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Published: October 3rd 2007
Our friendly provodnik (and trader on the side)
Sadly we said farewell to UB on the 18th Sept and boarded the train to go to Irkutsk and Listvyanka in Siberia, Russia.
There was a lot of activity amongst the various traders in the carriages after we boarded. My cabin-mate was a Mongolian lady who was carrying numerous boxes filled with paper-wrapped packages. When I enquired what she had, she told me it was tea. After I had stowed my backpack under my bed, I went and stood in the corridor while deals were being done in my cabin. All manner of items were being traded including the so-called tea, t-shirts, vodka, jeans, saucepans, jackets, blankets, cashmere pashminas, thermos airpots, sneakers and slippers. Even our provodnik (male carriage attendant) Nikolai was in the thick of it trying to sell us silver tea glasses & spoons with Kremlin emblems for US$35 each. As there was no dining car he was also the supplier of soup noodles, chocolate, lollies, water, etc.
Just before the border crossing between Mongolia and Russia, the activity became frenetic as items were moved and packed and transferred to other cabins and carriages. I discovered my cabin-mate had stowed a few items on my side of
Some of my cabin-mate's booty - tea packets; vodka; jeans.
the cabin. As far as I could tell I had inherited 2 tea parcels, a pair of jeans and 4 salami's. No time to think much about it as we commenced border formalities at 8.45pm. I had limited my liquid intake frm 5pm as we were warned that the border crossing can take up to 7 hours and the toilets are locked during the whole time.
The Mongolian side was really easy. When the Mongolian border guard was returning our passports, he and Nikolai had a good laugh making up names for the 5 of us in 2nd class (the other 3 group members were in 1st class). I was "Yoko Ono"; Julie became "Julia Roberts"; Ray became "Prince Charles"; Maura's middle name is Josephine so they made jokes about Napoleon; and Paul was called "The Pope" after John Paul II. Great to see that it's not all serious.
Then we travelled approx 20 minutes to the Russian side (Nikolai kindly opened the toilets during this time). No cracking a smile here - it was all business. Passport Control came through first, and then it was the Customs Officials. We had to stand out in the corridor whilst
What I found on my side of the cabin - tea packets, jeans & 4 salami's.
a lady frisked our cabin, and then a man came through with a blue light. My customs form was stamped - no problems. Then the fun began. There was a lot of to-ing and fro-ing and heated discussions between the customs official and my cabin-mate. Once again we had to stand in the corridor whilst our cabin was searched a third time. I was asked to show my luggage. Then more heated debate - I tell you it was the best entertainment I'd witnessed in a while; better than any stage show. In the end my cabin-mate had to give up the goods. Tea packets (who knows what was in them) came out from all manner of places - under her bed; under my bed; under our luggage; behind the seats; some more on my side of the cabin (I didn't even notice those, they were so well hidden); behind the curtains; on the shelves, etc. Then she was marched out by the officials carrying her booty. As soon as she was gone, her friends came and emptied the rest of the contraband from the cabin. What the ....? I don't get to keep the salami's? It seemed like she
On the shelf of the top bunk
was the mule. She didn't come back until an hour later, minus the tea packets.
Edith (Crowne) wrote another poem about our experiences travelling on the train from UB to Irkutsk. The 1110 kms trip took approx 26 hours.
Clickety-clack (Part 2)
We're leaving Mongolia, no turning back.
We've absorbed all her beauty,
Tasted her fare,
We've slept in the gers -
They're willing to share.
We've ridden on horses,
Though not camels with humps,
Survived dirt tracks with pot-holes
and back breaking bumps.
We boarded our train,
Settled down for the night,
Of border guards, customs,
And then such a fright.
As Gus' companion,
As wicked as sin,
Lost all her goodies,
They went in the bin.
Clickety-clack, Siberian track,
We're off for adventure, no turning back.
Our arrival into Siberia seemed pretty tame in comparison to the train shenanigans. After a short tour of Irkutsk we headed to Listvyanka and stunning Lake Baikal. There was snow on the mountains around the lake shore, so it was fairly cool weather-wise. We spent the next couple of days checking out the Ecological Museum, St Nikolai Church and the
The toilets are generally closed approx 30 minutes before a scheduled station stop, and then approx 10 minutes after leaving the station.
Wooden Architecture Museum. We were supposed to do a boat cruise on Lake Baikal but it was really choppy, so we did a nice cruise along the Angara River instead. The local specialty is "omul" (kind of salmon) which can be cooked various ways. Smoked omul with a beer by the lakeside is the top choice.
On the 22nd Sept we boarded the train for our 3 night/4 day journey to Moscow (approx 5185 kms). The temp in Irkutsk was a brisk 3 degrees. BRRR!!! It's funny but you don't get bored. Spent the time watching the passing scenery, hopping off at the platforms in search of dumplings and fruit, reading, snoozing, listening to music, playing board and card games, and having evening sundowners & nibblies with the rest of the group. If you want, you can even pay 136 roubles for a hot shower. My cabin-mate was named Antonina. We conversed using a lot of sign language. I shared some of my food with her, and when I was leaving the train I gave her my vacuum mug and a koala key-ring. She gave me a small matrioshka doll, which was really sweet. I couldn't believe it when
In Irkutsk it's traditional for wedding couples to put a padlock in a public spot (and throw away the keys) to declare their everlasting love.
we finally arrived into Moscow that the train journey was really over. All told we had covered approx 7855 kms.
Tot: 2.448s; Tpl: 0.019s; cc: 37; qc: 166; dbt: 0.0464s; 2; m:saturn w:www (188.8.131.52); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.7mb