A 4am start from Belfast International airport to Stansted began the journey. By 7am I was happy to be off the plane and went straight to the bus for Heathrow. So far so good. After 1½ hours in the bus I arrived at Heathrow and booked my rucksack into the left luggage. I was prepared to sit in the airport for 20 hours, then thought better of it and booked into the Marriott hotel close to the airport. It was a beautiful hotel and meant that at least I could relax later in the evening even though I knew I wouldn’t really be able to sleep very well that night with a 5am alarm call pending.
I took a bus to the local tube station and then the tube into Covent Garden to enjoy a few hours of sightseeing. It seemed a shame not to use the time as productively as possible. Not wanting to overdo it on that first day I went back early to the hotel and relaxed in the central foyer and bar area with a glass of wine and a light sandwich and contemplated the journey to come. A daunting prospect but one I looked forward to.
At least I hadn’t needed to organise a visa for this leg of the trip. Unlike the other countries involved, each of which needed a separate visa to enter their heavily restricted spaces. We had been in Denmark a few weeks prior to this journey to teach a painting course and therefore couldn’t send our passports to the relevant embassies to organise the visas in time, so used a courier company that specialises in visa applications. Problem was, that for three visas they required between three weeks and a month to guarantee everything would be completed on time. We had 20 days… Extra payments were made to each embassy to ensure the paperwork was given priority, yet even then the Mongolian embassy managed to wangle more money out of us by claiming the passports couldn’t be returned before the day of the flight - unless we happen to pay them another €100 that was. It’s strange how the passports turned up first thing the next day after payment was made… All part of the pleasures of travelling I suppose.