Planning the Trip | Moscow | The Train | Ulaan Baatar | Back on the Train | Beijing
Tuesday, October 29th, 2007 - continued. We are taking train 4, the Chinese train. At 9pm, there is a mad dash for the train. We trek down to car 9 and board. Thankfully our carriage attendants are Chinese and very nice, they even speak a little English (which I wasn't expecting from what I read about the trains). Unfortunately they kept our tickets, so we were disappointed.
We were in cabin one, Em & M in cabin 5, and one other couple in cabin 8, so just 6 people in our car (3 of the 8 cabins used). After settling in and getting the important things unpacked, our carriage attendant moved us to cabin 6. We quickly moved to the new cabin, which shared the shower with Em & M.
This was the end of a long day, and there was nothing to be seen from the train in the dark, so we fall asleep not too long after departure at 9:35.
Wednesday, October 31, 2007. I awoke around 9:30 Moscow time, after a somewhat restless night on the train. It's yet another gray day. We have already crossed into another time zone, so it's 10:30 local time. Around 11:00 we pull into Kirov station, the temperature is 0 deg C. I am hoping for some snow to brighten things up.
Station name marking seems even worse than the metro, the name was not posted at all on the platforms, but I did finally see that the station name was in very large letters atop the station house. Almost everyone was still sleeping, so I didn't get dressed and go out. Food carts were on the platform with little old ladies selling their wares. They were also selling stuffed animals.
Kirov was a short stop, about 10 minutes, and then we were on our way again. Our next stop will be in about 4 hours. The scenery here was very drab. There was almost nothing outside of town. I wondered how we could possibly pass 4 days on the train if the scenery didn't change.
At our next stop, Balyezeno, we arrived at 14:50 local time. We were allowed off the train for just 10 minutes. Food vendors wee out in force, and we felt adventurous. Kim and I bought meatballs with boiled potatoes from one vendor (50 RUB), and a beer from another (also 50 RUB). Em & M weren't so adventurous, they didn't buy any food. We enjoyed our lunch waiting for the train to switch locomotive, and set the beer in our little closet to keep it cool for later. The closet turned out to be quite a good refrigerator. The train pulls out around 15:20, and about 3.5 hours to our next stop.
A couple of hours later, the four of us headed down to the dining car. The waiter didn't really speak English, just yes and no, but seemed otherwise friendly. After most of us tried to order something interesting from the menu but can't, we ended up with 3 orders of pancakes with caviar (salmon roe), but I broke from the pack and ordered black bread and cheese. To drink Kim and Matilda each had a Siberian beer, and Em and I each had a Coke. The bread was getting stale, and pancakes took forever but everything did actually taste good. It got dark out while we were waiting and we lost another hour due to a timezone change.
Not too much later, around 18:40 local time, we stopped in Perm. We were allowed off the train for 10 minutes. Here there were no food carts, just a bunch of food kiosks on the platform selling the snacks and drinks. Em bought a 2 liter beer called BagBier. It looked like a soda, and was just as cheap as one, 80 RUB.
The next stop wouldn't be for 6 hours, so we passed some time playing cards. Then we all got invited down to the cabin of the third couple in our car, Seppo and Marita, a married couple from Finland. Seppo was well prepared for the trip with 4 bottles of vodka. We helped him finish off one of them, and then helped Em with her beer, which was actually pretty good. After that we headed down to the dining car to drink with a bunch of other Swedes we met on the train (as well as a couple of others). The good Siberian beer that Kim and Matilda had earlier was all gone and we were served Baltica 7, which tasted like a bad batch of Heineken.After the four of us finished our beer, we decided not to have another one and went back to our cabin. We still hadn't reached our next stop, and were fading fast. I tried to keep the party mood going by splitting my beer with Kim and Em. It sucked, but it was enough to keep me going until our arrival around 00:30 local time at Yekaterinburg. Again there were no food vendors, but there was a mini-mart on the platform, where I got overpriced yogurt (25 RUB) for my breakfast and Fanta for Kim.
Thursday, November 1, 2007. I awoke refreshed and early, ready for the stop at Ishim, even though there was nothing I needed to buy. The landscape was still drab, and the weather still gray. We arrived around xx:00 local time. Shortly after Ishim, we change time zones again to three hours ahead of Moscow time. Another 3 hours until our next stop at Omsk.
Pulling into Omsk, it looked like there was a wooden cathedral nestled among the soviet era concrete buildings, but try as I might, I could not get a good picture of it. Then we crossed a river where a huge number of cranes spoiled the view. We all got out at Omsk, out arrival around 14:35 local time. The train stations are usually quite fancy, which I actually found quite depressing. One really has to wonder how a country could ever prioritize having such grandiose public buildings over the welfare of it's people. Omsk was the first that was not totally overdone, although it was still fancy, so not as depressing to me.
Another 3.5 hours or so on the train to our next stop, Barabinsk. We were excited to find that there were food carts again, but there was little on offer other than smoked fish. There were also kiosks on the other platform, but we didn't venture over because we only had our requisite 10 minutes. It was very humid, and there was a light mist, but the temperature was probably 4 or 5 deg C, since it wasn't snowing.
It was already dark again, so nothing more to see from the train today until we approached Novosibirisk, another 3.5 hours down the tracks. As we approach the city, we can see there is a few cm of snow on the ground. This helps to hide the drabness of the Russian countryside. We cross the Ob river, again lots of cranes along the shoreline. It said in the LP guidebook that Novosibirisk wouldn't exist if it were from the railway, so I expected a small town, and was quite surprised that this was the biggest city since we left Moscow. It also mentions that the station house is quite fancy inside, something we should definitely see.
When we finally got to the station, there was a huge kiosk with 5 or 6 outdoor refrigerators, again with remote locks. The food and drink selection here is by far the best since Moscow. We bought grape juice, yogurt, and even little pizzas that the woman in the kiosk heated in the microwave for us. Overwhelmed by the choices, I forgot to pop into the station to see just how grandiose it was. Too bad the pizzas weren't as good as expected (you could hardly call them pizzas), but at least buying them was fun.
We ended the day by changing time zones again, now we were 4 hours ahead of Moscow.
Friday, November 2, 2007. I awoke around 8:00 local time, so I thought I would try to see the halfway obelisk, but either I got up too late, or it was too small to notice. It was yet another gray day, surprised? The landscape had improved somewhat as it was hilly and the train wound back and forth a bit. The light snow cover allowed us to actually see that some of the countryside homes were lived in.
We arrived at Krasnoyarsk at 10:50 here it was warmer and there was almst no snow in the city. Again I miss a photo-op, a mural in front of the station, as we are so used to stying close to the train for our 10 minutes of free time. Oh well, at least there is a picture of the mural in the guide book. There was also an old locomotive on display at the station, so I got pictures of that.
On the way out of the city we cross the 1km long Yenisey River bridge. The bridge won a gold medal at the 1900 Paris Expo, but from the train I can see nothing special about it. There are again cranes at the riverside, but not as many as the other cities. After Islanskaya, it's almost 5 hours to our next stop. Here the landscape is mostly flat with forests. EM, M & I decide to go to the train to take a few pictures before it gets dark.
The last two cars were 2nd class hard (basically 3rd class) Russian trains with Russian staff. One provnitsa was in a robe with curlers in her hair. Most of the passengers were men. It was actually a bit scary, and smelled bad as well.
At the back of the train, there was a door, but it was locked, and only a small window in the door from which we could look through at the tracks. Our picture taking was interrupted by two Russians who said they came back for a smoke, but really they just came to get close to the foreign women. It was creepy so we took a couple of quick photos and got out of there fast. We were not going back.
Shortly thereafter, our final time change occured. We stoped at 21:15 at Nizhneudinsk for our 10 minute stretch. I quickly started across the tracks towards the kiosks, because there were no food vendors onthe platform; no one else joins me. I am only a few steps across the tracks when all of the attendants start yelling for me to come back. Some rambunctious Swedes has made it to the kiosks, and now they cam running back. I still can't figure out why, but I return to the train. Once I returned, we noticed another train that was slowly pulling into the station on the tracks next to us. That was the emergency!
Our next stop is in 3.5 hours, and the local time would be almost 1:00 upon arrival. It was good that we weren't acclimated to local time yet.
To kill time, our car had a little vodka party. Emeli brought the Stolichnaya to share. It's not as smooth as the Starskaya vodka, so I broke out the orange juice and mixed screwdrivers for those interested. This would be our last kippis with Seppo and Marita.
Hoping to get the last needed food supplies before we reached Mongolia, Em and I got off in Zima. We were in luck because we could see almost immediately that two of the kiosks were open. Here we have a little trouble getting still water, it took us a while at the first kiosk to get the point across that we wanted still water, and they had none but Emeli lucked out at the second kiosk.
Finally it was time to get some sleep, so we could start adjusting to our final time zone.
Saturday, November 3, 2007. I awoke when we stopped at Irkutsk. The stop was at 5:15 local time and it was dark out. We originally thought about making a stopoff here, but were glad we decided against it when we realized what time we would have to get off. I laid awake for almost an hour before finally falling back to sleep. The lack of sleep, results in a late morning fo me. When i finally wake-up around 10:00, the sun is shinin bright. I went to fill up our tea water and see Lake Baikal. Em & M have been up only a short while and were taking pictures of the lake. As I trudged back to our room to take out my camera, i felt the train turn and realized that we were turning away from the lake. One quick look at the map confirmed it, I have missed Lake Baikal!
Luckily the scenery all day was beautiful, as the train followed along the Selenga River. Finally Russia's best side had appeared.
Our stop at Ulan-Ude was scheduled for 13:00. I was to be a 30 minute stop, so Em & I tried to see if we could get the 20 minutes we figured we neeeded to go see the world's biggest Lenin head. The final answer was no, we would only have 15 minutes.
Ulan-Ude ended up being a much bigger city than we expected, so as we pulled into the train station we knew all hope of seeing the Lenin head was lost. There was a pretty church across from the station, at least. I used up most of my 15 minutes standing in line at the kiosk to buy what I thought was white grape juice soda. After opening it, it tasted strangely of alcohol. Looking closer at the label I realized that it was 8% alcohol; hard white grape juice, weird!
After Ulan-Ude, our train spilt from the Trans-Siberian path and turned towards Mongolia. Our next stop, the border town of Naushki. We arrived at Naushki at 18:00, after dark, and the temperture was +2 deg C. We gave our passports and customs forms to border control. Two exit forms are required, and the entry form (that said we had to show it on exit) is not required. The reason for teo exit forms, we got to keep one copy for our records, after it was officially stamped. After they took our pssports we were allowed off the train. We were told it would take 2 hours to process all the passports.
Off the train, the information about Naushki in the guide book is totally useless. We can find no where to change money and no sign of the mentioned farmer's market. There are no open restaurants. The only thing of inerest was a pay toilet, 6 RUB, if you needed it, since the toilets on the train were locked during the stop. Heading south down the road in front of the station, we quickly found a post office (closed, of course) and a light further down the road revealed itself to be a mini mart. I got my breakfast yogurt, so I was happy, as well as some instant coffee, in case we needed a jump stat in the morning. Our two hours ended up taking 4.5 hours, and the temperature dropped to -1 deg C. While waiting, we were approached by some people willing to change money from RUB to MNT at a horrible exchange rate about 50% of what it should have been, pass.
After leaving Naushki, we drove for about 10 minutes and stopped. It looked like the middle of nowhere so we guessed it might be the official border. When we finally arrived at Sükbaatar, our first stop in Mongolia, it was 23:50. For Mongolia, we needed to fill out a customs declaration and entry form, which the carriage attendendants didn't have with them to pass out, so we had to do it quickly while the customs officials waited impatiently.
Sunday, November 4, 2007. At 00:50 we finally got our passports back, but it was 1:26 in the morning before we finally started moving again, and the dining car, as well as the bathrooms were open. After 7.5 hours of waiting for the toilets to open, everyone made a toilet break before going to sleep. We were too tired to be hungry and had to get up to get off the train around 7:00.
The carriage attendants woke us around 6:30 to make sure we were ready to get off in Ulaan Baatar. Tired, and longing for a hot shower, we couldn't wait for the train to pull into UB and hopefully find a good guest house. We said our goodbyes to Seppo and Marita, who got up early to see us off. When we finally arrived at the station at 7:30, we got off to below freezing temperatures, which we found out later were about -10 deg C. Hello UB!
Copyright ©2008 Lisa G. Hansen
Last Modified: July 6, 2008