So taking a step back, I can't skip over our short stop in Irkutsk. Known to many as a hard to contol territory in Risk, Irkutsk is apparently known as the Paris of Siberia, though that is even more of a stretch than calling Tromso the Paris of the north. The city does have its share of grandiose neoclassical architecture, and an important historical role in the early days of Revolution in Russia. Irkutsk is known for the Decemberists(though not the band), who were an 'intellectual vanguard' that although haphazardly, tried to get rid of the tsar before Lenin and co. Many of their ornate wooden houses still line some of Irkutsk's streets, but it was more the result of late 19th century gold rushes that give the city any semblance of grandeur. Most interestingly, Irkutsk was the center of frontier russian exploration, and Alaska was explored and claimed for Russia by explorers setting of from there, and as such there are streets in town with names like Kanadasky ul. The city does boast a very enjoyable riverwalk, that stretches all along the western part of the center of town, and in general the town seemed to be dressing itself up to celebrate its 350th anniversary, from when it was founded as a Cossack trading post. We managed to catch it at probably one of the warmest days of the year, and randomly enough, also the biggest wedding day in Russia. Mainly behind the largest square and what used to be the main cathedral(blown up by Stalin and replaced by a giant soviet edifice), but also along the various green and picturesque parts of the city, we saw multiple bridal parties, walking around, taking extremely cheesy pictures, and at one point, we managed to get a picture of no less than 4 brides in the same frame.We finished our frenetic visit by going to a Mongolian restaurant, which up to now ranks as the second best culinary experience of our trip, highlighted by handmade noodles in my mutton soup, handmade frenchfries and apricot sauce in anna's pork chop, and the best damn tea I have ever had in my life. About five hours later, we boarded the longest continual train ride of our trip, to Beijing. Since this was a part of the Moscow-Beijing service,the train and staff were all Chinese, although from their language the staff could very well have been Mongolian. Our first impression, which left a lasting effect, was getting to our wagon and trying to board the train, were up to now we had gotten used to presenting our tickets and passports to very strict and orderly providtnytsa, female train attendants. This time, there was a young uniformed man and what seemed like a random, drunk old man who had been roaming the platform. The young man passed our documents to the elder, and instead of checking our names and passport, and telling us our compartment number, gave us a drunken smile and muttered something that sort of sounded like "very early on train", followed by something else unintelligible. Another passenger said that he was trying to ask our nationalities(despite having our passports in hand) to which I said Norway and Italia, to which he gleefully repeated "Itaaliaaaa" and waved us onboard and returned our papers. The ride was then unremarkable until arriving at the russian border, where we ended up stopping for about three hours. We made our way to the local 'produkti' or minimarket, which turned out to be at its busiest point of the week, having about half the hungry and sweating train inside it. The most remarkable thing was that it seemed more like the waiting room of the Oslo-Stockholm intercity train, as at least a half of the occupants were either swedish or norwegian. And if they werent half, they either made up half the tonnage of the people inside, and were twice as loud as everyone else. The additional twist to this stop, of course, was a suffocating heat, which was then only compounded in the tiny store, to which a norwegian later remarked to me he had only felt as warm upon crossing the straights of Malacca decades ago. Besides the opinion of this well-travelled norseman, it really was quite a feeling getting the sweatdrenched elbows of a 2.10m norwegian against your head, as anna had to repeatedly endure from the guy in front of us in line. All in all, we were overjoyed when we finally left the station, and russia, and as night had fallen across the border, it was only their passport checks and mosquitos we had to deal with. Being asleep for crossing most of mongolia, we came to as we entered the Gobi desert, which we crossed for the remainder of the day. This was highlighted by our first visit to the dining car, which was of mongolian fare in this occasion, were we had quite enjoyable rice, french fries and fried horse meat, while seeing the desert go by through the oversize windows, catching glimpses of wild horses and camels, as well as red rock outcroppings in the distance. The day ended with crossing the border into china, with the fascinating replacement of the train's undercarriage, where each wagon is separated, and then lifted, and the old wheels are pushed out and the new ones, that do not run on the sticklingy different russian rail gauge, are put in. The passport and customs check went surprisingly smooth, though maybe felt smoother due to our exhaustion and dehydration of the day's journey. Our final day which had glimpses of the chinese countryside, and steep mountains, fields and calm rivers, was again going the dining car, where we had a free meal voucher, given to us by the same drunken, bare chested carriage attendant, where the food was uninspiring and unimpressive, but at least had a fast and slapdash chinese ambiance. Seeminly being behind schedule, we must have taken a different, more direct path coming towards Beijing, as we found no sightings of the Great Wall, although it could just have been obscured by the everpresent fog/haze that seems to hang over the train ever since we crossed the border. And here is where we get off, for a few fast-paced day in the capital, before re-alighting for a bullet train to china's second city, Shanghai.