Deciding which way to go took us around one year. When travelling you will always make 'spur of the moment' decisions about where you go next or how you get there. However the bureaucracy involved in planning this particular epic meant that we had to have a rough idea of which way to go before we set off.
Europe itself posed few issues beyond deciding to go north, south or central. Anne's son has some Ukrainian ancestry and we thought we might like to go and see if we could find any traces of his family there and that virtually decided that we take a central route through Southern Germany and the Czech Republic. This suited me as well as I've always been a fan of the Czechs ever since I visited Prague just after the Velvet Revolution. All of these countries are visa free for us so we could just simply turn up and go.
Russia, however proved to be a little more challenging. You can't simply buy a visa, firstly you have to obtain a 'letter of introduction' from a 'registered travel agent', list your itinerary including confirmed hotel reservations and then apply for the visa from the Russian Embassy. We were tempted to simply get on a train and travel straight through although it would be a pity not to stop off at a few places and have a look around. It seemed however that we would have work out exactly where we were going and when we would be there in advance - not our style at all. Fortunately we discovered a website called '
Way to Russia'
which offered the aforesaid letters without the need to set firm itineraries or timescale's. It all seemed to be a bit of a scam, but we bought letters of introduction from them having outlined a rough route east from Moscow along the Volga valley as far as Stalingrad (sorry Volgograd). We chose this way partly because Russia is not a particularly cheap country and we wanted to keep the costs down by taking the shortest route through - but including Moscow as we both wanted to have a look around there.
In order to see as much of China as possible we decided to head through Central Asia rather that along the more traditional Trans Siberian route across Mongolia. This led to another potential visa nightmare as all but one of the new Central Asian republics also wanted letters of introduction, along with some pretty hefty visa fees. We finally decided to bypass all of this by sticking solely to the huge Republic of Kazakhstan which was happy to just sell us a visa. (A decision we actually have regretted - in hindsight we would probably have gone the extra mile and organised visas for at least Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan). This gave us a choice of route either north over the Urals and down past the former nuclear testing site near Semey or south along the Volga and across the deserts around where the Aral Sea used to be. We chose the latter - it seemed that all Kazakhstan had to offer were environmental disasters!
The route through China really only had one goal set in advance and that was to see the terracotta army of the First Emperor near Xi'an. I added a side trip to the Giant Panda Research Centre near Chengdu and a look around Shanghai - surly one of the worlds most impressive skylines. Apart from that it was a matter of joining the dots and having a look at what else was of interest in the surrounding area.
This gave us a proposed route of:-
Eurostar to Brussels
.... which we more or less stuck to.
In terms of actually buying tickets we purchased Eurostar tickets to Brussels with a few Airmiles that we had remaining, and got sold a couple of nights in a 4 star hotel for very little money in the process. I then bought train tickets from Brussels to Frankfurt and a night in a hotel in Frankfurt from the excellent Deutsche Bahn website. After that we were on our own following our noses.