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How to… go to Beijing by train

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Recycling is easy enough, reusing carrier bags is simple and even popping over to Paris by train isn’t a hardship. But to really flaunt your green credentials, try travelling across a continent or two by train. Arriving in Beijing from London without putting a foot on a plane is an emphatic way of showing that you’re greener than Kermit.

Picture Courtesy of The Russian Experience

At its quickest the journey will take nine days, six nights of which are spent on the Trans-Siberian railway. The seemingly endless plains of Russia, the Mongolian desert and the factories of China all flicker past the window on this route, giving a far greater sense of the distance and cultures separating the two cities than can be gained by watching inflight movies for ten hours.

The journey is split into four parts: London to Brussels, Brussels to Cologne, Cologne to Moscow, Moscow to Beijing. There are UK agencies that will organise the train ticket from London to Moscow – this writer recommends London-based European Rail, www.europeanrail.com, for its efficiency in dealing with the hopelessly ignorant. It also helps to realise there is no restaurant car on the overnight train from Cologne to Moscow, although hot water (as on the Trans-Siberian leg) is constantly available, so take supplies.

For the Moscow to Beijing journey there are a number of options. Unlike in the UK train ticket prices fluctuate depending on where they are purchased. The cheapest option is to buy at the station in Moscow and the next cheapest is to use an agency in Russia. The frisson of adventure gained by faxing through photocopies of both sides of a credit card to an unknown number in Moscow is presumably why some people choose the dearer route of purchasing through a UK agency, although Hostel Asia, www.hostels.ru, has proved reliable in the past.

Once the tickets have been bought it’s time to tackle to visas. Four are needed: a transit one for Belarus which the train passes through on the way to Moscow, then a Russian one, a Mongolian one and a Chinese one. Saying that out loud, it’s hard not to feel like a celebrity on an adoption spree. Nightmare stories circulate of having to arrive at some embassies at 5am, with no guarantee of admission that day, so it may be preferable to use an agency such as Real Russia. They will sort out the visas at a reasonable cost.

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Trans-Siberian insider info

Trans-Siberian insider info

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