of nowhere, (b) we ran out of food and are being cared for in small monastrry or by nomad herders or (c) decided that the Gobi is so nice that I'm not willing to leave anymore.

From Ulaanbaatar we'll be moving up north to Russia and the city of Irkutsk. Or much rather Lake Baikal. We intend to spend a couple of days at the island Olchon where we're planning to do some hiking, biking and just generally enjoying the place.

From Irkutsk we're taking a 3-day train-ride back to Moscow. When exactly is still unclear as the timetable seems to change every few days but from what we know at this point we're planning to leave Irkutsk on September, 19th. September, 25th is the date of our flight from Moscow back to Vienna, so we hope to get there in time.

Well, that about sums up our current plans for now. Plus it's past 4 a.m. around here so I better grab some sleep.

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