On learning that 2005 was the 100th anniversary of the completion of the Trans-Siberian Railway, we decided that it was time to fulfill a lifelong desire of riding the rail line and visiting Lake Baikal, which contains 20 percent of the world's freshwater.
After a flight to Moscow, we spent a day and a half revisiting Red Square and surrounding attractions, and meeting the travel agent who put together our journey, which also would include trips to Mongolia and China.
The first rail segment was a 30-hour ride to Yekaterinburg, during which we communicated using our Russian-English dictionary and learned how to survive the remaining five segments of our railway travel.
The train's toilets consisted of two small facilities in each carriage with a tiny sink. The toilets flushed directly onto the tracks. All lavatories were locked well before we came into each station.
Every train station platform was filled with local people selling all manner of items, including water, dried foods, fresh produce and handicrafts. In Yekaterinburg, we were met by our first English-speaking guide.
Our next two-day train ride brought us to Novosibirsk, deep in the forests of Siberia, a beautiful town of ornate old wooden houses and many cathedrals. Two more days on the train brought us to the Lake Baikal region. We spent time seeing the lake, horseback riding, hiking, sightseeing and eating fresh omul, fish that are unique to Baikal.
The trip from Russia to Mongolia had a festive atmosphere because we were among many tourists from all over the world.
We spent three days in Ulan Bator, and we went into the steppes to ride horses and see Mongolian wrestling and archery displays. We had a chance to visit a nomadic family in their yurts - round, tentlike homes - where we were welcomed with hospitality and food. We learned that while there is no education for most children in Mongolia, there is a desire to learn about the world.
Leaving Ulan Bator, we crossed the hot and windy Gobi desert into China. The trip to Beijing had spectacular views of large, unrestored segments of the Great Wall. We also had dismal views of erosion and garbage. The Chinese treatment of trash seems to be: out the back door and out the train window.
Beijing had changed since our visit six years ago. It looked cleaner and more modern.
The entire trip was arduous and thrilling. We saw changes for the better in Moscow and Beijing. We found places to which we will return, such as Lake Baikal. We met people from more than a dozen countries and four continents and were treated well by all.
We talked with young adults from around the world, and found they all shared the same set of values - pride in home, no matter how humble, love of family, need for education, a desire to better themselves, and hopes for improved international relations among countries.
Dave and Peg Dougherty live in Pylesville.