The Transsiberian Railway – Part VI: The Disappearing Dining Car

(Enroute from Beijing to Ulaanbataar: Inner Mongolia)

“How can a straight line possibly be so complicated?”

It was a fair question.

After our carriage was visited in the dead of night by the beautiful Mongolian immigration officer and her entourage of fur-hat wearing men, we let the soft rumble of the carriage on the tracks lull us to sleep.

Six hours of bumpy rest on a bed rumbling through Mongolia. It was blissful.

Sal, on the other hand… let’s just say I don’t think the beds were made for people 6 feet tall. Anyway.

I awoke to the most beautiful sunrise peaking over the barren landscape. Oranges, pinks, yellows. The deep green of the train snaking behind across the frozen earth.


The land – vast in every direction. The only vegetation is this low-lying grass that I can only liken to tumbleweed, only it clings to the earth like a newborn to its mother.

A single solitary truck drives a dusty road beside the train.

For the first few minutes of groggy consciousness, I actually thought I was looking at a painting – not through an actual piece of glass. And when it took me more than 5 minutes to shake myself into reality (a pinch was involved), the decision to venture for coffee was made.

Now, you have to understand something here. Before we crossed into Mongolia, it was a 20 minute walk from our cabin to the Dining Car.

It involved the opening and closing of 45 doors. Each way.

Let me explain. For each carriage, there is a door at the end of the hallway. A space for a bathroom, and another door going to the “smoking area”. From the smoking area, there are two doors on either side of where the carriages are actually connected. This area is literally outside, and if you look into the gap below your feet, you can see the frost on the train tracks. On the other side of these doors, another smoking area, another two doors… you get the idea. And they’re not automatic. Oh, no. We got a workout every time we walked anywhere.

So imagine our surprise when, after 12 doors and less than 5 minutes… the 13th door opens. To the dining car.
It moved. I don’t know when, and I don’t know how, but it moved. Magically. Just like that. It wasn’t here yesterday.

And, not only has it moved… it’s also been completely removed. This isn’t the same dining car at all!

The 70’s horror film car with the dim lighting and tacky cloth roses in cheap plastic vases on dirty white linen tables… Gone! The awful curtains strung by a rod half-way up the window (so as to completely obscure any view of outside)… Gone!
In its place… pink linen. Flat screen tv’s. Clean, billowy curtains shading the huge glass windows. Unobstructed views.
It’s all been moved, removed, and replaced. All without us knowing. New seating, new menus… there is even a whole new group of staff. Magic.

I never thought I would hear myself say that pink linen and pink seating was a good thing… but I did. And I do. And it is.

And that is the end of that.

How can a straight line be so complicated?

I won’t tell you how we got lost on the way back to the cabin. =P