My favourite trains (so far)

I rarely remember my dreams. I have to wake up in the middle of them to remember what they were about, and quite often I’m so tired that by the time I can get my mental faculties together to try and remember the dream, I already forgot what it was. Which is probably good, since most of the dreams I remember make very little sense.
This morning’s dream was an exception. I was talking with someone I know (admittedly, can’t remember who it was) about trains. (Believe it or not, this is not an unknown conversation.) They asked me what my favourite train trips were, and I had said something like “whoa, that’s a tough one, let me think”. Then I started rhyming them off.
Oddly enough, that was about when I woke up … and I kept rhyming. So I figured, heck, that just sounds like a blog post!
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20 years of blogging (and Post #1,000)

Well, okay, not so much “blogging” as journaling, but most of them are now online for everyone to ignore.
Twenty years ago, I got to do something that (comparatively) very few westerners got to do, and will never get to do again: I went behind the Iron Curtain. I visited the (former) Soviet Union. Believe it or not, the journey was a field trip, organised by one of the teachers in my school board. We had to do prerequisite classwork and had to write two length reports, all of which added up to academic credits.
And we had to write a journal.
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Things seen along the way

As we’ve moved along over this journey, I’ve taken pictures of things for posting to the blog. Some of them didn’t make it, for one reason or another. But hating to waste good pictures, I thought I’d throw them into a blog posting for all to experience.
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Crossing the Russia – Mongolia border by train

We knew this was going to be rough. We knew this was going to be long. It wasn’t as bad as we thought it might be, but it was still long.
We took Train 364 (formerly 264) from Ulan Ude to Ulaan Baatar. (The train itself runs Irkutsk to UB.) As we would find out, the whole train doesn’t go to Mongolia — only the cars that contain passengers going to Mongolia. We found this out when we got to the Naushki station, on the Russian/Mongolian border.
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More Russian train stuff

Okay, quick update…So Continuously Welded Rail (CWR) doesn’t exist coast-to-coast. After we left Ekaterinburg, we went to jointed rail. CWR exists in patches along the line, but the most of it is the ol’ clickety-clack variety.
Lots more freight trains, too.
Russian engines are huge, but have the wimpiest horns you ever heard! Sounds like those little steam whistles on old-fashioned popcorn makers.

Da svidanya Rossiya

Well, we’ve reached the end of our time here in Russia. Tomorrow morning, early, we’re off to Mongolia. And a 10+ hour border-crossing, so we’re told. It’s simultaneously a horror story and a quest of patience, so it seems.
After we arrived last night, literally 10 minutes into being in our new hotel room, the phone rang. It was “Helga from St. Petersburg”. Being more than just a little out of it, I assumed Helga was our tour operator, and was arranging our tour for tomorrow. She said she would be in the hotel, and we could meet her in the “cafeteria” (more like a bar with food). This was great since she had our train tickets to Ulaan Baatar, and would give us the details for our tour to the Datsun — the Buddhist template near Ulan Ude.
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The last Russian stop

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…

Listvyanka and Lake Baikal

The cold seems to be slowly moving away. It hit me a little harder than it did Amy, so while she dealt mostly with the sniffles, I’ve been dealt the ol’ phlegm-attack. Mostly throat clearing, so it ain’t all nasty.
Until today, I had yet to cash any of my traveller’s cheques. Useful things these are not. Major problem: very few places in Russia care to honour them. You have search high and low to find places that will handle them, and not for an obscene rate of conversion. It’s silly, really. In future, I’m sticking to my usual system: bring a bank card. It’s accepted at most ATMs world-wide, though you do sometimes have to hunt for the right ones.
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Alive in Irkutsk

You know that feeling you get, when you’re finding yourself walking down a street in a dream, and you’re not sure if you know where you are, but you keep going anyway? That’s what Amy and I have been feeling like the last few hours. We’ve been speculating to guess why (I attributed part of it to being sick and drugged up on Contac-C; Amy’s blaming the fish she had for dinner last night), but we’re not entirely sure.
The Irkutsk railway station
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