‘The Godfather of trains’: the Trans-Mongolian from Moscow to Beijing

For the author of Around the World in 80 Trains this was a standout journey, full of captivating encounters that could only happen on a train

With the air of melodrama unique to chic French women, the lady opposite me yanked open the overhead window then sat back down, grumbling to no one in particular and fanning herself with a copy of Paris Match. An aroma of pine filtered into the carriage and a breeze cooled my brow as the train clattered south to Béziers. Edging up to the window, I looked down to where a curl of sand and green water had appeared, an oasis where children bobbed about in dinghies and leapt off limestone rocks. This was the essence of why I love train travel: it allows me to see what’s behind the trees in the Massif Central; to smell the coconut being fried in huts in Kerala; and to spot rainbows hovering in the spray of Niagara Falls.

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