Thursday, 16 August 2012

The Plan to (Almost) Land It All the Way

We were halfway through our year of travel, and we were tired. Not of traveling necessarily - seeing and picking up on the interesting quirks that make each new place unique kept us keen - but of travel planning. It was the researching, comparing, deciding and finally booking our accommodation, activities, restaurants and transportation that had become our daily chore, grinding us down to the point where it often became a point of argument, friction and non-fun between us. Planning our upcoming Trans-Mongolian Rail adventure became the tipping point.

So in came the Russian agents. We enlisted Real Russia for visas and The Russia Experience to sort out our intercontinental journey through bureaucracy with semi-independent touring (they sort out the bookings, paperwork, tickets and occasional local guide, but we still get to travel on our own), which allowed us the breathing space we needed to figure out other parts of our travel.

Flying to Moscow from anywhere in Europe to start the Trans-Siberian Railway was akin to cheating according to the Man in Seat 61, our go-to information centre for all things train travel. So to keep some measure of traveller credibility we had to stay out of the sky and get from Birmingham in the UK to St Petersburg in Russia by land alone. As two Australians trying to minimise expensive visas, we avoided Belarus and the Ukraine and opted for a dash via the European-Unionised Baltic states instead. From there we would train it all the way to China. Continuing across Tibet through to the subcontinent would be awesome, but with the region's current state of affairs with the Chinese government, we foreigners would be hard pressed to achieve that.

We had been travelling long enough to prefer having at least a couple of weeks in a country to learn the basics of the language and connect with the culture, but for Europe alone that would have equated to almost two years. As tempting as it was to become wandering gypsies in these western lands, Europe was prohibitively expensive, with cheap food and board difficult to come by and often in nasty condition. Our bruised and battered budget begged for us to get back to Asia quick. So in the end we had only 16 days to cross a selective 7 central european countries! It was a tight schedule that required lots of prioritising, compromising and saying to ourselves "well we can't see it all", however in the end we had a plan of attack.

Let's see how it goes.

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