Our final stop in Russia was Chita, an industrial city that we picked purely for its proximity to the Chinese border. There was not much to see there, especially since the smog was the worse we've seen. We didn't mind though, as our plan was simply to prepare for the border crossing.
We knew that we would soon lose access to Google, which meant no more apps can be downloaded, no more email and having to use alternative maps (of all those I tried, Maps2Me has been the best but is by no means perfect). We spent the day preparing everything we thought we might need; phone payment options (Alipay was the only we could try but it deemed all our cards too risky for some reason, so we would have to do without), a list of where we've been in Russia and where we're headed in China, redirecting emails to Hotmail accounts and letting people know how to get in touch with us.
The border crossing itself was something we were always quite excited about. When crossing by train, they have to lift each carriage up and change the wheels underneath, as the gauges are different for each country. We had read about people being inside when this happens, stuck for three hours as border control search the train.
Unable to book a direct train to our first stop in China, we had got two tickets, stopping at Zabaykalsk to change trains. We arrived there at 7:30 AM and our connection was at 11:35. We waited a total of 3 hours before border control and customs opened, making us both very nervous and worried we wouldn't make our train. However, as the train was just one carriage, about 36 people, we were through really quickly and easily.
Our train ride through no-man's land was only 30 minutes. We loved the moment when all the writing turned from Cyrillic to mandarin, knowing we had entered China by train. The border control the other side was also easy, far simpler than most airports so we'd highly recommend this way of entering China, though stay tuned for what we made of Manzhouli.
P.S We sadly never got to see the carriages being lifted up and the bogies changed. Lucy did try to get a look but a friendly security guard kept pointing her back to border control. For those interested, we think the large window in the lady's bathroom may offer a view but cannot confirm.