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.


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Irkutsk

After Sludyanka, Anja and I returned to Irkutsk.  For me, it was the jumping point for my train to Mongolia.  For her, she intends to stay for a few more weeks exploring the shores of Lake Baikal.  I think I’ll explore the shores of Lake Baikal during the summer time when its WARM.

Only a quick day trip to the city.  I was planning on just staying in the train station to do some writing but needed to check my email to check on family and friends (one in particular).  Anja and I scoured the area around the train station looking for the phantom internet cafe that was advertised on huge billboards.  When we finally found it, we learned that they had not paid their internet bill and they were shut down (something not uncommon in Russia and Mongolia).

Anja and I took a train into town.  She went in search of her new hotel, I went looking for the internet cafe.  2 or 3 hours later, we finally found the internet cafe.  And, it was closed on Sunday (today)…  so, I’ll have to wait 3 days until I’m in Mongolia to email friends and family…

On the walk into town, I spotted this interesting Siberian house.  I couldn’t tell if the left side had settled and bent the house or if it was actually constructed on un-leveled ground?

While searching for the net-cafe, I came across a “soup kitchen.”  Some folks where handing out hot soup and bread to the needy.  Anja and I saw one homeless man in Sludyanka who was sleeping on the curb.  He had a jacket and blanket and did not look well, I don’t think he will make it through the Siberian winter.

After a few hours of looking for the  internet, we decided to try out a Mongolian restaurant that was recommended to us by some British students that we had met.  The food was wonderful, we started with a vegetable tray (pictured) followed by some Mongolian dumplings.  The food was top-notch.  What was a little startling (at first – but it settled in after a time) was seeing horse offered on the menu.  I had never seen horse meat on a menu before.  As I prepared to travel to Mongolia, I had a feeling that this would be the first, but not the last time that I would run into horse meat on the menu…


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