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Mongolia Madness begins

Posted by on May 8, 2011

And so I’m off, about two weeks late. So now I should start to explain the rough plan for this trip.

Near the end of last year a friend (Danny Harrow) suggested riding Honda Cubs to Mongolia from London. This seemed like a great adventure, and indeed right up to quitting my job it seemed like the plan. But due to a number of reasons, I ended up deciding to switch to public transport instead. Danny however, the awesomely crazy person he is has started already on his Cub trip, and as I write this is somewhere in Lithuania, having had a two week head start on me after I got delayed with my visa. No matter, I’ll catch up, given he has a top speed of about 40mph!

And so…

After nearly a month trying both in NZ and the UK to obtain my three month double entry Russian Business visa, I finally had it in my hands on Thursday afternoon. The final hurdle before my departure, I could now book a bus, and Friday evening at 8.30pm I boarded bus 160 for Munster, Germany – although I’d be hopping off at Brussels, Belgium.

I always find Victoria Coach Station a little depressing; very cramped and a bit dirty – especially compared with airports with their shiny duty free and St Pancras rail with the new Eurostar terminal. Given how long it takes to get out of London one can’t help wondering if they wouldn’t be better off making separate north, south and west terminals. Ah well, if they’re not doing it for the Olympics, it’s probably not in the near future.

George/Jorge/various names that the bus driver called himself (depending on the language he spoke at the time) informed us of the planned ferry trip from Dover, and soon we were crossing the Thames and heading out of South London towards the coast for a midnight ferry ride, onboard a shiny National Express bus, complete with bathroom (which Jorge implored us not to wreck, to the laughter of the passengers). To distract us a little from that thought he turned on a movie, and what more appropriate movie for the start of a trip to the ‘stans than Borat.

After the usual exchange with passport control we led the fleet of buses which had formed onto the P&O Ferry to Calais. Last time I took this trip was around a year ago, with Ali and Stuart on a mammoth weekend to Amsterdam and back by bus. This time the ride would be shorter – with only around 3 hours of bus time after docking in Calais, France. The ferry is full of French school groups – and given it’s a Friday I can assume they weren’t just in England for a weekend. I’m quite sure I don’t remember school trips being that adventurous when I was a kid!

Arriving in France, I attempted to get some sleep, but find it nearly impossible to sleep on National Express buses, even with my two seats. Was amused by a heated argument between two passengers about reclining seats – do you have the right to recline, or should you ask the person behind you first?

We passed through Lille and then pulled into Brussels at around 5.30am. No sleep completed, I stumbled out into the rising light, and found we were quite close to one of the rail stations, which was handy. I had to wait until 6 for things to open up, got to watch some locals get upset at each other as one was smoking inside the station (not allowed). The argument got more and more heated, ending with the smoker storming out. The entire exchange was in French, but the intent of the words was clear!

Finally I got to speak to the guy on the desk, and my Afrikaans attempt made no sense (it’s worked before in Flemish Belgium) to him, so I queried English, which he switched to with ease. Sigh. After some planning he showed there was a train leaving in half an hour direct to Luxembourg, which suited me perfectly – I originally thought I’d need to get to Brussels Central first.

I wandered around in a daze (doze?) for half an hour before the train, and then hopped onboard for the three hour ride to Luxembourg.

I was now able to test out my new Kindle, and indeed – the ‘Whispernet’ aspect is fantastic. Its free internet started right up, and while it is very basic and painfully slow, it does ensure I can access vitals like email, Wikitravel, and my latest is getting Google Maps – no scrolling around, but I can see and zoom on the map.

Before long I’d passed through Belgium and into the open landscapes and rolling valleys of Luxembourg (country). It’s worth noting that I’ve not found a simple way to differentiate between Luxembourg the city and Luxembourg the country without specifying each time. Hopefully by the next post, this’ll be remedied…

Next time – Luxembourg City!

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