It began with a joke in a Beijing bar when they saw on the news the travel chaos caused by the ash from Iceland's erupting volcano. And a few days afterwards, the three young Belgians are about to embark on a journey they call 'a crazy dream' - taking the trans-Siberian train to get back to work or school as many other stranded Europeans scramble to go home in light of the cancellation of thousands of flights. The longest railway in the world, which connects Asia and Europe, has seen ticket sales rise as travellers choose that route rather than wait at the airport. Despite the 10 days of travel time - and no shower along the way - Maxime Schidlowsky, 26, said he and two friends would be taking the train from Beijing to Moscow tomorrow because it was the fastest and surest means of getting home. 'I only planned to be here for a week but I am forced to take a month off now,' he said. 'I need to go back to work.' Schidlowsky arrived in Beijing on April 10 to visit a friend, Alice Meurice, 23, who has been in Beijing since March with another friend, Sarah Ladan, 25. Both Meurice and Ladan are university students in Brussels. The three will spend seven days on the train to Moscow, stopping for the day before taking another train to Kiev. And with some luck, they hope to get train tickets back to Brussels. The long rides and much higher costs - 13,000 yuan (HK$14,780) each and a fast-track visa to Russia for 686 yuan - at first seemed daunting. But they began to seriously consider the option when they realised they would not get a flight until early next month. 'When we were having drinks at a bar on Saturday night, we joked about taking the trans-Siberian train, swimming back home, or buying a car to drive home,' Ladan said. 'But when we went to the Beijing International Airport on Monday, our flight was of course delayed and we were told that the earliest flight we could get was on May 6. And we were also worried that there might be another round of eruptions,' Meurice said. While on the trains, Ladan said she would be working on her thesis to meet an early June deadline and save time by preparing for two coming exams. The Belgians consider the week-long rides 'a good deal'. 'If you come from Europe on the trains it will cost 30,000 yuan,' Schidlowsky said. Ladan said: 'A lot of my friends in Belgium said: 'What, you are doing the trans-Siberian train, you're so lucky'.' With the Icelandic volcanic eruptions losing their intensity, many European countries reopened their skies yesterday. But airlines are expected to take days or weeks to clear their backlog. An employee with the China International Travel Service said the travel chaos had boosted trans-Siberian ticket sales from a few in a week to more than 20 this week. 'A dozen people left on Wednesday, and another dozen will be leaving on Saturday,' she said. 'It's a lot of people for us given that we only sell a few tickets a week on average.' The trans-Siberian train leaves twice a week from Beijing on Wednesday and Saturday. A person in the travel industry said her company had received a significant increase in inquiries, including requests from foreign embassies to help their citizens get home. 'Some people have to fly to Beijing from places like Thailand and take the train, because they urgently need to go home,' she said.