Well, I reached Beijing about 3 hours ago but will continue with the Train journey for the sake of continuity.
So, washing facilities on the train were rudimentary - the loo at the end of thecorridor, which was pretty small, smelly and wet! The Russians did vacate the compartment when I got dressed and undressed, so that was something. Otherwise, no privacy and quite a squash, but the train was hoovered each day and was fairly new and in better nick than any of the subsequent trains. The illicit bottlesof vodka belonging to the Russians had to be kept hidden around the compartment, whichwas fine until one broke (fortunately there wasn't muchin it). So for a few hours it waslike living in a distillery, especially as the door hadto be kept shut in case anyone smelt anything suspicious!! Igor, the Mongolian with the gold teeth (and very pirate-like!), spoke a few words of English was we were able to have conversations of a kind, but mainly we relied on sign and body language and alcohol to bridge the communications gap. He very kindly helped me off the train with my over-weight bag and we said fond farewells.
After 3 days and 4 nights on the train we arrived inIrkutsk on Lake Baikal in Siberia. It didn't have a lot going for it, in all honesty. There were some very attractive old wooden houses, dating probably from when this was a 'gold-rush' town, but now left to decay, while horrible Stalinist buildings go up instead. I took a bus to Lake Baikel (about an hour and a half away) and went through very attractive silver birch forests to get there - lovely in the bright 'spring' sunshine. The lake was frozen solid. Cars were being driven on it, people were having barbeques (at temperatures of -20C!) and skating on it. I was told later that the ice was at least a metre thick but at the same time there was warmth in the sun and the snow and ice was beginning to thaw. It then freezes at night and the following morning the roads and pavements are like skating rinks, but no-one ever seems to fall over, in spite of the stillettoes!
Eating can be a problem as I'm unable to recognise or ask for anything on the menu. Unless I can point to something I'm stuck. However I did treat myself to the most delicious meal that I've had in ages. I went to the hotel restaurant and had caviar in small pancakes and a fantastic fish called 'ormlu', only found in Lake Baikal. It was wonderful, an arm and a leg, of course, but wonderful!
Well it was then onwards and downwards to Outer Mongolia. I was collected at 0440 the next morning and taken to the station for the train to Ulan Baatar. It was a Mongolian train and older and less impressive than the previous one. I shared a compartment an Australian girl and an English couple from Wimbledon, so plenty of chat this time! There were no food vendors this time so had lunch in the restaurant car again, No menu this time . I was told what I was going to have (which was very good) and was on my own again. During lunch we stopped at a station for about an hour and during that time the train turned into a travelling bazaar. Every imaginable item of clothing was being sold on the platform and from out of the train windows. The restaurant car ws 10 carriages away from my compartment, so I had to battle my way past mountains of boxes, bags, mannequins, parcels, etc blocking up the corridors and takin g up every conceivable bit of space in the intervening 10 carriages. The activity was feverish amongst buyers and sellers on the platform. This was then followed by the 'crossing the border' episode - out of Russia and into Mongolia - which took 6 hours!! There were thorough searchesof compartments and endless form filling, even so, it was difficult to credit the time taken and not much time for sleep before the 0630 arrival at Ulan Baatar (I can't get rid of the underline).
Will continue thisat another time...