Border boredom

Trip Start Jul 02, 2010
Trip End Aug 02, 2010

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Where I stayed
Trans Siberian Railway

Flag of Russia  ,
Sunday, July 25, 2010

Well we didn't get quite the amount of rest we had hoped for – at about 2am our room telephone started ringing. I assumed it was something to do with our transfer so I picked up. The woman caller, after determining I could speak English, then asked "Would you be interested in a beautiful Russian woman tonight"? I said “nyet” and hung up. I’m guessing it’s something this two-bit hotel arranges since they knew our room number and we were male travelers. Do your damn research first, bitch!

We were supposed to be provided with a breakfast box but, just like Listvyanka, this hotel conveniently forgot (apparently reminding them three times last night weren’t enough). Our transfer driver delayed taking us to the station, convinced there should be three of us. We finally convinced him the other traveler was going to Vladivostok not Ulan Bator and he finally left.

We had higher hopes of this train after the last one, and we were half right. For starters, the restaurant car is nicer and the bathroom much cleaner. Unfortunately though our cabin was putrid! The mattresses are badly stained (too scared to think what of) and both it and the pillow are barely an inch thick. The floor and table were really dirty too so we are grateful this 1119km journey is only 26 hours. But the ABSOLUTE worst things are our fellow Mongolian travelers!

When we boarded, the people in the cabin next to us – 4 French people – had to wait in our cabin because a group of Mongolians decided to crash in theirs instead. And it wasn’t just their normal belongings they brought. All the other Mongolians traveling – have brought boxes and boxes of cheap products, food (such as pepper and vegetables), clothing, toys and electrical wiring which we assume they will be selling somewhere. They are constantly carrying boxes of items between carriages, as well as leaving them in the hallways and the area between the carriages. And the carriage attendants don’t do anything about it!

We were determined to not let it piss us off so we went to sleep straightaway. We were fortunate to get five hours before going to check out the restaurant car. They were only serving one thing – borsht – so we both had that and went back. There was something called “Tobacco Chicken” though which sounded really…appetizing. The scenery outside has been remarkable – there is a lot of wide open plains as opposed to forests and Russian villages. Also the occasional smoke belching factory pops up for a bit of diversity!

When we arrived in Ulan Ude, we had a half hour stop and suddenly, the Mongolians jumped into action! They were using every available train window – even the doorways – to try and peddle their wares to people on the platform. Nothing was really tempting since they lacked the charm of a Russian babushka. It was still an entertaining sight to see the havoc on the train platform.

Later on, I was in the hallway trying to charge the laptop, while constantly avoiding Mongolians carrying their wares from carriage to carriage. I’m not sure what happened, but some sort of official in uniform then barked at them for leaving everything lying around. It was like being on an aeroplane and having all your aisles and emergency exits blocked by hand baggage!

Before we knew it, we had reached the Russian border for our first border crossing. I had hoped the guidebooks had been exaggerating when they said it can take 6 hours in total. They weren’t :-(

When we arrived at Naushki, the Russian officials boarded and collected everyone’s passports. Since the process takes so long, most of us disembarked and walked to a nearby store, or waited on the platform. We also had to fill in customs forms. When customs boarded, they searched every nook and cranny of each cabin, even removing ceiling panels and lifting the flooring. We had an advantage being Westerners as our luggage was barely looked at whilst the Mongolians were really searched. We were relieved when we finally started moving after 3 hours – although we then had the same process coming into Mongolian immigration. We secretly hoped they would be quicker. They weren’t!

There’s not much more to post here as it isn’t worth mentioning the whole long boring process. But once we were finally on our way again, it was 11.30pm and time for bed.
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