Siberian Summer Time

Trip Start Apr 16, 2009
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Russian Federation  , Siberia,
Saturday, July 11, 2009


So back in Irkutsk we had a bit of a lie-in and then planned a lazy day strolling around before having an early night ahead of our 5.15am train on sunday morning. Unfortunately this wasn't to be the case as we met Geoffrey ('Le Freestyler') and Julia from the Caledonia in town and planned to have reunion drinks that evening. We attempted to do our walking tour still but in the scorching Siberian heat (36 deg!!!!) it was hard going. Luckily we found shade in the parks alongside the Angara river where we could take plenty of ice cream breaks. Irkutsk is a very pleasant city - clean, nice wide streets and a nice mix of grandiose stone/concrete architecture with a good smattering of classic Siberian brightly painted wooden houses.

After stocking up with more pot noodles and packing our stuff we headed out for the evening to meet Geoffrey and Julia, quite fittingly next to the memorial to trans-siberian construction workers. Rather than go inside in the still considerable heat we did as the locals do and bought some cheap beer from a kiosk along with some paper 'bottle sheaths' (i.e. brightly coloured paper bags - we think this makes it legal to drink in public...?) and sat out by the river watching the sun set. 

The giggling Danish girls that we had met on Train no. 2 turned up in our homestay that night and it turned out they had a minibus coming to pick them up at 4:45am which we were able to shotgun seats on. During the drive to the station the only traffic on the streets of Irkutsk was a fleet of taxis carrying western backpackers out to the train station to meet the trans Mongolian Train no. 6.

The early start did mean that we got to watch the sunrise as our train wound along the southern shores of the lake. By this point we were back in second class but Corina the Swiss girl was (randomly) our cabin companion and we had another spare berth. Corina and Ritchie lay on their top bunks taking pictures of the view from the open windows - Train no. 6 was slightly older but it had it's advantages like being able to open windows - until we all fell asleep.

When we woke later the scenery was starting to change, the thick forests of Siberia were already giving way to the flat grassy plains that Mongolia is renowned for. Alongside the Selenga river we snaked towards the Mongolian border, and prepared our documents for the dreaded Russian border control.

Well they didn't disappoint. A seven hour sweat-a-thon to get out of Russia and into Mongolia. First the passports are collected. Then the train is shunted around as they extract the dining car from the middle of the train (not sure what harm it was doing). Eventually we are allowed off (bear in mind that for half an hour before any major stop all toilets on the train are always locked until you are good distance away again). There was one tiny Russian shop of the 'glass counter' variety at Naushki (border) station whereby you cannot be trusted to touch anything so you have to run around when it's your turn to be served with an assistant on the other side of the counter mirroring you whilst you try to explain that you are pointing at the beef pot noodle next to the crisps and not the packet of dried fish on the shelf above in front of the peanuts. Still, that was good to waste some time. With the air con off as the train is at rest we spent an hour and a half on the platform until the Provotniks herded us back onboard. Was this it? Were we ready to leave? Of course not. At some point we got given forms to fill in in duplicate and after another hour Russian passport control deigned to give us our passports back. Now all we had to do was have customs make a thorough search of every cabin on the train (inc. unscrewing the roof panels), have sniffer dogs pass the length of the train, collect in all the forms (and correct your mistakes) and we were away! To the Mongolian side. They put in a sterling effort and only detained us for three further hours on top of the Russian's four, but we didn't care by now. We were already hot and smelly and in despair had turned to our vodka supply, mixing it with Corina's 'Kvas' to help numb the border pain.   
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Where I stayed
Baikaler Hostel
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