A Travellerspoint blog

Train Times (Part 2)

The trip from Irkutsk to Mongolia

snow
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Having spent the night awake in the train station, occasionally being moved to have my ticket checked or so the cleaners can clean under my seat, I get on the train at 5am utterly exhausted & so don't register the words 'Ulan Baator' until I wake in the morning when... I panic; I'm moving steadily towards the Mongolian border without a visa! I try to explain to the carriage guard and he seems to tell me that it's fine, but as I'm so unsure of the level of mutual understanding I spend the entire day worrying. Most of what passes by the window appears to be an open air rubbish dump anyway.

Thew train spends 8 hours at the border, where 2 sets of border police check evcery inch of every cabin & after 30 minutes in a room with shouting Chinese & Mongolians I get my passport back complete with a newly purchased Mongolian transit visa. The train pulls away at about 1am and I drift off to sleep, happy in the knowledge that the morning will bring with it the arid expanses of Mongolia.

I wake up to a blizzard. An actual white out. Gutted, I fall back to sleep, periodically waking to check the weather outside my window, but the hours pass by & everything remains white. Just after midday it clears up a little; enough that you can see about 10 meters from the train. My cabin-mates (very well travelled Danish diplomats)tell me this is because we are nearing the Gobi & the snow is evaporating.

I see wild camels!! There's even a baby one which looks as if it's being scolded by its Mum for getting covered in snow! This is more like it. For the first time I venture to the food cabin, where I have mutton stew & feel disconcertingly like I'm in the 1920's.
The snow and mist finally falls back completely, revealing miles of barren land and sand. A herd of wild horses gallop past , dust clouds roll in the distance & despite the cloudy sky I feel like I'm somewhere new.
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Posted by Bimbler 03:34 Archived in Mongolia Tagged train_travel Comments (0)

Irkutsk, and Lake Baikal

I realise that's bad grammar, but somehow I like it.

semi-overcast
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Half tumble-down houses, half peeling soviet apartment blocks, its grassy spaces strewn with litter and syringes, the most interesting thing about Irkutsk is that its river flows directly into Lake Baikal. The lake is big, but also deceptively deep and old. 20% of the worlds fresh water covered by a thick but soon to be gone layer of ice. The day I visit is the last day of the year it's officially 'safe' to cross, but all through the winter people happily drive their cars across the lake from one shore to the other.

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The musical tinkling of shattering ice shards accompany my tentative steps onto the frozen expanse. It is beautiful.

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I walk back to a cafe by the side of the lake and eat red caviar and fish soup and listen to the ice crackle as it begins to disappear.

Classy & Common

Carol x x x

P.S. Just in case you thought I was losing my party spirit, I went back to the hostel & drank an entire bottle of Russian Standard vodka with an underage drinker from Quebec. That's where you get the common. Just to bring the classy back in, the vodka was so good I didn't get a hangover. Oooo Yea!!

Posted by Bimbler 04:16 Archived in Russia Comments (1)

Train Times (Part 1)

Train No. 2 Moscow - Irkutsk

sunny 20 °C
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The modernness of the train is a welcome surprise, set up to aeroplane standards with T.V., LED reading lights & headphone ports leading to the joys of Russian radio. I even get served luke warm 'meals' at regular intervals by the very nice but non-English speaking guard lady. I leave Moscow as it gets dark.

Day1.
The first person I share the carriage with is a late-middle aged man who tries very patiently to teach me Russian. I learn 7 words, increasing my vocabulary by 700% while a Russian-dubbed Beverly Hills Cop plays on loop in the background. In the morning I wake up to sunshine & pine forests as far as I can see. Russia seems so flat! As we continue onwards there are patches of tree-free land, but it is not until we begin to reach the foothills of the mountains that I start to spot villages of barn-shaped houses. All are made of wood & the nicest have the outer slats fitted together in parquet floor-esque patterns. Around a third of them are painted in bright clean colours; Duck egg blue with yellow window frames, purple walls, green walls red walls. Cobalt blue roofing. It is (ironically) like a fantasy Fiddler on the Roof. I start my 3rd book.

Day 2.
I wake up to find to my disappointment that we have left the mountains in the night without catching a single glimpse of them. Instead outside my window I see snow & am told I'm in Siberia & Asia. My afternoon is spent very pleasantly conversing in broken English with a lovely Russian lady as the snow outside disappears & we both try to ignore the drunken 3rd man in the carriage. That night the sun sets as a burning circle of blood red behind the Pine trees. Natalya gets off in the late evening & I start seriously contemplating the next 36hrs awake rather than fall asleep in the same room as drunk man. Luckily for me another passenger gets on & for the first time I feel glad to see a Russian Army uniform.

Day 3.
We have again travelled above the snow line & all around are forests of silver birch & deeply frozen rivers. The houses here are still painted but in more muted colours and every now and then a genuine log cabin can be spotted. I stumble from the train in the still dark morning having lost 5 hours & in very bad want of a shower.

And that's my pretty but uneventful train ride folks! Let me tell you now the30 minute shower when I got to the Hostel was the best I have ever had. Clllllllllleeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaannnnnnnnnn!!!

Much Love
x x x

Posted by Bimbler 02:13 Archived in Russia Tagged train_travel Comments (3)

Moscow

Max Clifford needs a kicking. And in other news today...

sunny 11 °C
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As I boarded the Latvian plane to Moscow I felt my first jolt of pure excitement for the next 6 months. By the time I had made my way through the surprisingly painless Russian customs & taken my seat in a dusty silver taxi I was staring like a true tourist at the illuminated buildings we passed; from imposingly uplit government buildings to stretches of road decked out in moving neon like Vegas.

Moscow is a massive city & up by the university is a bluff where you can see one half of it stretched out beneath you, divided by 6-laned streets (That’s per side) and sprinkled with the gold domes of Orthodox churches that glint in the sun. Around the centre, Soviet style apartment blocks squat for miles in every direction. There are two ski-jumps leading off the cliff & snow can still be seen in piles in the sunless corners of courtyards, but I’ve been lucky enough to arrive in the first full week of sun since October.

There seems to be a general consensus amongst the Muscovites that last week’s snowfall was the city’s last for the winter & everywhere there are men slopping fresh paint onto lamp posts, railings and grates in such thick layers it will probably take all summer to dry. The public (read tourist) places around Moscow are kept spotlessly clean and not just because the city is shaking off winter. The army of cleaners is almost as big as the army of police & there are constantly women mopping down the marble banisters around the park in front of the Kremlin. This is a city that cares what its visitors think of it.

Fairly regularly in Moscow’s centre where I’m staying the traffic will be stopped with no warning & the blacked out car of a dignitary will approach surrounded by a large entourage of shiny black cars. These cars are pretty much the only ones in Moscow not covered in dust. Today I was walking past an ordinary looking building when the noise of the traffic dimmed and into the building’s hastily opened gates roared two police motor cycles, two cars and an impressive, probably armoured almost-limo. Outside the gates another five cars stopped in the middle of the road & out stepped a swarm of Secret Service alikes and two obviously high flying military types. The precision of the operation was really quite impressive & very Russian.

The Metro stops are also very impressive and very Russian (tenuous link alert!). The entrance to the stop nearest me is decorated with a bronze hammer & sickle mosaic & at the bottom of the escalators sits the first of many state security guards, their fleshy stomach resting on the shelf of their tiny kiosk. The stations themselves are all high domed & marble clad with plaster reliefs and chandeliers. They are all slightly different: One is famous for its stained glass artwork, one for its impressively ornate chandeliers, and another for the dark red of its marble cladding. My favourite is Ploschad Revolyutsii which has in its arches 76 full sized statues ‘the creators of the new socialist world’. I’m not really sure what that means, but the statue subjects follow traditional Communist themes – man with dog, farmer woman etc. & are all life sized & life like.

Well anyway, that’s all for the description, I’m having a wonderful time & met some really lovely people, much fun is being had!!

Love and REALLY cheap vodka

Carol x x x

Posted by Bimbler 14:28 Comments (1)

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