When I first found out that there was a train that crossed the Asian continent from West to East, endless cultural images flooded into my young mind. From Moscow’s Red Square to Bejing’s Forbidden City, accompanied by bleak, snowy landscapes along with never ending, dark green forests with cold mountain peaks rising above rushing icy, rivers. A sprawling nature, hiding a multitude of beasts and secret greenery. All of this wilderness, interspersed with modern cities, bulging with history and timeless villages who guard their ancient ways.
I then could imagine the long black train itself. A huge, black iron engine, foreboding and pregnant with power. Yellow sparks flying from the massive, metal wheels. Finally, like a neatly placed cherry on a cake, a great five-pointed red star, protruding afront the circular door of the boiler. A wonder of humankind engineering, steaming through the sub-zero Russian night, carrying it’s sleeping passengers far into the mysterious orient. The Trans-Siberian Express had arrived in my nebulaic imagination, a trip waiting to be born.
Fast forward twenty years to 2018 and an opportunity presented itself for the Trans-Siberian trip to enter my life, in that Go Provence had a ten-year birthday to celebrate. How could we best commemorate this occasion? It was decided that we would mark this milestone by creating a 2020 holiday program that was different to what we normally did. A chance to move up a notch in our expertise. We have worked for ten years providing supported holiday to people with autism, learning disabilities and other support needs, in the pretty hills of Provence, south of France, branching out, here and there, to Italy and Iceland, with success. Ten years of finding our working rhythm. A decade of honing our skills, carefully crafting our philosophy and approach to our guests.
From this, we were able to mindfully select our team members, people who understood our mission, to bring holidays and supported travel to vulnerable people, presented in a respectable, dignified and non-patronising spirit. After ten years we were ready to move our holidays out of Provence and onto wider horizons. An opportunity for us and everyone that would come with us.
Choosing destinations for the 2020 program wasn’t difficult. We knew what would work, and for me the Trans- Siberian Express is the biggest jewel in the Go Provence 2020 crown. In the end, of the three Trans-Siberian routes, we chose the Trans-Mongolian, which passes through three countries. Russia, Mongolia and China. We decided on this to utilise an opportunity to experience more culture for our guests on a two-week trip. Here’s briefly how. (Please note the photographs are of an ancient map on my living room wall, using a piece of red wool to depicts the train route. The wool was stuck on using blue tack. Very authentic I think, although my wife says it looks tacky.)
A stop off in the capital, Ulaan Battar, and then onwards again in a south easterly direction, through the red, thirsty, Gobi Desert, into China and getting ever closer to the Yellow Sea. An embracing welcome from China’s capital, Beijing, ends this trans-continental, epic journey.
The Trans-Mongolian unites landscapes and experiences into the journey of a lifetime. As Monisha Rajesh, British author of ‘Around the World in Eighty Trains’, put it in her book, ‘The Trans-Mongolian is the Godfather of all trains, full of captivating encounters that could only happen on a train’.
From my initial wonder and mystique of the journey, to the reality that will be our trip with this journey, proudly fixed into the Go Provence calendar for September 2020, I have waited 20 years for the right time. A trip like this is worth waiting for, they don’t come along very often.