Day 24 - July 24
It was time to head off to Russia via a 2 day train to Novosibirsk. But first we went around town finishing chores, buying souvenirs and the like. We caught a 'cab' to the train station. By cab I we mean random person with a car willing to drive us for money. We arrived at the train station walked to the train (no gates or anything - anyone can walk right up to the train) and boarded our carriage. The layout of the train was identical to the Chinese one but was more modern. We had a room for four to ourselves again which was nice.
The train headed off as we passed through familiar terrain (thankful that even though the ride was long 53 hours) at least it wasn't bumpy. At about 9pm we reached the border and the Mongolian immigration officer took our passports and forms for processing. Then immigration came by, checking the room briefly, presumably for artifacts or animals - something large and illegal to take away. The check was cursory.
After about 2 hours we got our passports back stamped and the train rolled on for an hour before
reaching the Russian border. Like the Mongolian immigration, the Russian equivalent took our passports for processing. It was noticeable that while all the Mongolian officials were mongoloid of Asian, all the Russian ones were caucasian. Various Russian officials came at random intervals checking the room. First was customs. With good English the man asked us if we had anything to declare (no forms). He did a cursory check of the room. Next were more officials that had us stand outside our room while a short Russian lady did a more thorough search of a room with a flashlight. She was looking more at potential hiding places and not in the bags themselves. Sometime later a dog was brought on board sniffing for drugs and maybe even explosives. Our room was passed but all the Mongolian passengers had a thorough sniff. Despite all the stuff we had heard about all the extra papers we would need for immigration, they asked for nothing. It was long slow but in the end about as smooth as you could hope for in entering Russia. This side of the border ended up taking about 2-3 hours. Early the next morning the train slowly rumbled off
again as we drifted into a sleep.
Day 25 - July 25
The day was uneventful being entirely spent on the train. The terrain was now truly Taiga although many deciduous trees were around. For a couple of hours we passed along the southern end of Lake Baikal. Largest lake of Russia and most volumous in the world (apparently 20% of world's freshwater). We reached Irkutsk where we had originally planned to stay and visit the lake but the opportunity at Novosibirsk was too good to pass up so we had to settle for a fly-by (or train-by?). The train rolled on through various settlements - much more densely populated than Mongolia with and abundance of wooden housing and other buildings that made it distinct from the gers and shanty towns of Mongolia. But most of the ride was through forests with no observable human presence.
Day 26 - July 26
Woke up on the train passing through various wooded areas. Many of the trees near the tracks were dead, killed by fires on the trunk, otherwise it alternates between coniferous forests and birch forests. It was foggy for much of the day. After many hours
on the train and stopping a few times in towns we arrived at Novosibirsk, the third largest city in Russia. Novosibirsk was a modernernized Russian city.
We got picked up at the train station and for the first time in my life I was a foreigner that could not speak the local language, but could pass off as a local. Normally I'm obviously a foreigner and am treated as such. After we got into the SUV we drove a little bit around town. While much of the Soviet era block buildings were still kicking around, many of the important and newer buildings were in fact modern and stylish. We drove through the central part of town, with many Japanese cars with right hand steering wheels and Russian cars with the more official left hand wheels. Odd that they have both especially since Russia is such a large country with a large enough market to cater to.
We drove by many modern buildings with interesting architecture. We ended up stopping at one and walking around. It was some kind of opera house and outside to the front were large statues: one of Lenin with three 'guards' to his right,
and a couple of workers to his left. Clearly a nod to the Communist era. There was a local band playing and a bunch of tables with people playing backgammon.Once at the office, which was in the basement of an apartment building, we met our guides Sasha and Larissa and got organized for the trip. At 10 pm
we boarded the bus to take us to Altai.
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