Part 1 – Russia
I am starting to write this on a train from Ulan Ude to Ulaanbaatar (there appears to be different spellings) as we approach the border from Russia into Mongolia. There had been the usual shouting match between those who wanted the windows open and the coach attendant who wanted them shut because of the air conditioning. We are travelling along a flat bottom valley with habitation now rare. With the temperatures of today it is difficult to realise that in winter temperatures drop to -25 and more.
Jennifer and I have a four berth compartment to ourselves which is reasonably comfortable by day and night. The journey is about 18 hours of which about four will be involved with the border crossing. Unfortunately our restaurant car is detached at the border but no doubt there will be sellers of beer and snacks later on the train to go with our TUC biscuits.
We flew very comfortably and cheaply, with EasyJet from Manchester to Moscow and stayed the night on Thursday, August 1st. The hotel was about 15 miles from the airport and was good, and even brewed its own beer. The taxi from the airport, after we halved the offered price, tailgated another car through the exit gates to avoid paying the parking fee!
Friday we flew from Moscow to Irkutsk in Siberia. We flew this section of the route as we had travelled it by train before. Irkutsk is a pleasant city so we spent the day walking, tram riding to see different areas and sleeping to get used to the time lag of 8 hours. Finding a brew pub helped with the latter. The weather was in the high 20s, Centigrade that is. We met our travelling companions in the evening (including many old friends) for the rest of the trip who had set out from London a week before.
Our day journey from Irkutsk started 45 minutes late, reached 90 minutes late because of Sunday engineering works, but reached Ude again 45 minutes late. It travelled for several hours along the shores of Lake Baikal. The hotel in Ude was not so good, particularly as it did not have air conditioning, needed for the temperatures. But we went out of Ude into the countryside for a traditional local meal with accompanying singing. Next morning we visited a local railway museum based in the locomotive works and shown round by a very enthusiastic lady and translated by our very attractive local guide. Following this we had a short visit to see the town centre with surprisingly attractive buildings before three of us had a short tram ride (25p) to our venue for lunch.
We have found most Russians in the streets look very dour and do not smile back. Younger people sometimes do smile. Very few speak any English in this part of Russia and in Ude people were perhaps shy of rare western visitors, one reason for going there. In Irkutsk the conductress came bounding down the coach when we got on, and had some English, so I amused the passengers taking pictures including Jennifer with her. Tram drivers and conductors are invariably women. One man asked Jennifer if the passengers on trams in Manchester could speak Russian!
Chris Lewis – Member of Locomotive Club of Great Britain website: www.lcgb.org.uk