So, finally caught the train.
But first – some final token sight-seeing in Beijing… including such wonders as the “Customs Museum”, and the “Ancient Beijing Observatory”. As they were both in easy walking distance from the hotel I booked right next to train station.
Customs Museum – mostly boring, but had some interesting insight into the massive feeling of disjustice China had/has over foreigners effectively owning/running their borders for quite some time. And, some amusing exhibits on how hard China is trying to stop counterfeit products. The “Intellectual Property” exhibit, which I was very much intrigued by – was closed.
Ancient Beijing Observatory – actually quite cool… if only for some of the very, very old nerd-instruments they’ve still got, intricately carved/decorated with dragons and the such. First official observatory in the world? And again – a little display reminding everybody that the dirty foreigners stole most of this stuff, and didn’t give it back for many years. Ze Germans – were apparently the worst… nicked about 5 of these ancient telescopes (or whatever), and used them as garden ornaments for over 20 years.
And then – the train. Early start, Beijing station (large), got on – realised the vast majority of passengers are laowei/foreigners. I’d booked the cheapest berth available – a bunk in a 4-berth “hard sleeper” – but turned out I had the whole thing to myself. Which kinda made the best part of a train journey a little harder – the making friends and chatting with your random “roomies”.
But – made the most of it, by mostly sitting alone and reading.
Around 11pm – got into Erlian, the Chinese border town… where we all got off, sat around for an hour – not really sure what’s going on, but assumed at the time they’re changing the train over to the new wheelbase/bogies (China/Mongolia train tracks have different track gauges) – then got back on.
Only to sit around for another hour or so – while I think the bogies did finally get changed… not really sure when that happened, but I could see a train/carriage parallel to us being done out my window.
Then – onto the Mongolian border town, where we sat around for another hour or so, while they did their paperwork.
During this time – I did chat quite a bit with my neighbour, a young chap from Wellington, travelling with his girlfriend to London. I didn’t pull out any anecdotes or statistics of how well that typically goes, sticking to travel stories.
Finally got into UlaanBaatar – in enough time to check in to the hotel, get cleaned up, catch up on other people’s facebook updates and my gmail emails, and have a very cursory stroll around immediate surroundings. (Including, of course, finding a local craft beer brewery/pub… terrible).