Trans-Siberian: Baikal, Irkutsk & 3 days in a refugee camp

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July 24th 2010
Published: July 24th 2010
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I booked my ticket to Irkutsk in advance with an English travel agent. I'm sure I was ripped off on commission but by the time I got to Russia the train was booked out so it actually worked out pretty well. I travelled by 3rd class platzcart because it was about half price. It's effectively an open carriage with 60 bunks. I went into it with the attitude that it probably won't kill me. I wrote most of this on my iTouch while on the train.

Day 1
Covered in sweat freak heat wave about to die.37 degrees!
Not a single backpacker in sight! Oh dear god. It's been 10 minutes and already I desperately need a shower!
Assuming all foreigners are complete idiots a Russian woman made my bed! Nice!

Day 2
Air-conditioning does work just took awhile to kick in!
First contact has been made. A Russian woman just sat opposite me with a bag full of food in her hand. The entire carriage was watching. This must have been what it was like when Columbus arrived in America. I didn't know what was going on at first. Asked was I American. Said I was from "Irlandia". Queue gasps of shock. As if an American wasn't strange enough. Managed to vaguely explain what I was doing in Siberia. Everyone seemed happy and the woman explained to me how to cook the food using elaborate sign language.
After the initial introduction I spent most of the trip chatting with locals, babysitting their screaming children and watching them smoke minuscule amounts of hash out of a can and subsequently pretend to be high.

Day 3
Getting into rhythm of life on the train. My feet are finally healing up after a solid 2 months of constant abuse.
I was checking out Lonely Planet trying to find out how I'm going to get to Mongolia. Had a look at the section about different train classes thank god I didn't read it before getting on the train! It described platzcart as staying in a refugee camp.
Stuck beside some kids at least one of whom is definitely possessed by the devil. Kicked it off my bed now getting evil eyes.
Thankfully russian parents still have no problem publicly smacking their kids
More free food this time from demon child's mother. Some kind of compensation for putting up with the child no doubt. Tea and a sandwich awesome!

Day 4
Trains stays on Moscow time but actually gone through 5 time zones. There are people awake and sleeping at all hours. Jet lag from a train, ridiculous!
Demon child looks upset it's crying for some reason. Delighted
Child minding viewed as a collective responsibility, our table appears to have accumulated another one
One of the kids can't be more than 2 walking around grabbing the feet of anyone who's asleep then running away. Hilarious because I'm awake anyway.
There's a constant supply of free boiling water so everyone lives off instant noodles. Addiction to middle eastern kebabs has officially been replaced my Russian pot noodle, mmmm MSG

Day 5
I survived! Someone I met on the train even gave me a lift to my hostel! A tea-total vegan Russian. Talk about breaking a stereotype.
The trip wasn't the easiest thing I've done and it certainly did not feel like a holiday but it was one hell of an experience.

All that time on a train and I arrive in a hostel where not only is there no hot water but the cold water seems to have been deliberately chilled. I literally felt my feet go numb.

I only really stopped here to break the journey. It's a reasonably pleasant town. The architecture is quite European but look around at the people and you'll understand you're a long way from European Russia. The city's not quite as slick as the capital. Walking around a shopping mall it looks like since the locals missed out on the western lifestyle in the 1980s they're determined to live it out now.

The main reason to visit is as a base to get to Lake Baikal the world's deepest and largest. I was hoping to spend some time on Orkhon Island but thanks to bad planning on my part I didn't realise it was 2 days of travelling by minibus to get there and back. I went for the easier option and visited nearby Listvyanka. Nice views of the lake, I got to swim in the incredibly cold water and tastes the famous smoked Omul. I was happy enough with that and ready to get back into the refugee camp lifestyle!

Additional photos below
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Globalization WTF?!Globalization WTF?!
Globalization WTF?!

Russian woman carrying Irish supermarket bag in Russia

25th July 2010

Amazing trip for you Aidan
Hi Aidan, I have read some of your adventures and they are great. Good on you to take on such a trip on your own. Would not have been up to it myself at 21 have travelled a lot since but that came with age. Hope to see you in Ireland in August if you are in Galway or Mayo. I leave for the USA August 2nd then on to Ireland for a month can't wait. Take care enjoy the trip of a lifetime takes lots of photos. Love Cathy
26th July 2010

Trans-Siberian is everything I thought it would be! Bit of advice for China. Book your train/bus ticket straight away as soon as you get into the station. Most trains and buses from Beijing are booked out a week in advance and you can't even get tickets from the touts!

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