Passing into Russia. First impressions.

Trip Start Jul 11, 2005
Trip End Apr 04, 2006

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Flag of Russian Federation  ,
Friday, February 17, 2006

Russia: mysterious dark continent, remote, inaccessible to foreigners, inexplicable even to natives. That is the myth, encouraged by Russians themselves, who would prefer that on one discover who they really are and how they really live.

- Robert Kaiser, Russia: The People and the Power (1984)

Baikal Region, Siberia, Russia
Prague time +7hrs
Days to get to Prague - 19

The love affair with the train continues
I called this entry 'First Impressions'. Well, we've only spent a few hours in Russia so far, all confined to a train carriage. So this might be a quick entry.

As previously stated we barely made the train in Ulaan Baatar that was to take us to Irkutsk in Russia. But having done so it wasn't long before we were longing for the comforts of the previous carriage we occupied on route from Hohhot in China to Ulaan Baatar. I never thought, having first laid eyes on that compartment, that we'd ever long for it and its doggy, albeit cosy, decor..... but there you go. Let's just say this one wasn't as homely. Or as warm. But, all said, it still beats hard seat travel and quickly recalling that trip but us in better mood and allowed us to wonder what lay ahead in Russia. Truth be told I had been wondering what lay ahead in Russia for as long as I've wanted to travel. Why I can't quite explain it. Hopefully my time in Russia will explain that one. Myself and the Henkster were both in agreement that it was good we were going to have a bit more time in Russia than we did in Mongolia, or Ulaan Baatar, which is essentially all that our Mongolian experienced entailed. Not that we would have seen anymore than we did had we more time. Nope, we were quite content with our Mongolian lot.

Can we have our customs forms, please?
There wasn't much to report from the first leg of the trip from Ulaan Baatar to the Russian boarder. We spent the evening just hanging around our train compartment, trying not to piss anyone off and wondering when we were going to reach the boarder. I was anxious to have my first interaction with a 'real' Russian, even if it was going to be a boarder guard. But just like the train trips we had up to now everything seemed to drag on and eventually tiredness got the better of us and we turned in for the night. We knew at some stage we'd be 'introduced' to some sort of official and sure enough, at some ungodly hour we were awoken by a gruff Russian boarder official requesting we handover our passports. Following the usual anal inspection of seemingly every page of the passport, and the customary "I'm the Don" stares at us, he was gone, passports and all. We were not to see our prize possessions for a few hours. We hadn't even had them returned by the time the train eventually started moving again. That caused a bit of alarm but the Henkster eventually found out they had been left with the carriage attendant. What we didn't get back was the customs sheets we had filled out detailing all we were bringing into the country. We had expected to get them back, stamped, so we could submit them to boarder officials when leaving the country to ensure we get out without hassle. But no. Time will tell if that'll turn out to be an issue.

The Siberian Landscape
So with the boarder check out of the way we awoke the next morning to our first obscured views of Russia and the Siberian landscape. A new country, the 3rd we've entered since leaving Korea some 2 weeks ago. I guess now we really are on the way towards Europe. Our travel headaches should be behind us and it should be plain sailing from here as train connections west from any Russian city on the Trans Siberian rail line are frequent. As for this train trip. Well, as always, I detailed the train trip the rest of the way to Irkutsk via the pictures accompanying this entry. I'll touch base again in Irkutsk where I'll no doubt have a lot to say about Russia and my 'real' first impressions of the country we'll be spending the next few weeks crossing.
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