Photo Essay: Across Eurasia in 50 days

A journey from Oxford to Beijing in 16 pictures


Phileas Fogg took 40 days – October 2nd to November 11th, half of his allotted time around the world – to reach the port of Shanghai from London. When I returned to China overland from England this autumn, it took me 50 days. Bested by ten days – drat! Of course my aim wasn't to "jump mathematically" between train and boat connections, as Mr Fogg did, but to take my time and see Western Europe slowly change into Eastern China.

I will be writing something longer of the trip later, in one form or another, but for now here is a teaser. If a picture speaks a thousand words, these sixteen are a Kindle single's worth. They trace my journey from Oxford (my hometown) over the channel, across Northern Europe and through Belarus, before hopping on the trans siberian through Russia and Mongolia to Beijing. I set off on September 1st, and arrived on October 20th.

Along the way, I got attacked by a naked Dutch man with iron rings in his genitalia, saw underground theatre and election-night partying in Belarus, got lost in the woods in Siberia, and froze my socks off in a tent in Mongolia. There were nights out from Berlin to Moscow to remember (if only I could). And, being a solitary journey, plenty of time for introspection.

Here are the pics.


Leg one – after hitching to Canterbury, a 30km country walk to Dover and farewell to England's green and pleasant land. Which, contrary to the evidence of London and meteorologists, exists.


Fresh off the boat, I couch surfed from Calais to Amsterdam. This is the painful morning after an impromptu house party with impoverished bohemian artists (the only kind) in Lille.


"Greetings Alec, I am here for your soul." Ah, I will never forget my host Karel's warm greeting to his socialist co-housing community near Rotterdam, nor our birthday suit swim at the nudist beach.


Shooting across Germany on the first of many trains, a family friend in former East Berlin points to the line of the wall, across which he had waved to his son who had escaped to the Western half.


From Berlin's history to its nightlife. This was the most bizarre dark techno, routed through a joystick and an old computer keyboard. Hallucinogens optional but recommended.


A more innocuous type of mushroom, picked by my Polish niece in the woods outside Poznan. Not knowing the difference between poisonous and non, my role was the horse.


Into Belarus, and a dramatic shift of mood. This was a politically charged free theatre performance in a private house (note the knocked-through wall) in the suburbs of Minsk.


And on the eve of widely derided national elections, a Placebo concert. Halfway through, the light system flashed "Democracy-Farce". Don't expect Placebo's return gig in Belarus.


Up to St Petersburg, and a re-entry into Europe. My host Vanya relished the arrival of a travelling Englishman as an excuse to get stinking drunk in the bathhouse every night.


Topical graffiti in Moscow. Most Russians seemed to dismiss Pussy Riot as naive young girls rebelling without a cause, but agreed their prison sentence was ridiculous.


Enter the beast. The "Rossiya" is the original train service from Moscow to Vladivostok. In the dining car I was cornered into vodka marathons with a man who claimed to be driving it.


I got off the train at Irkutsk, in Siberia, and went to Olkhon island on Lake Baikal to consider the "shaman rocks", go swimming, ramble in the woods, and nurse my wounded liver.


A stop-over in Ulan Bator, before a week's horse-riding and camping on those parts of the Mongolian steppe that aren't (and some of the parts that are) being zealously mined.


The first day of our expedition it snowed, plunging us into minus ten degree nights. Brrrr. I slept in two pairs of long johns, four top layers and three sleeping bags, under two blankets.


The train finally takes me through the Gobi desert and across the Mongolian Chinese border …


... to a familiar station and the end of the trip – but the journey continues.