|Chugging through a Siberian dawn.|
|The train waiting to depart Yaroslavsky station in Moscow.|
|My room mate - Jon Kelly.|
I woke up feeling ok, considering the amount of neat vodka I had drunk the night before, and enjoyed the ride through green countryside and dusty towns. We stopped in big cities such as Perm and Yekaterinberg for 20 minutes at a time, where I wandered on the platforms and topped up my supplies from the kiosks. I spent the afternoon watching Russia roll by the window, my head out the window like an excited dog in a car, nervously ducking in through instinct when an approaching train roared past, just leaving fragments of the countryside glimpsed through the gaps of the passing wagons, before the landscape was glued together once more.
|The Chinese train, racing through Russia towards Beijing.|
|Lots of the way was forested, pine and birch trees were the wallpaper for the day.|
|Buying supplies from the kiosks on the platforms - beers, noodles and cigarettes.|
|Photo opportunity - riding into a Russian town.|
The next morning the landscape had changed, and I could have been forgiven for thinking I was somewhere close to home. The flat, swampy ground stretched out to the horizon which was dotted with distant trees, and the small and dispersed settlements resembled the Paddy shacks which litter the Fens, where I grew up.
|The flat and featureless land, with a hazy horizon lined with trees, looked lots like home.|
|Houses made from weathered wood and patchwork corrugated roofs lined the railway.|
|Balabinsk - dirty smoke seeped through everything, and a line of new army trucks sat on the tracks adjacent to ours, we speculated they could be heading to somewhere like Syria.|
|The golden domed Orthodox church, seen from the footbridge over the tracks.|
|A woman, arms laden with supplies, crosses the tracks at Balabinsk.|
I spent that evening in the Northern Irish compartment, again drinking vodka and beers with the same social crowd, and we absorbed a few more members to our group. A Swedish double act and two slightly quieter students from Wiltshire. We were all crammed into the one compartment, with a few more floating in the corridor or moving to and from the end of the carriage which links to the joining carriage, where we were allowed to smoke. It felt a little bit like we could have been in a play. There was a limited stage set, and a cast of characters each with their own stories and performances. I went down to the restaurant car, where I had been told a traveling Russian folk band were rowdily singing. There were no songs to be heard by the time I arrived, but I chatted to some Dutch travellers before the Russians, presumably having seen my big camera, gestured for me to take their photo. Afterwards I returned to our carriage to continue the socialising and merriment, discussing everything from love to politics, God and parents, before going to bed in a misty dawn which rushed by my window like white ribbons.
|Pouring back the vodka in the Belfast cabin.|
|Two members of the Russian folk band.|
|The ghostly dawn eerily streamed by the window as I went to bed.|
The Kazakhs went to bed very early, partly because our body clocks were on different times. We were on Moscow time, which the train operates on, but they got on at a station in a time zone three hours ahead of Moscow. Also, because the train is constantly heading east, into the night, it gets darker earlier every day, but the night is still the same length of time. It was confusing at first, but once you accepted that time didn't really exist on the train, it didn't matter. We went to the restaurant car for a few beers, and the Russian band were playing and singing. It was great to sit and listen to, and it made some great video too. I stayed in there for quite a while chatting to different groups of people as the Russians sang song after song. After another beer, I gained the courage to move over to a group of three pretty French sisters, travelling with their Larry David look-a-like father. When it died down in there, I moved back to our carriage where I knew there would be a party in full swing, and to my surprise the French showed up and the dad produced a very welcome bottle of vodka. We all got drunk together and I enjoyed the conversation of the night. In the early hours we stopped at a place called Irkutsk, on the shores of Lake Baikal, and Lenka and Jeanette departed the train, and we all sang songs on the platform before taking some group photographs. Back on the train, the evening took a turn for the crazier, when Lukas the Swede decided he wanted a new tattoo, so Belfast Lucy produced a sewing needle and bottle of ink, and proceeded to give him a line down his finger, prison style. We rounded Lake Baikal at dawn, and some salted fish was purchased through the window when we paused somewhere. We all went to bed drunk and our hands stinking of fish.
|Andre, the Russian folk musician playing his accordian.|
|The grumpy Russian waitress serves the band a coffee.|
|One of the Russian folk singers who liked having her picture taken, with a Chinese train guard.|
|Smoking on a station platform.|
|The band performing in the restaurant car.|
|Drunken singing on the platform.|
|The tattooing by dawnlight begins.|
|Wide river valleys took us closer to Mongolia.|
|Lukas, with his new tattoo, watches the landscape as Mongolia draws closer.|
|One of the Kazakh men in our carriage enjoys the views. Note the gold teeth.|
|Travellers spend their remaining Roubles in a shop in the border town.|
|Swedes Lukas and Christian wait on the platform for all the passports to be checked and stamped.|
|Mongolian dawn - approach to Ulaanbaatar (UB).|
|On the platform in UB, from left, Swedes Christian and Lukas, Belfast Paul and Helen, German Georg, Jon from London and Belfast Lucy and Paul.|