One of the final legs of my journey took me on the Trans Mongolian Railway. I intended to take the train all the way from Moscow to China, however I also opted to get my tickets myself instead of using an overpriced ‘travel agent’. This meant I could be more flexible with my itinerary, ride 3rd class with the Russians/Mongolians/Chinese, and of course do it for a fraction of the price. The only drawback being that I was unable to get my Chinese visa due to me not having an entry/exit ticket before entering Russia. The result being that had to end my train trip in the Mongolian capital of Ullan Bator.
Aboard the train I got lucky and ended up with at least one english speaking Russian on each leg of the trip, and with some legs being 48 hours it was great to have someone to talk to. I was the only foreigner aboard up until the last leg which crossed the Mongolian border, so when the carriage got wind of a foreigner being aboard the lucky English speaking Russian got to be the translator for the entire train. I met some incredibly friendly Russians on the train offering me everything from food and drinks to money and souvenirs to wives and home stays. I later discovered I was incredibly lucky, as no other travellers I met had any English speakers to talk with for the entire 5 day trip.
Just like Cuba, this is something I am glad that I did, however I don’t think I would do it again. I made several stops between Moscow and Mongolia, visiting the oldest and deepest lake in the world; lake Baikal, stayed a few nights in the Siberian capital of Novosibirsk (in winter) and stayed in several other small cities. The conclusion I came to is that Russia is a bizarre place. The people are mostly cold and never smile and their isn’t all that much to see or do Outside of Moscow and St Petersburg. Everything looked and felt the same. The landscape, the cities, the people, the atmosphere. There was no noticeable difference between Moscow and the Mongolian border that I could discern.
Perhaps I would return to Moscow or St Petersburg in the summer to see if I can spot some Russians cracking a smile, or even talking on the subway.