Here we are again. Back on the train for 2 nights from Ulan Baatar to Irkutsk (Siberian Russia). It was one hell of a border crossing lasting for who knows how long. Got to love Mongolian and Russian Immigration Officials. They don’t mind taking their time, thats for sure. I think it took the 4 of us sharing the cabin about 12 goes between us to fill in one of the forms correctly!! They give us two identical forms but to use, one for entry and exit to Russia, but you mark both off as Entry. Seemed bizarre to us even though we wrote different locations on each. Hopefully they let us out of the country when that time comes.
We stopped off at this little town called Noushki (assuming I spelt it correctly) just over the border. Scott continually joked about this place and the market that takes all of 3 minutes to explore. We thought he was joking but it was actually true! About the only good thing about the town was the Cornetto type ice creams we found that were berry and vanilla flavoured. Hate to admit it but it was actually better than our local Cornetto ice creams at home!
During that trip a little Mongolian boy befriended me. He was awesome and even though the only english word we could use together was ‘WOW’ (at the scenery) I felt really sad when he left the train. Getting a photo with him relieved me of some of the anger I was feeling towards the Mongolians for stealing my camera.
Also on this trip I came across a couple of South Aussies (Annabel & Chris) who were doing the Vodka train. Great people and so nice to remember such wonderful things as Farmers Union Iced Coffee and the Bakery on O’Connell. Gee I miss those things. We also did the Heaps Good pose with the T-Shirt as a tribute to home.
Finally arriving at Irkutsk we then used a private bus to get out to Listvyanka at Lake Baikal. To say it was cold on arrival was an understatement. When we undertook a small walking tour, even though its primarily a fishing village, the winds kicked up, then the rain came. The only thing missing was snow! The temperature might have been 2 degrees but the wind chill factor would have been close to -10 degrees. I rate it in the top 3 coldest conditions I have been in.
Amazingly Scott took a dip in the lake, yes even in these conditions, to try and lengthen his life by 25 years. Apparently thats the myth that goes with it. Not one other person was game enough to even think about doing it. Full credit to him but I still think he was nuts!
Couple of us went out that night to see if anything happens in town. Halfway down the street, a car pulled over and the driver started talking to us. As soon as he found out we were Aussies, he got so excited, that he got the vodka out and shared it with us, yes on the street. I think his wife was so embarrassed. We didn’t know what to do, but we knew people get offended if you don’t take people up on their offer. So there we were knocking off Vodka straight from the bottle, middle of the night on lonely street in Siberia. Who would have thought? Funny thing in the end, is that the guy who pulled us over was a local cop, showed his ID and all. I don’t think drink driving laws are applicable in Siberia! On a separate note, the vodka he had was the best I have ever tasted. I only wish we knew the name of it.
Next day we just went and saw a pretty dodgy museum for something to do and rode a ski lift to get some great views of the lake. Really pretty location, thats for sure. I so wanted to bounce up and down on the chairlift, but being held captive in Siberia didn’t have huge appeal.
That night we got to enjoy a Russian Banya (Bath) with our host and local Banya Lunatic, Nikolai. This involved stripping down to boxers, jocks or budgie smugglers. I went the boxers. Then being in this heated sauna at about 100 degrees, sweating up like you wouldn’t believe until you could take no more, stepping out for a few minutes before re-entering and having Nikolai whip oneself with Birch leaves (not painful, thankfully) before then being sent outside (yes it was about 0 degrees at this time) to jump into a plunge pool which he had kindly dumped ice into earlier in the day to make it extra cold. From there sat outside with others, in our underwear ‘cooling’ off. The steam coming off us was unbelievable but it was so comfortable and not once felt cold.
We then had to repeat the sweating, whipping and plunging for a second time before we got the scrub down with what felt like a wire brush. The soap got washed off with warm water but then the final surprise of a bucket of freezing cold water being showered on us as the last step. Nikolai was a nasty man, well not really, but more like a lunatic as I mentioned before. Afterwards I can honestly say I never felt cleaner or more refreshed however its not something I could do too often, but yes I would do it again.
Next day we bussed it back to Irkutsk and had a quick walk around, did some food shopping at the Farmers Market which reminded me so much of the Central Market at home. Such a fun experience and with produce so fresh we all loaded up for the big 3 day, 3 night train trip on the Trans Siberian that was commence that night. This was going to be a true test of patience, especially for me.