Plans start as concrete, but dissolve with time. But any good journey must commence with a plan, and a realisation that it is flexible and will be torn up and re-written many times on the journey. To think we are planning to circumnavigate Eurasia in eight months. And want to travel with quality, to enjoy places, to experience, rather than just tick off locations on the back packers checklist. But this trip requires a little forethought. Planning does need a degree of certainty for the first leg, if for no other reason than to obtain visas and tickets Which have been somewhat stressful in obtaining.
Russia is not the easiest place to get to. Certainly that is the way the travel agencies like to make you feel. And at first glance it seems that to take the Trans-Siberian express requires the help of a travel agency.
Ringing around the agencies perhaps the most promising was the Russia Experience They were extremely helpful, but when their brochure came through their itineraries were on the pricey side. There must be a cheaper way of doing this.
Reading Bryn Thomas's book on the Trans Siberian Express was helpful, but for the most immediate help was the Lonely Planet bullitin board, the Thorn tree. This proved invaluable, in giving confidence as much as useful information. And the realisation that it probably can be done much cheaper than the agencies let on. If you don't mind taking the time and hassle.
So how to do Russia independently? Well there are countless agencies in Russia that organise invitations. We went with the Youth Hostel in St. Peterburg who for a small fee promptly faxed the invitation to us. We left the invitation, our passports, passport photographs, application forms (downloaded from here) and passport fees (£30 each) at Russian Embassy. It took a week to process them.
Then the Mongolian visa. Similar process to above, but visa processed the next day.
the Chinese Embassy has a web site that provides details on getting the Chinese visa
The best deal on insurance was from Columbus
So that's the Visa's and insurance sorted out. Now the transport.
Cheap single tickets to Newcastle with GNER.
Ferry crossing to Gothenburg with DFDS.
Ferry crossing to Helsinki from Stockholm with Viking
From Helsinki to St. Petersburg by train with VR. Unfortunatly you can't book tickets on-line, but ringing them direct is easy to make a reservation and you pick up the tickets the day before travelling.
Staying at the Youth Hostel in St. Petersburg
Train tickets on the Trans-Siberian Express from G&R Hostel Aisa.
Not sure what we'll do for accommodation in Irkutsk, but we will probably stay in the UB Guest house in Ulaan Baatar.
And then into China. Still a bit of a mystery, but we'll wing it.
I believe there is a direct train from Beijing to Hanoi. For something like $60 rather than the hundreds that once travel agency quoted. Ho hum.
And that is about as far as the planning goes.