Five unromantic things about the Trans-Siberian Railway in winter
Riding a huge train from Beijing to Moscow has been a travel dream for years. And I always wanted to do it in winter, rattling past frozen Lake Baikal and hundreds of miles of snow-kissed taiga. That said, there are a few thoroughly unromantic aspects to this most imagination-firing of voyages. So let's get them out of the way so we can get back to the fun parts: roaring trains, giant Lenin heads and endless forests...
The Siberia cough
When you step off your train carriage, or out of your toasty-warm hostel, into the chill Siberian air, the first breath is so cold your lungs spasm. I've noticed locals doing it too, so I can't blame my feeble airways.
A prickling sensation inside your nose is the first clue that the mercury has dropped lower than -20C. As tiny ice crystals form and thaw inside your schnozz, you'll find yourself dabbing your hooter an awful lot. Frosted mucus somewhat erodes the 'enigmatic traveller' look.
If you're smart, you brought a keepcup to refill with piping hot water at the communal samovar on board the Trans-Sib trains. If you're not smart – or the train jolts you off balance – you splash boiling water on your hands when you operate it.
A second-class ticket seats you and your travel buddy right opposite a couple of other passengers in a compartment. When you've learned Russian from a phrasebook, conversation dries up pretty darn quickly. That's what, 15 more hours of eyebrow wars and uncomprehending looks?
On the border of Lake Baikal, ladies hop aboard with plastic bags full of smoked fish. “What a marvellously local – and fresh – treat!” you think, as you watch fellow passengers buying up the pungent omul. Less wonderful when you can still smell it six hours later.