From Beijing we boarded the Transmongolian train, ready for 27 hours in our otherwise empty four bed coupe. The border crossing into Mongolia lasted from 10pm to 3am, with each carriage having to be disconnected and then rammed back together again to change the wheels. It was like trying to sleep through minor car crashes at regular intervals.
The landscape had gradually changed from the sprawl of Beijing, into mountainous northern China before becoming the increasingly empty, snowy vastness of Mongolia. We rolled along for hours without seeing trees or much more than a couple of houses completely alone in the countryside.
Mongolia's capital Ulaanbator has over half of the country's 3 million people, with most of these warming themselves with coal fires inside their homes. This gives the city a dense covering of smoke, a hazy carpet that can be seen well before any buildings.
After a night in the city sorting out train tickets and doing a little exploring, we were up for our trip into some more rural parts of the country. We spent the morning looking through some monasteries and a huge rock that looks a bit like a turtle, before heading for lunch with a nomadic family. After eagerly using my newly learnt welcomes on the family, the guide revealed she had taught me to say 'I love you' rather than 'hello' to the burly, pretty angry looking Mongolian bloke's wife.
We rode through the snow on some fluffy Mongolian horses before heading to a Kazakh family to spend the night. The local cuisine seemed to be mixing everything with salty milk tea, the main was noodles and milk tea, the dessert was butter and milk tea. The milk tea by itself wasn't even very nice.
We spent the night in our Ger, playing some traditional Mongolian games with sheep's ankle bones. I developed a vendetta against one of the Kazakh family who turned out to be very competitive and a terrible cheat. After a nightlong rivalry I felt slightly embarrassed when I found out he was only 17. I still smashed him in an arm wrestle though.
At midnight it was -35 degrees, the stars were filling the sky and the vodka had been flowing. The temperature was so cold that the toilet, an outdoor drop pit, had frozen its contents into an impressive brown tower. To finish a wonderful night Sammie decided to drop my phone ten feet down into this shit pit. After a fruitless hour trying to retrieve the phone with some improvised poles, the 17 year old lad decided to pull out the floor and scramble to the bottom of the sculpture to retrieve the phone. I let him off for the cheating after that.
The next day we headed around some more beautiful snow covered monasteries and to the giant steel statue of Chinggis Khan that towered over the countryside. Our Mongolian guide and driver had us laughing throughout and after a couple of months (27 years for me) without finding anyone we clicked with, we found a German girl willing the put up with us for a few days.
Our final day was fittingly spent walking round the black market looking for gloves and hats. After this we boarded another train, leaving a lightly snowing Mongolia behind. Our peaceful coupe was short lived, two blokes who struggled to breath quietly when awake, let alone asleep came to wreck the calm. 11 hours later, after a night wide awake contemplating what I'm actually doing with my life, we were pulling up to the Russian border.