Russia


Russia10 Jan 2007 10:53 am

RUSSIA! After a long time in Asia, it was time to cross the Mongolian Border and enter Siberia and leave the Trans Mongolian and join the Siberian Express. Mongolia into Irkukst, Russia.

Leaving Ulan Battaar after all the passport issues was a little sad, as I really got to know the place after just under 1 month in Mongolia – and the state of my first Russian Train really woke me up to what was to come over the next few weeks as I travel East to West on the TSR (as you will see from the video below).

HOWEVER, what a way to go. There are common ways of traveling on the Trans Siberian. Buy your ticket and go the whole journey in one big jump (7 days and nights) and also most Westerners will fly to Moscow and travel to Vladivostock then fly home again.

Coming the way I did (East to West ) on smaller trains and stopping off at towns meant I met the REAL people on REAL trains – ie, the REAL experience.

 

Russia is still a hard place to get into as you would have seen from my Mongolian posting. However, at the border – it was perhaps also the most stringent search and review of documents I have ever seen. The beds were taken up and searched, luggage opened, people on the roof of the train, under the train and the train sides being ‘tapped’ on for hidden compartments. Daunting stuff.

IF i was a spy back in the old days, I would have crapped myself. And the racial difference was…. well stark. Cross the border and suddenly, the new town is full of Westerners. Not Asians. After so long, it was strange.

Irkukst. Found a great hostel in Irkukst, wifi cafe etc. to refresh after the journey and then found the wonder of speaking English in Russia. How people SMILE when you address them in English and how it also makes no difference to them that you can’t understand Russian. If they dont speak English in China, or in Vietnam etc… that’s the end of the conversation. Not here… they will just carry on in Russian as though you understand everything – I loved it.

One night, a bar maid at a cafe I had been in told me of a discotech that I should go to. So, I invited some great lads from NZ and Au that I had met at the hostel that morning and we all went to the club mentioned. From what the doorman was saying (reading hand gestures here), we could not come in without tickets – but we couldnt buy tickets there; and LUCKILY (as the club was a fair way out of the city) a young lady came and sold us tickets to get in that she had spare.

What we didnt know and it slowy dawned on us through the night as young russian after young russian danced passed, was that we had crashed a Student Union party at the club and the hopsitality they showed us when they saw we were tourists was beyond belief. I would not be surprised if we were let in because of our status and ONLY because of our status. Lovely people.

Photos below are of Lake Baykal.

That was the main attraction in that area.

The largest freshwater lake in the world (and frozen when I was there)

I wanted to go Ice Diving under it, but unfortunatly I had damaged my ankle in Mongolia so will do it another time.

More of Baykal (including the snow storm that hit me) in the videos below.

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Title: Mongolia-to-Russia
Description: Meet some locals on the way to Irkukst, Russia

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Title: Lake-Baykal
Description: Siberian Frozen Lake

Russia09 Jan 2007 09:58 am

As with most of my journey (actualy, any big journey) I left it flexible.

IE – Had not pre-bought tickets or hotels or fixed dates etc..

Which is just as well for this part of the trip as you will see from the video of my train journey from Irkukst to Omsk in Russia (great video – bottom of page).

Give your self 15 mins to watch the train video – I made it this long to give an idea of what traveling on the trans-siberian is like.

This particular leg of the journey was one of those crazy trips where you’re not sure WHAT would happen.

I’d PLANNED (well kind of drew on a map) to go to a certain destination called Krasnoyarsk, to help break up my journey and potter around for a few days.

However – in my excitement at learning how to order a ticket in Russian – I got my ticket back to the hostel and found that I had booked to a town called Novosibirsk.

Not a major problem, unless you take into the fact that the size of Russia made this 24 hour’s extra on the train in one pop.

SO – I thought go with it. Until, Im sitting on the train and have read that truly; there’s not much IN Novosibirsk.

I’ve not written too much on this specific part – as the video, is 15 mins long, and I want you to watch all of it. It’s just a comedy of errors.

It shows me trying to negotiate in Russian with a babushka train attendent who could have mothered James Bond’s nemesis/friend “Jaws” whilst she tells me she has a single daughter in Minsk.

When it gets to her doing deals with some mafioso looking guy (who takes the money for people wanting to ‘travel further’);Im getting decidedly concerned as Im locked up in a small dark room wondering what’s going to happen! Very funny watching it now.

Throw in a kebab that Im sure is made with Bear Meat and some russian kids who share my compartment – you’ve got a whole-round experience of planning your own trip on the East to West Trans Siberian express.

I wouldnt change it for the world however.

The people I met on this trip (as other legs) were genuine, amazing, kind friendly people.

Most, labor workers traveling home etc.. have never met a foreigner before and amazed that Im on THEIR train and not a non-stop tourist train.

Omsk itself? Not a tourist destination – so again, you are a minor celebrity if you speak only English. I met a wonderful person here called Luda who showed me around the ‘real Russia’ for a few days.

The video below is 18 mins long. But gives you a real idea of what these journeys are like. Advise you to press play, PAUSE, let it load for a while and then resume.