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nomadnorrie From Sydney to the formula 1 grand prix in Shanghai, Beijing, South Korea, Mongolia, Russia, Ukraine and Europe. Final destination by train is London. Hopping on a flight to Finland, then on to Japan and finally back to Sydney.

Fun on the Trans-Siberian

CHINA | Sunday, 11 May 2008 | Views [2708]

One of the stops from Beijing to Irkutsk

One of the stops from Beijing to Irkutsk

I boarded the train to find an empty 4 berth carriage just for me. Then half an hour later an English girl, Denise, travelling home on the trans-siberian railway came in. She was nice to talk to although it was very easy to see how much younger than me she. Not long after we got underway a Russian guy that lives in China started chatting to me in Chinese. It turned out that he wanted us to carry some beer over the border for him. Not wanting to risk being accused of drug running or smuggling, we declined of course.

The train ride was slow but relaxing and after one and a half days of looking out of the window we finally made it to the Russian border. At 3am we were woken by the carriage attendant (provodnista). By 5am the Chinese border guards were checking our belongings. They checked inside my small bag and as soon as they found my computer they wanted me to start it up. I did and then the guard, in a pretend curious manner asked to see my photos. "Have you been to Tibet?"
"What about Xinjiang?"
"Do you have any photos of Tibet."

He then proceeded to check all of my photos on my laptop and the two cameras that he found in my small bag. They were obviously looking for riot photos but sadly I didn't have any. Even after I had shown the border guard where my photos were he took my computer and searched for images himself, the Chinese obviously feel very insecure about revolting peasants. Anyone that does have some should think about hiding them on a hidden partition/memory card or cd.

The first morning on the train

By mid morning the Russian border guards stood outside our compartment. A Russian woman that perfectly fitted the Russian stereotype appeared. With a stern look on her face she barked at us asking for passports. Holding mine up she motioned me to take off my glasses, still not happy she told me to face her. 1 Minute into meeting her it felt like I'd be marched off and interrogated! She stood there for a while and prodded my passport - almost all border officials do now because the back cover is peeling and the front cover has faded. She then started talking to me in Russian and I had absolutely no idea what she was talking about, obviously. The Chinese speaking wannabe beer-smuggler was called into the carriage by the provodnista and he translated into Chinese for me: "Where did you get your visa?" A few moments later she was gone and I was able to breathe again. I was desperate to take her photo but she had a very definite "I bite" look about her, the same as most Russian women as I found out later.

Guards at the border checking the wheels sound right with a hammer

At Irkutsk Denise and I got off the train, we left the station to find a couple of Chinese guys being asked for id by a policeman. Apparently policemen check visa registration papers to make sure they are in order - clearly a very important task - so that they can extract fines from unwitting travelers. Those poor Chinese guys, according to the youth hostel police mainly look for Asians and it is much more common in Moscow or St Petersburg.

I made my way to the Liverpool pub for a beer and met up with Denise and another guy called Paul. Sadly I missed the best bit because I had to make my way back to the Downtown hostel which is apparently in a bad area. After I left others were joined by the Liverpool's resdient singer and then later by a couple of Russian guys. The singer played them any song they asked for and one of the young Russian guys said "I am not a bandit" to reassure them of his friendliness.

Back at the Downtown hostel I had a brief conversation with the blond Russian girl that was working there. I initially asked her about whether Russians eat lots of vegetables because the nearby large supermarket only had a small selection of mangey veggies. She reckons people eat lots of meat because of the cold. She went on to say that she liked the weather and that 25 degrees is rather nice and warm. I checked and yes she meant -25 saying "yes, -37 is cold but -25 is comfortable."

The next day I went to get my train ticket from the service centre above the train station booking office. The woman spoke sufficient English for me to not have to speak a word of Russian so I was pleased. I had the bunk next to Denise on the 18th, only I was heading to Moscow and Denise only as far as Yekaterinberg.

I went for a day trip to Lystvyanka and looked at the frozen lake. People had been telling me that it would be freezing cold but an hour after I arrived the wind dropped and the sun came out. It was gorgeous.

Lstvayanka side street

Lake Baikal, partially frozen

Lake Baikal, partially frozen

I wandered about, found the market and strolled around the main back street. Finally I gave in and bought some smoked Omul fish from the market. Using my fingers I haggled the price down to 30 from 40 and couldn't wait to taste it because it smelt great. I went over by the lake shore to eat it. It was delicious. I stood next to the groups of Russians doing the same thing (except they all had bottles of beer to wash it down). I went straight back and bought another 2. Wandering around the lake shore I bumped into Denise. She was struggling to find her home stay for that evening and so we spent the rest of the afternoon walking about, talking and looking for the home stay. Finally I had my second joy-rider style bus trip back to Irkutsk and even the driver spoke a bit of English. Isn't Russian supposed to be hard I thought.

Smoked Omul, 30 Rubles a fish



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