train to Mongolia

Another 2 day train!  Boy, I’m excited (not).  I’m growing weary of trains…  However, right off the bat, this train ride seemed that it would be fun.  My room-mate, Yuri, was nice and invited me and an Australian couple to sit down for cake and coffee.  It would turn out to be another super 2 day friendship.  The Australian couple, Tom & Iris are also on the Trans-Siberian railroad.  They bought a package deal that includes all hotels and pickups from the train station.  Their trip seemed to be quite hassle free…  Yuri was on a business trip to China.  He goes once or twice a month to work out shipping details.  He exports 3,000 metric tons a month of silicates and aluminum ore to China.  His phone never stopped ringing for 2 days.  He seems to be quite successful; he showed me photos of his vacations in Crete, Greece, Russia, and Italy, posing with his beautiful girlfriend.

As we rolled east and south from Lake Baikal, the landscape changed dramatically.  We gained in elevation and the flat farmland changed into rolling hills with  trees and the landscape looked more akin to what I always thought the Mongolian Nomads would ride across on their horses.

One by one, the small towns rolled by, again reminding me how big Asia is…

For a good 1/2 hour, we rolled along the bank of what looked like a massive lake.  We were surprised to look on the map and see that it was only a river, bulging and wide…

After we gained a little more elevation, I noticed that the rivers were already partially frozen.  Even though we were heading south, everyone tells me that Mongolia is no warmer than Siberia.  I look at my shoes and realize that I’d better go winter clothes shopping…

When we finally arrive at the Russian/Mongolian border, I find out that there is a 6 hour “layover,” that includes customs and immigration checks (for both countries), drug and contraband sweeps, and train changeovers.  Specifically, our passenger car is disconnected from the Russian locomotive and connected to a Mongolian locomotive.


Seperator


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fear of photos

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There seems to be a level of fear that is lingering from the old Communist days; it seems that everywhere I go, many people, usually the older folks, have a fear of having their photo taken.  I saw an Army truck and took the above photo.  As soon as the soldier saw my camera, he pulled his head back and would not expose himself again.  Many of the vegetable sellers, women in the 40′s, 50′s, 60′s, & 70′s absolutely refuse to have their photos taken and look very worried after I snap a pic and they were not aware beforehand.  It is almost as if they expect the KGB to jump out and arrest them if their photo appears on a western blog…



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Ekaterinburg

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The temperature is noticeably colder in Ekaterinburg than it was in Kazan and Yoshkar Ola.  The bitter cold wind bit into my nose, ears, and hands.  As I began my walk from the train station to the city center, I spotted an outdoor vendor who was selling gloves and hats.  I picked up a pair of leather gloves and a wool black watch cap.  I was immediately more comfortable.  As I shot some photos around the train station, I spotted a reflective window and shot a self-portrait of myself wearing my new cap and gloves.

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Walking towards the city center, I looked at the shops and stores, checking out the Russian people as they went to and from work.  I passed the Church Upon the Blood cathedral and stopped to shoot some photos of it and some other sights.  In town I visited the post office and used their internet services to send an email home.  Another American man came in and sat next to me.  His name was Dave and he is from Los Vegas.  We chatted a bit and agreed to meet for lunch to swap “war” stories.  He was going in the opposite direction; Vladivostok to Moscow, passing also through China, Kazakhstan, and finally to Ukraine.

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Mass transport is the norm in Russia.  Some have cars, but certainly not like the US.  Most take the train, trolley car, bus, subway, short metro bus, or taxi.  Everywhwere I go, I see people cued up to board the bus or tram.  It is a good chance to see young and old, all different types of Russians as they make their way around the city.  Of course, the woman, as always, are dressed up in the cutest and most stylish fashions.  And of course, one of the most popular forms of transportation is also the oldest; ankle express.  People walk and walk, always walking somewhere.  It is no wonder everyone is in such good shape.  I would estimate that the average Russian woman walks at least a kilometer a day, and in 4″ high heels!  The constant day-to-day walking excercise certainly burns a fair share of calories; I eat EVERYTHING I can get my hands on, I seem to be eating day and night, and I can’t barely keep my weight up…

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In the city center I visited the city pond where I saw a cute Russian couple taking pictures of each other in front of a gazeebo near the pond.  I offered (as I always do) to take their photo.  It is a good way to get them to reciprocate and take your photo.  I usually target the Japanese if they are around.  Confirming one sterotype; yes, they take the best photos – and, you don’t have to show them which button to press – they know how to operate every make and model.

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Nearby the pond, I witnessed a rally of some type at the Lenin statue.  It seems that every Russian city has a Lenin statue downtown.  I went to the Uspenski shopping center and did some browsing before heading to their top floor for lunch.  The food court at this center provides a nice view of the city center and later Dave joined me.  We shared travel stories and discussed the Russian language and communication barriers that we had experienced.

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I continued walking towards the city center passing the government administration buildings and finally making my way to the walking street.  The Uspenski shopping center towered over the plaza and the book said that the food court on the top floor of the mall had excellent views.  I agreed to meet Dave there for lunch/dinner where we could swap travel stories.  We settled on pizza; when you’re on the run, you can pretty much eat what you want and not put on any extra pounds.  I could probably sell this diet in Hollywood; the “trans-Siberian Railroad diet.”  The English professor at Yoshkar Ola asked me if I ever dieted, “Yes,” I told her, “I’m on a sea food diet, I SEE food, and I eat it.”  She loved the joke and vowed to use it with future students.

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Dave and I met and chatted over dinner.  Sure enough, the guidebook was right, the view was nice.  We watched the sun set and shared travel stories.

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Later, after sunset, I continued touring the town visiting the famous dam that creates the city’s lake.  Reading about the different buildings from my travel book and snapping pictures along the way.  I continually find that I’m pushing my little Sony Cybershot camera to its limits; I wish I had my SLR with me.  But, unfortunately, I shipped it home to save space in my luggage, and it arrived after I had already left for this trip…

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When I arrived back at the train station I saw one man frantically running around trying to apprehend the men that had just mugged him.  Finally, 3 policemen (militsia) arrived and the man frantically begged them to help.  He ran off towards the direction that the criminal(s) went and the policemen walked along at a leisurely pace.  It was then that I saw that one of the homeless people who lived near the train station had been assaulted.  They agreed to let me take their photo if I gave them some rubles.  After shooting their photo, I saw another interesting man who I thought would be a good photo subject.  I decided to add these two pictures because I have focused on the “pretty” things on this holiday.  Ignoring the ugly in Russia would only be ½ of the story.  For my Russian friends, don’t think I’m picking on your country.  I always take guests to 6th street “skid row” in downtown when I receive guests in Los Angeles.  There we see the homeless and the crack heads buy and smoke crack.  I took some friends from Idaho there once and they took home photos posing with crack heads.  They told me that it was the talk of the town when they got back to Smalltown, Idaho.

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Just as in Ukraine, the bank Certificates of Deposit are in the high teens.  If you can stomach a Russian bank, it is a handsome rate of return (17%).

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Stories, posts, reports, photos, videos and all other content on this site is copyright protected © and is the property of Scott Traveler unless otherwise indicated, all rights reserved. Content on this site may not be reproduced without permission from Scott Traveler. My contact information can be found on the home page.

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