A Travellerspoint blog

17-19: Screensaver

sunny 24 °C
View Trans Siberian on weary_feet's travel map.

I've decided to combine the three days on the Trans Siberian from Ulan Ude to Kungur as the days are very similar in action. Our life on the train goes as such:
- Wake up
- Have some brekky
- Go to the loo
- Have a nap
- Read book
- Eat
- Go to the loo
- Play cards
- Read book
- Have a nap
(You get the gist)
So each of the days has been largely the same as the others. Unfortunately the temp on the train has been about 30 deg each day so we have mainly been bitching about how hot we are. Day 2 and 3 has seen weary afflicted with some sort of slight tummy bug so she has spent most of her time asleep on her top bunk trying to get over whatever is afflicting her. My other travelling companions are so far well so fingers crossed they don't get whatever it is that i have.

Another interesting fact is that I have had to again change my dietry habits. Traditionally I would not drink any sort of beer (I just don't enjoy the flavour) well I have had to swap from soft drink to beer as beer is far cheaper than softdrink and is available cold in the dining car!

Food has been sketchy.. Dining car (retro 70s-- bright green vinyl benches-- looks like something that you would see in a Jetson's cartoon) provides Borscht (vege and ham with beetroot) and Perlminy (dumpling) soup (both of which I enjoy) so I've been mainly dining on those combinations for either lunch or dinner. Brekky has been bread with peanut butter and honey (yep i've found my lucky combination) and the other meal is whatever snack-ables we have in our room. You can buy some food on the platforms in Russia but the days of Babushkas (old ladies) cooking up a storm and serving it on the platforms are long gone and Russia has moved to having convenience stores on the platforms.. which is great for an icecream (and of course beer) but not much else.

Overall the three days have really flown (esp cause I slept most of the 2nd day away). The landscape for the last few days has really reminded me of the swampy part of the back of Gladstone (on the old road that I think ran into the back of Kinchela??) where the black swans used to live.. Empty paddocks (no cattle to be seen) with an occasional birch tree and lots of water. Not knowing a hell of a lot about the climate in winter I'm surprised there isn't more farming here as the land looks quite similar to home.. I guess its just too vast and no helicopters to help round up cattle and I think winter would be brutal!

All in all have had a really great time on the train.. we hop off tonight at 1am Moscow time (6 hrs behind Brissie) and go to a hotel in a town called Kungur (still two days out from Moscow) with us visiting an ice cave!

Posted by weary_feet 10:52 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

16: 30% Water

overcast 10 °C

Day started at a more civilised 9pm today with us planning to go for a drive further down the lake shore and visiting a healing hot spring and some famous rock outcroppings.

Today the temp is really cold. I would guess (no internet or tv where we are staying) that the temp would be lucky to be over 11 deg with a really strong cold breeze blowing so we were really cold today. It is the first day that I've busted out my singlet and long sleeved shirt with my jacket.

We went down to the healing hot springs and it really isn't the sort of place where you can sit and enjoy a thermal pool.. the spring comes out of the side of a mountain and runs through this algae infested creek to a bigger river.. you would need to be pretty ill to brave the spring (also considering the temp today-- getting wet wasn't overly appealing).. After a walk around the healing area we took off to see more of the lake and to see the Turtle and Lion's Head rocks.. by this time a few of us were starting to really feel the cold so quite honestly I was out of the car for only about 10 mins before I jumped back in out of the wind.. I'm sure on a warm summer's day LB is really beautiful but on an overcast, windy cold day it really doesn't appeal to this little black duck.

The afternoon was taken up with a nap as by this time the rain had set in and LB had turned into a no-mans land. Around 6pm our Russian hosts heated up the Banya-- banya in Russian means sauna so we spent the night sitting in the sauna and then running outside and going down a slippery slide into LB. This is to say that everyone else partook in this activity. The sauna was far too hot for me (and I was a little worried that the temp wouldn't be appropriate for my BP) so I spent the time in the less hot ante room just soaking up the heat and relaxing and watching everyone else roast alive and then freeze!

Dinner was again mash and rissoles with our hosts putting on an outdoor campfire that we sat around until the sun went down about 10pm. Up v early tomorrow (4am start) to catch the Trans Siberian from Ulan Ude to Kungur (three days non-stop on the train)

Posted by weary_feet 10:41 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

15: 50th parallel

sunny 24 °C
View Trans Siberian on weary_feet's travel map.

Another leisurely start (which was good because we didn't get to bed til midnight). Bkfast was some cold cuts and bread with museli and yoghurt.. Probably one of the best I've had over the past few weeks.

Today we are off to Lake Baikal via the "Old Believer's Village". The Old Believers are Russian Orthodox christians who chose to not follow the reformation of the Orthodox church back in 1666 (Ivan the Terrible's reign).

He decided that the church needed a shake up so decreed that the Orthodox church would change some of its practices.. not beliefs if I understand correctly more of the doctrine and ceremony that happens during the church services.

Those that chose to not follow the new church (and therefore are old believers) were persecuted and exiled to Poland for 100yrs. Apparently many of them died during the exile. Then 100yrs later, Catherine the Great decreed that they needed further exile and were sent to the outer reaches of Siberia. The exodus to Siberia took 8 years of solid walking!!! They were sent in chains with Cossaks to superivse the exodus (so there was no choice in them going to Siberia). I can't imagine wanting to keep to your beliefs that badly that you would walk for 8 yrs solidly in leg and arm irons... They were exiled family by family, I would hate to think how many must have died during the journey.. Isn't it incredible what people will do for religion??

We spent some time learning about the Old Believers and their incredible journey from Poland to Siberia and then the sad thing was that they were again persecuted during the Soviet times and forced to renounce their beliefs and had many of their relics destroyed. In fact, many of their bibles (which they had kept for hundreds of years) were used as road base and covered in tar and concrete. (Another interesting anecdote is the fact that the Old Believers actually speak old Russian (from around the 16th century) and their bibles are not written in modern Russian!)

The church itself was quite small, white washed walls, polished floor boards and very colourfully painted relics on the front wall. One of the key differences b/w Old Believers and normal orthodox is the fact that their relics are painted onto wood, whereas orthodox relics are painted onto canvas or paper and then stuck onto wood.. (If the differences are this minor, and based on what the Old Believers said, it appears to be, its amazing they refused to swap over to normal orthodox!)

We also had a traditional Russian lunch in the Old Believer's village; Sh-chi- chunky vege and meat soup (geez I love the soup here in Russia!!), Chunky potato and some sort of meat (pork maybe) for mains and of course vodka! (The vodka in this village is flavoured with cedar nuts-- bloody awful if you ask me-- but many others really quite liked it... One of the boys bought some at an expensive rate of $6 a bottle... Potent stuff and damn cheap! (Actually everything is cheap in this part of Russia))

During lunch the Old Believers put on a traditional sing-a-long for us and dressed up one of the other ladies on the trip in traditional Old Believer style. The OB wear about 5 layers of clothing and still wear this clothing for all ceremonial occassions and on Sunday's to church.. Carmen said that wearing all the layers was really a bit too warm...

While i'm talking about the OB village I wanted to put in a note about SIberian houses.. The houses here are really different to anything we have at home. They are all made out of timber and have very colourful shutters covering the front windows. Nearly all have wooden fences surrounding their houses and I would say that most houses are at least half the size of a normal sized house in AU. In fact my unit in Coorparoo looks like it is bigger than the average SIberian house!

After leaving the OB village we went onwards to Lake Baikal. LB is more than 3hrs away from Ulan Ude, we are staying in a village called Turka on the eastern shore of the lake (our guest lodge is right on the main river that flows into the lake so great view!). We arrived at LB well after 8pm and really only had time to have some dinner before hitting the sack for the night.. Turka is above the 50th parallel (check that out from a southern ocean point of view and you'll get an idea of how far north we are already..) so the sun didn't go down tonight til probably about 9.30-10pm.. Makes for a wierd day when you are ready to go to bed but its still light outside.. I guess I'd better get used to it because the days are only going to get longer! For the foodies reading, dinner was mashed potato, rissoles and vege soup.. I'm really loving the vege soup!!

Posted by weary_feet 10:38 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

14: <2 kms per hour

sunny 20 °C

Boarded the train about 9.30pm and were lucky enough to go to sleep quite quickly. Border crossing started at about 5am the next morning....... We didn't get through the border and into Russia til mid morning then we turned around and waited til after 4pm til we finished the border crossing at Russia... Holy god, we moved only 21km (border crossing space) in over 11 hours.. It must be the slowest border crossing in the world!!

From what we could work out, the Mongolian customs people didn't start work til 9am so we had to wait til they started work before they would check our passports. It took about an hour and half and then we were off again to Russia... and then we sat and waited again.....

All we could work out on the Russian side was that I think we were waiting for another train to join with our carriage to continue on.. not sure how accurate either of our guesses were but that was the best we could come up with..

Most of the day was spent sleeping, chatting or eating.. Its really funny but our whole life revolves around eating, sleeping and going to the loo when you are on the trains... The loo is important because they are closed for half an hour before all train station stops... Therefore there is only a small window every day when you can pee... Its hilarious (and often the butt of jokes) but we do actually monitor the time and pee when the preverbial window is open!!!! So for the 11hours that we were crossing the border we were unable to pee on the train.. we had to wait til our passports had been checked and then we could go onto the platform and pay for the privildge... I guess I'd better get used to it cause that's just what you do in all of Russia and some of eastern europe!!!

Food is our other main issue.. what are we going to eat and when.. (goes hand in hand with the loo times).. We have had three meals on the train this time around.. Brekky was some yummy pastries we took on the train from Ulaanbataar with a cup of black tea.. Yep that's right I've converted to black tea from white coffee with sugar.. Main reason is you cannot physically buy any decent coffee anywhere in China or Mongolia and I have no way to keep milk cold! As I can't abide black coffee (and the instant is aweful here) I've swapped to weak black tea.

Lunch today was eaten at a cafe at the Russian border crossing.. Cafe is spelt in Russian 'cape' so easy to pick a cafe out on the street. Lunch consisted of a Borscht soup (beetroot, ham, potato and cabbage soup).. Really good.. and some meat dumplings with sour cream (also really good).

Dinner was two minute noodles and some biscuits... 2 min noodles are becoming our staple on board the trains... Unfortunately there isn't much of an option when you don't have any cooking facilities or dining car...

We'll get off the train late tonight around 10.30pm and head to our hotel in Ulan Ude.

Posted by weary_feet 10:30 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

13: Siberian Winds

overcast 11 °C

Nice leasurely start for our last day in UB. Today Tracey dubbed as our "cultural day" of Mongolia so we started out the cultural day hunting a decent cup of coffee. Using Tracey's trusty Lonely Planet guide we went hunting for the Stuupa Cafe.. We went up and down streets looking for this coffee shop to eventually find it inside a buddhist temple (go figure).. We also discovered that Stuupa means the pagoda-ery thing that they had built out the front to indicate yellow hat buddhism. (Mongolian's practice yellow hat buddhism the same as the Tibetan people-- we're not sure if that means that the Dalai Lama is the head of the church in Mongolia or..)

Anyway after our cuppa (which wasn't that much chop) we headed for the Mongolian National Museum. It was surprisingly good! (If you saw the outside of the building you would understand why I was surprised that it was good-- walls falling down, holes in pavement, paint peeling off etc) The musuem showed the Mongolian history from prehistoric times right through to the 90s when Mongolia became a republic.

Chenggis Khan (Genghis) exhibition was probably the most interesting. Chenggis unified the Mongolian clans and started the expansion of the Mongolian empire. Surprisingly, it was his third son who actually grew the empire and Koblah (Kublai) Khan solidified the empire. Khan means King so actually it was King Chenggis in English.

The other interesting data point from the musuem was the fact that Mongolia was actually the second communist state after the USSR.. For some reason I always thought that Mongolia was part of the USSR but no.. it was its own communist state. This state held strong (and did similar activities like collectivising the nomads-- not sure how successful that was-- and introducing universal health care and literacy) until 1990 when the USSR fell so did the Mongolian communist party. Mongolia is now a democratic state although the Communist party is still in power and holds the majority of the seats. From what I heard from our local guide the other day Mongolia is quite a corrupt state with most of the vast mining wealth being held by a small few. Unbelievably, Mongolia currently has a deisel shortage. Deisel fuel has not been available in Mongolia for the past 20 days. This is because Russia has stopped delivering. My tour guide the other day believed it was because Mongolia refused to sell uranium to Russia so Russia is refusing to sell diesel to Mongolia......

After the museum the rest our cultural day was taken up with trying to avoid the freezing wind. Top temp in UB today was only 11 degrees with a really strong cold wind blowing.. Not a pleasant way to spend the day.

We board the train tonight to go over the Russian border to Ulan Ude.

Posted by weary_feet 10:24 Archived in Mongolia Comments (0)

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