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20/05/2015: Travel Destinations - Georgia Hill

There are so many wonderful places to visit in the world and to celebrate the e-book publication of my new novel The Jade Lioness, I've asked some of my fellow authors to tell me what their favourite exotic (or not so exotic?) travel destinations are and to recount some of their travel tales (good or bad!). Today Georgia Hill is going to tell us about a rather unusual journey:-

I love train travel. The journey across the Cotswolds from my home in Herefordshire to Paddington is wonderful if a little leisurely. I've been lucky enough to take the Orient Express from Venice and hope, one day, to travel across Canada by train. I'm even a bit of a steam train geek and get childishly excited whenever I can go on one. Soot smuts and all.

Travelling on the Trans-Siberian Railway in the winter of 1989 was a whole other experience. Gorbachev was in power and the old Soviet system was just beginning to crumble. It was an exciting time to go. I travelled with a group of other westerners (it was the only way possible back then; independent travel wasn't permitted) some of whom claimed were making a documentary for television. They had caused us all sorts of problems at border control, where their enormous cache of film equipment raised alarm and suspicion in the customs officers. Glasnost may have been at its height but it hadn't filtered through to old-school Soviet bureaucracy!

We boarded the train in Moscow and were headed to Irkutsk and a hard-frozen Lake Baikal, the most easterly point we were allowed. A journey of four or five days. The sleeping compartment was comfortable enough, even though my boyfriend and I had to share with two strangers. The washing and toilet facilities were pretty basic - but even the Orient Express doesn't do ensuites!

As westerners, we were treated with an equal measure of reverence and suspicion. One or two hardier members of our group strayed to second class to chat with the Soviet passengers but it was futile as the language barrier proved impossible. A young, broad-faced female guard sat at the end of our carriage, dispensing hot chai from an ornate, silver-plated samovar. We drank it from glasses in equally glamorous holders. It was a welcome distraction and broke up the long, boring days.

Food was a bit of a lottery. It began well but three days into the journey, meals depended on whatever supplies could be had at the remote stations at which we stopped. One lunch, which consisted of a bowl of watery broth with a whole boiled egg sitting at the bottom, stays in the memory. Goodness only knows what the less favoured passengers in second and third class ate.

The scenery passing by was monotonous. It was exactly the same day after day. Forest upon snow-covered forest of pine trees, only enlivened by the odd dacha or wooden house. I've never felt the sheer scale of a country in quite the same way.

The train was extremely hot. Despite it being the depths of a Russian winter, it remained a steamy 30C or so. Hot, quarrelsome and more than a little stir-crazy, we took to jumping off at stations and running around in T-shirts and jeans, indulging in snowball fights. We recorded a low of -32C at one point, so the novelty of breathing fresh, cold air soon waned and we returned to our stuffy cabins.

One morning, as we were queuing to get back on, feeling the cold freeze the hairs on our bare arms and faces, we heard a knocking sound from underneath the train. Further investigation proved it was our trusty samovar girl. She was hammering at something underneath the rudimentary toilet facility. Turned out whatever went into the toilet simply came out onto the track below. Only, in the sub-zero Steppes, it froze onto the bottom of the train, blocking the toilet. In between serving us delicious, hot chai, her other job was to keep the toilet clear.

After that, funnily enough, we weren't quite so keen to visit her samovar.

What became of the film makers? The leader of our group who suffered a heart attack? The arrest in Samarkand? The sinister men in black who shadowed us? Well, that's an entire novel! One I intend to write some day.

Love, Georgia x

Thank you so much, Georgia - so glad I wasn't on that train with you, doesn't sound like my cup of tea! 🙂

Georgia Hill's non train-based novel, While I Was Waiting, is out in July with Harper Impulse. And you can find her here:-

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