I was expecting big, hot and busy when I set off for Beijing. Words failed as soon as I arrived.
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Not that you could call Ulaanbaatar a dyed-in-the-wool Asian city. You can feel the Russian presence even though Mongolians are fiercely proud of their independence.
I chose to not risk oversleeping in Irkutsk by staying up and drinking beer in Harat's Pub near the hostel with a chatty boxing trainer who shared his chicken wings.
I'm sitting in a cabin on the Trans Siberian Railway with a Russian army officer's huge fingers clasped around my throat. He bellows into my face from about six inches away.
Passing through Moscow station is like running an obstacle course of soldiers, German Shepherds, metal detectors, policemen and two thousand irritable people.
In search of some new car-free travel tips, I met up with Peter Greenberg, CBS News Travel Editor, Emmy award-winning producer and author of Like a Local Michelin guides. Here is his advice on how to be more responsible on (or rather off) the road.
A few days east of Moscow, a young girl called Susanna got on. She had come up from Kazakhstan and was on her way to an arranged marriage somewhere in the far east.
As I exited the train in Ulaanbaatar, I was surprised by the bustle of activity that greeted us: western-dressed shoppers moving quickly about the city streets and roads flush with late model cars.
An entire group of Russian tourists asked if they too could take my picture! I was a novelty and it was 2010!
The train's first stop Moscow. This capital city was much brighter and stylish than I had remembered.
Thanks to a new project by Google Maps, travel buffs can experience traveling the Trans-Siberian Railway from the comfort of their couch.
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