A quick explanation of the title for those of you just here on a week’s holiday or only arrived back for the summer to your summer villa. You know it’s amazing how many people come out on holiday to their one bedroomed apartment or casita only to find it has become a villa by the time they get on the plane to go back to Blighty. It’s interesting how a bit of distance can change one’s perspective of things. Back to the explanation and a nice link to the distance and perspective. If you’re not aware, being a professional artist, I normally write the CoastRider’s weekly arts based article ‘A Splash Of Colour’ about up and coming events that may be of interest. Over the last few weeks I have been building up to the launch of my latest trip/adventure which I intend to write about in this article as an alternative subject for the next few weeks. While you are reading this I, hopefully, should be finishing the last leg of an epic character building journey across China, Mongolia and Russia via the Trans-Mongolian Railway. Sometimes called the Trans-Mongolian Express, I tend to think of that term very loosely as the average speed will be something like 50kph-60kph during the whole trip. Taking into consideration that the journey is almost 8000 km long, you can see that the word express is not to be taken literally.
The reason you will be reading these reports after the event so to speak, is simply because I cannot guarantee to have continued access to the internet en route to email my daily blog entries and weekly articles for the paper, especially considering - 1. the Chinese firewall restrictions, 2. the fact that while in Mongolia - and not sleeping on the train - I will have to sleep in a yurt (a felt circular tent that is used by the nomadic Mongolians - and potentially home to lime disease carrying ticks), and 3. while in Russia, the unhealthy interests of the state police throughout the journey. Therefore I have decided to while away many languorous hours on the train by writing longhand about my experiences and thoughts, and transferring them to my laptop on my return. In theory, by today I should be in St. Petersburg - if all has gone according to plan, and I haven’t been arrested. Although this and previous articles were written weeks in advance, knowing my luck I will get to travel back in the train from Moscow eastwards free of charge to spend the next five years in a Siberian gulag.
Next week’s article, the first of the journey, will briefly chronicle my journey from Spain to Beijing via Dublin, Belfast, Stansted, Heathrow and Vienna airports before the big hop across countries and cultures. A world away from everything most westerners, myself included, are used to. What it won’t record is the journey covered by my passport between courier’s hands from the Chinese, Mongolian and Russian embassies in Madrid, Barcelona and Paris. This process was a very rushed, hectic and expensive one as the issue of visas was left, partly my own fault, just a week or two too late. Be warned, the embassies require at least one week to ten days each or maybe more to process the documentation required. Yet it’s strange, they can fast track things by a couple of days each when they know you are desperate and will pay anything to get your passport back before flight day. A handy way to boost the coffers… Red tape was well named when travelling in communist and former communist countries! Combine this with inoculations for hepatitis A (two), hepatitis B (three), cholera, tetanus, typhoid, diphtheria and malaria, and I feel I have been in a love tussle with an over-amorous porcupine. Enough pricks to fill parliament. Well almost, but don’t quote me on that. Upon my return to Spain I hope to amalgamate all the sights and experiences into paintings, sketches, photographs and words for a major art exhibition later this year if possible.
If you have been reading the build up to the trip over the last few weeks, this is simply a final overview for anyone just joining us now. I hope I have got your interest up enough so I can bring you along on a journey of adventure and experiences outside our normal cultural understanding. This train journey begins at Beijing and travels westwards through China, to Ulaanbaatar, capital of Mongolia. Onwards to Irkutsk and Lake Baikal in Russia before travelling through Russia to Moscow and St. Petersburg. I will cross 8 time zones over the trip as I return to Europe and would like you to join me. So sit back in your seats, strap yourselves in and enjoy!