The Chinese TrainToday is my birthday and it started at 6:30 as we had to be on the 8:00 train. Fran was panicking about getting to the station but in the event it was no problem - the first car we flagged down stopped and gave us a lift for 3000 T (£1.50). When we got to the station, we found out the train was running an hour late - typical. It eventually turned up - a Chinese run train though there was no real difference to the Russian ones apart from the carriage attendants were all male and very helpful.
The view from the window soon turned pretty bleak as we went through the Gobi desert - mile after mile of scrubby, sandy wasteland. We decided to celebrate my birthday with a meal in the dining car. There was an extensive menu but all they had on was beef steak or beef stroganoff - we both opted for the latter - it would have been OK if it was vaguely warm.
We reached the border at about 7:00 pm. The Mongolian side was relatively painless but then it was into China. The process was a little confusing, but eventually the guard took away our passports and forms. We then got shunted off to the sheds for the bogey changing. (For the uninitiated, Russian railway track is 2 inches wider than most other countries (including China) so at the Chinese border they lift the carriages up and put a different set of bogeys (wheels) on the train.) It involves a gang of Chinese workers and some very sturdy hydraulic lifts. We stayed aboard the train during all of this process and it was fun to watch. After that it was back to the station, pick up passports and we were off - the whole border process taking 6 hours.
Next day we woke up to a very different landscape - much greener with lots of cultivated fields interspersed with industry - welcome to China. The scenery got quite spectacular as the line went through the mountains north of Beijing. We followed a river down, through tunnels and lots of bridges.
We arrived in Beijing on time - not bad for a 6 day journey. The exit from the station was manic - lots of noise and people. We eventually got outside, found an ATM and a taxi to the hotel. First impressions of the city are positive - so much more developed than we had expected. Then it was off to dinner at a local restaurant to see if they had Peking Duck.