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Irkutsk, Russia

RUSSIAN FEDERATION | Sunday, 23 December 2007 | Views [646] | Comments [5]

Hello again! I finally made it into Irkutsk, Russia!! Oh man, the train trip from Ulaanbaatar started in a chaos as I was the only foreigner at the station and totally unable to communicate, but thankfully with a bit of sign language, I got passed the begging kid on the platform, and the throng of people and luggage, and the Provodnitza to get on board the right carriage. But it looked like my berth was taken by some Mongolian family, so I settled myself into a vacant berth, but when the Provodnitza found out, she would have dragged me out by the ears if she could have. Number 6, number 6!! Ok, ok, my mistake, sorryyy! :) Fortunately I landed in the same berth as Gabriel, a Frenchy who I had met on the first train from Beijing, and a kind old Mongolian woman. At least I could speak broken English with the Frenchy which was a big relief.

Once all that was sorted out and we settled in, the ride to the border was taken over by sleep. On waking, we found ourselves at the Mongolian side of the border where departure and customs forms had to be completed and the Mongolian border guards searched everyone's berths. It took a couple of hours and there's nothing to do but wait it out. When we got rolling again and crossed into Russia, we stopped at the Russian border town of Naushki where more entry/departure and customs forms were filled in (in triplicate for god's sake) and passports and visas were checked along with the searchin of the berths - 3 times!! On top of this, there was a lot of shunting back and forth of cariages as they changed engines. No wonder we got stuck for hours waiting through all this, but the Russian border guards aren't one for messing with and a stray look could end you up in a Siberian lockup. So most of this day was spent sitting still at stations with no toilet breaks!

The rest of the ride into Irkutsk was uneventful, but there seems like 50 small villages that the train stopped at on the way, dragging out a relatively short trip into a tedious one. There was no dining cart this time so I got by on my Mongolian noodles and apples :). Frenchy had some chocolate which sweetened up the ride too.

I slept ok and woke up to the pre-dawn twilight at Irkutsk station. I saw the twinkle twinkle of light snow falling in the pale light and all around were blankets of thickening snow. My transfer got me into the taxi after explaining the workings of the train station and how to look for the correct platform when I leave in a couple of days. He showed me to the hotel and my room, and I wanted to organise a tour up to Lake Baikal, which some of the vodka train gang were going to, as well as Frenchy, but will see how that pans out later. After a welcome shower and a shave (my room isn't as nice as Ulaanbaatar but better than Beijing), I went downstairs to use the ATM for some roubles. It didn't work! And the money exchange lady wouldn't exchange my Mongoloian togrogs. OK there must be another bank in town open on a Sunday yeah? Yes there was :) so I left the hotel in search of cash.

Then it struck me. I was in a winter fairyland! I didn't notice on the ride in earlier, but now under the early morning sun, the scenery was a postcard in every direction. Across the hotel is the main (park) centre of town, completed with ice sculptures, blankets of snow weighing down the leafless trees, and the crisp cold air icing up my moustache again (i'm getting used to that, hehe). As it was early Sunday morning, only a few people were walking about, and hardly an Asian in sight. I could feel the European culture emanating from everywhere. Old restored 19th century buildings bordered the streets as I headed to the 'other' hotel to change money.

Sliding down the icey sidewalks (at least they have sidewalks) and admiring the scenery, I got to the money exchange only to have my Mongolian money refused. Aye aye aye, not good. But lo' and behold there was an ATM in the corner and this one DID work :). Feeling so much better, I walked back along a different route and took some pics of old churches, snowy scenery, and some kids sliding down an ice slide in the park right near a big Christmas tree. I got back to the hotel, had a coffee and something to eat, before finding this internet cafe to keep you all posted. Maybe now I can load up some pics! :)

Tags: Misadventures

Comments

1

Hey m8, sounds cold heheh. I cant wait to see yu pics and sure am looking forward to you visiting maya land and hearing all about it, i know your gunnu love that !

Hey merry christmas dude and i will be thinking of you on that day, Enjoy

:) :) :) :) :) :) :)

  Leeroy Dec 23, 2007 10:37 PM

2

yoooo matty...what a drama you've been through...lol...and what a lot of fun..hehe...yep those border guards can be a bit threatning looking..hehe..glad you made it through though...I remember when I went into Italy on a train and the guards checked my passport, with them was the nastiest looking German Shepard I'd ever seen, I'm sure it wanted to take a bite out of me..lol...keep up the posts matt..they are great little narratives...take care mon....and Merry Christmas...partyy onnnnnnn..lol

  chris Dec 23, 2007 11:20 PM

3

Hey Matt, you'll get used to the misadventures and the scary ruskies! Its all part of it. i cant wait to see your pictures too!

  aberline Dec 24, 2007 12:06 PM

4

Hi Uncle Mat. I like your writing style, it's very interesting reading. Love Harry

  harry Dec 24, 2007 3:01 PM

5

Matt, sooooooo interesting. If you don't submit your journal to b published on you return, you're mad!! It's so informative and beautifully written.
You certainly had a white Christmas this year.[we had a 41c xmas day here!]How are u possibly staying warm??? all the thermals in the world would'nt keep me warm in those conditions!
Will look up on the net some of the monuments/museums etc u mentioned, all sounds fascinating. Keep well and safe, and keep writing. Love A/Barb xx

  Aunty Barb Dec 26, 2007 2:47 PM

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