We’re in Ulan Ude now, having arrived a bit later last night than scheduled. (Mind you, it took a half hour to walk from the train to the hotel.)
It’s a nice little city of about a half million ... and no birch trees!!! Finally.
We’ll be here until early tomorrow morning, when we leave for Mongolia. I’m not particularly looking forward to such an early morning, I’ll tell you.
Slept mostly on the train, which was about the only way to pass through the pain. It’s a six and a half hour trip from Irkutsk to Ulan Ude, a distance of no more than 300 km (straight-line, that is). The train needs to take a few bendy twists going through the mountains, pass through a couple of tunnels, and then plods along at an agonizingly slow 50 km/h (estimated). I think we topped out at a few places around 80.
The eastern shore of Lake Baikal was frozen — ice as far as you could see. The exact opposite of what we’d seen in Listvyanka two days ago. It looks like it’s thawing quickly, though, so it shouldn’t be long before the clear waters show through.
Two of our housemates in Irkutsk (a pair of Aussies) told us two things: 1) that we’d love Mongolia (something we’d both strongly suspected), and 2) China would wear us down fast. It’s chaotic, the toilets are disaster areas (that actually scares us), the "queues" aren’t, and pretty much everything we’d wanted to see is buried under scaffolding. It seems everyone is upgrading this year.
We’re just waiting for our tour to start today — we actually got a guide for here — and will be back later with more. Stay tuned...