How it all started and what our plans were
A half-baked idea began to form of flying to Beijing then returning all the way to Scunthorpe via train. Some early discussions with Intourist gave the information that starting off in Beijing was not a good idea as we would begin the trip with jetlag and it made more sense to travel west to east which would mean that the time differences would not be noticed. So west to east it became. Eleanor kept suggesting the Terracotta Army (but was told that was too far from Beijing for this trip) and muttering about the Silk Road (too hot). So Scunthorpe - Irkustk - Ulaan Baatar - Beijing by train then fly back it became.
About this point it began to dawn on Michael that if we were going all the way to Beijing we may as well do something on the way back and he'd always rather wondered what those various small Central Asian countries with -stan at the end were like. One of them, Kyrgyzstan, actually had direct flights to UK and could be accessed by road from China. There was also a growing realisation that travelling for five days across Russia on a train from Moscow to Irkutsk would probably do our heads in. This idea was readily approved by Eleanor as it got her both to the Terracotta Army and along the Silk Road.
A little further research showed that between Beijing and Xi'an is a small walled town called Pingyao which seemed worth a visit. Then one day a brochure came through the post talking about the new railway into Tibet and we thought that as we were, so to speak, passing the door we ought to drop in. By now we were talking to Audley Travel (where we owe Tom Stapleton a debt of gratitude for fielding our many questions and putting up with our frequent requests for changes) who had already produced an itinerary for the short trip.
And so it was fixed. Except it was not to be. A few months before we went there was unrest in Tibet and the region was closed to foreign tourists. We began to develop a contingency plan in case Tibet did not reopen but eventually Audley said they would not send us there as they did not expect it to reopen in time, which it didn't. We had a hole of over a week in the itinerary.
What we finally did is explained in more detail later.
Some of the logic
We wanted to use overnight trains where possible rather than fly. We felt this would avoid wasting time getting to and from airports and flying during the day. It would let us leave in the evening, travel while sleeping and arrive in the morning. It might be a bit more interesting too. We wanted to ensure that we had a comparment to ourselves. Our experiences are reported later.
Given the distances involved in flights, especially on the first leg to Irkutsk, we were prepared to invest in Business Class seats. On the one flight in China it was so cheap to do the same and it gave us a bit of slack with baggage allowances.
We were prepared to put a bit of slack into the schedule to allow us some time to ourselves to wander in a few places.