I boarded the train in Irkutsk for Ulan Ude for a 9:03 AM departure. The trains run ON TIME here! I hadn’t slept enough, so when I was given bed linens, I made my bed and took a 1 1/4 hour nap. AH, much better. When I awoke, we were passing on the east side of Lake
Baikal, as we did for several hours. (It is 400 miles long!) At some point near noon, a woman was selling smoked fish, which I bought, as many train people did. I was going to take her picture handing me the fish but she had a fit! I apologized and photographed the fish on my table! Isn’t that odd?
The fish was superb, and with a couple of oz. of vodka that I had left over in a bottle in my backpack, it went down easily. We were finally into some small mountains. While it was overcast, I did get some photos of Lake Baikal.
I discovered that there was a dining car one down from my car. For linner I had beer, a
salad, and wild salmon caviar. I suppose that is unforgivable for the environment, but I couldn’t resist.
Yum! I now know a fourth word in Russian—-pevo for beer. There were signs all around the dining car that they would take Visa. It’s amazing here that virtually everybody takes Visa, even the hostels, which normally don’t as the price is so low, it would cut even further into their revenue. Well in spite of the signs, the train dining car didn’t take Visa. No big deal, but unusual.
When I left the hostel in Irkutsk, I tried to tip the person at the hostel who had done many kindnesses for me, but she absolutely wouldn’t accept any money. Interesting! I got a taxi to the train station, and we departed.
One day I did such a dumb thing, I think it is worthy of reporting. I went into a small supermarket to buy water and a beer. I found the bottle of water, and then saw that the beer was in a refrigerated cabinet with a window, as usual. I pulled on the door to open it, but it wouldn’t budge. (They are often locked) I made a motion to a clerk, and he indicated to ‘go ahead.’ I tried again, but it didn’t budge. He came over and indicated that there was no window, and to reach in and take the beer. We learn by doing!
On the train, In the early afternoon I was given a paper sack with a bottle of water (welcome!), a package of instant coffee and a cookie—-those sandwiches that they gave with ice cream a hundred years ago. I tried the coffee with the steam contraption, but it was undrinkable. I enjoyed the cookie.
I got settled in a nice hostel in Ulan Ude, met some Europeans and had a pleasant evening. There are quite a number of Buryats (a tribe of Mongolians) in Ulan Ude.
The next day I went sight seeing. I took a minibus way up high to the outskirts of the city to a Buddhist Temple.
It was pretty new; there were many Mongolians there worshiping.
The monks were ‘throat singing;’ a way of singing that produces a very low tone—-perhaps a full octave lower than a normal bass voice.
From there I took the bus back and walked to the other end of the downtown
to see their cathedral.
There were pretty pedestrian streets on the way. This is a very pretty
I have neglected to tell you about the most central landmark in this town—-Lenin’s Head! It’s just a block from my hostel and anchors a big square in the center of town. All directions are given here in relation to where it is from Lenin’s head.
There were many weddings happening on this Saturday. They seem to go ‘all out’ with limos and many decorated cars. Then
they seem to be photographed in front of all the landmarks, as well.
Can you stand another statue of Chekov? This one practically begs one to join him on a park bench. Notice he’s carrying an umbrella here, too. The caricature in Tomsk had him with an umbrella in a silly way.
I did stop in and look at their Ulan Ude City Museum. The 1890s house it was in was worthwhile, but without being able to read Russian, the rest was kind of lost on me.
I’m finally meeting some travelers from the Netherlands. Usually they are almost the majority of people in hostels but here the majority have been Russian. And, of course, the Dutch are all fluent in English.
Some learnings: When the address is 56-55 and a street name, that means that it is #56 on that street and 55 is the apartment number. You go to the entrances and look for a dumb little sign over the door that says: 1-40, which means you use this entrance for apartments 1-40. You go to the next entrance and see 41-60. Yes, that’s the right one. You press 55 on the keypad and hopefully somebody buzzes you in.
On a menu, there are two numbers next to each dish. For example, 200, 350. That means it is 200 grams of whatever, and it costs 350 Rubles.
When you see vodka on a menu, there are two numbers: 50 ml 110. That means you get 50 milliliters (my med tech friends will understand this—-it’s about 1 3/4 oz) and it costs 110 rubles. By the time I go home, I’ll be quite proficient!
I did have a scare the other day, though. My iPhone offered me a free app to download for free music. So I did. A little while later when I went to put on one of my audiobooks, they were all missing! It said something about now my books weren’t in music, but were in audio books. Well, they weren’t. I have about 25 recorded books for this trip, and would be lost without anything to read/listen to! A young man at the hostel tried and tried to help me, but wasn’t familiar with Apple. I finally went to bed but was so consternated that I didn’t sleep well. The next morning when I turned on my iPhone, there were all my books!! Thank goodness. Apparently there was kind of a delay in implementation.
Sunday I walked a long ways to get a bus to go out of town to visit another Buddhist Temple—-Ivolga Datsan. I asked for the Banzarova Bus Station as indicated in my guidebook and finally found it. When I asked a woman “Ivolga Datsan??” and pointed to minibus number 130 in my guidebook, she indicated “no” and pointed way over there. I walked over to where she pointed and she indicated no, and came over and motioned me to come with her. We walked about five blocks to a small bus stop and she indicated by blocking off the ‘1’ in ‘130’ that I would need bus number 30. When it finally came (she waited with me) she shouted instructions to the driver. In the meantime I had asked if I could photograph her but she adamantly said, “No.” Off I went to another bus park, where I saw bus 130 and boarded, asking if this was to “Ivolga Datsan.” It was.
This Temple was built in Stalin’s time (!) in ’46. I did see the ‘old’ small temple, but many
more larger and more extravagant ones had been built in the last 20 years.
There were many cottages for the monks, but I think they also were for other people to come and stay.
There were various ceremonies going on with cymbals and drums and singing.
On the way back into town, I photographed the suburbs of Olan Ode—-not a tree!
Going back to my hostel, the bus passed right in front of it, which I happened to see so I told the driver I wanted off. I’m sure he couldn’t understand me, but assumed that is what I wanted.
I went to the Fine Arts Museum and for the first time was sold ticket(s) separately for each
section that I wanted to see. I bought ‘Buryat’ and ‘Russian’ and ‘Photo’ for me to use my camera, so had three tickets. I was escorted into my proper section and couldn’t go ‘next door’ into another room. The Buryat art was fine—-a lot of horses as you would expect and the Russian was a lot of portraits, which I have been seeing. However, in all the museums so far, they all use highly reflective glass to cover the oil paintings so you can hardly see them, especially if they are kind of dark.
Linner on Sunday was the BEST! I had three items and they bear copying off the (English) menu as to their descriptions:
Seneyskaya Gornica Fat moderate salt with the meat layer, baked potato, green onions, garlic, onion rings and garlic croutons of rye bread.
A Greek salad—-routine.
Mongolian Boozy The national dish of chopped meat Borgoickoi lamb wrapped in fresh dough and steamed.
The first dish was what my dad used to eat when we butchered our own pork on the farm
in the ‘40s. It’s side pork, or salt pork—-kind of like bacon but not smoked and very fatty, from the side of the animal. My dad loved it—-my sister and I wouldn’t touch it!. The meat layer just means a tiny strip of lean in the fat; the baked potato was like French fries but oven baked; the onion rings were raw onions in rings, and the garlic croutons were perfect! I enjoyed every scrap of this.
The third item was dumplings—-very good and juicy. They were served with three sauces.
Went to bed early in anticipation of an early morning rise to board a 6:30 AM train to Khabarovsk. However, the hostel really filled up that night and there was lots of commotion. I didn’t sleep much but I think it was more because I didn’t want to oversleep.
I walked to the train and we departed right on time. I had a compartment with two roommates—-Natalie (30s, very pretty) and Alexie (20ish, very handsome). They were not together—and neither spoke any English, but before long I met Ivan, (36, with his family) who had learned some English in military school. He was very kind and helpful.
I was kind of dreading this 2 1/2 day train trip, but it turned out fine! I
slept on and off a lot, and all night, too, so I got rested up, finally.
The scenery was more of the same ‘Siberia’, mainly flat and pine/birch trees. I did see a little haying activity once, and a few animals once, but not much. I saw quite a few small villages and we stopped in a few large towns/cities. Then we would often spend 18 minutes (Ivan would tell me) and I could get off the train and walk around a bit on the platform. My roommates were very pleasant and the time went surprisingly fast.
Each morning a young woman brought a paper sack for each of us with a small bottle of water, a tea bag, plastic flatware, 2 small pieces of bread, and a small chocolate bar. There was also a powder mixture, called ‘coffee mix’ which I tried with the hot tea water, but it was undrinkable. I did have the tea, though, with the steam heated contraption for hot water.
At noon a young woman came around asking for food choices. She could say “Chicken’ and “fish” and I chose chicken. I motioned to her that I was going to go into the ‘restoran’’ car first and have a ‘pevo’ and she understood. When I did, pointing to the beer that was
displayed, the same young woman was in there, preparing steirofoam containers of the food that she was going to distribute to everybody in their compartments. Well, she brought me mine in regular dishes with regular flatware—-was this because I was the only foreigner on board? Or if you buy something in the dining car, do you get to eat there? Anyway, I did.
I slept surprisingly well, and since the bathroom was kept immaculate, cleanup in the morning was fine. The second day I had ‘fish’ and again ate in the dining car. This time when I entered, it was plumb full of people—-apparently having a staff meeting as they were RR people. Or maybe a union meeting? One woman with gray hair held forth with great animation, and another man seemed to rebut her remarks. No, I don’t think they have labor unions. Anyway, again, my soup and fish with potatoes were brought to me, while I drank a beer. All fine!
The next morning I was planning to have breakfast in the dining car. The waitress didn’t give me a menu, but motioned to me, did I want to eat? I nodded, yes. She brought me 2 fried eggs, a slice of salami, a piece of cheese and bread. When I gestured to pay, she indicated ‘no’ as it was part of the train ticket. And this time I hadn’t ordered a beer. By the time I got back to my compartment, my roommates had received steirofoam containers with the same food.
When they board, virtually all the passengers on the train change their clothes, hanging up their outfits that they were wearing and now wearing lounge clothes—-loose shorts and a tee, and scuffs. I wore my same clothes and my regular shoes, as I wasn’t prepared for anything else.
When my roommate, Natalia, left the train at Birobidzhan, she asked Alexie something and he got off the train with her. When he returned, he gave me three refrigerator magnets that he said were from Natalia. What a lovely thing for her to do! The magnets say Birobidzhan on them in Cyrillic, and I shall treasure them.
Ivan and family also got off in Birobidzhan. I had asked him about that city as a Jewish community as my map said that there was an Autonomous Jewish Community around there. My guidebook also mentioned seeing historical synagogues in that city. Ivan said they had all gone to Israel.
At last I arrived Khabarovsk at 1:00 PM local time. I found the Kakadu Hostel, very nice. I caught up on my emails and then went to find a restaurant. I walked quite a ways with nary a restaurant in sight, but I came upon a supermarket. So I ducked in there and bought some sandwich provisions, fruit and tomatoes. Back to the hostel and made use of their very nice kitchen facilities.
The next morning I became acquainted with Khabarovsk, a very nice city. I took a tram and luckily sat next to a ‘communicator.’ I said the name of a street—Muravyova-Amurskogo—-and he got it! I acted out “if the tram turned there” and he shook his head ‘no’ and made his fingers walk to show me that I would have to walk. He showed me when to get off and I did.
The architecture from the 1890s is quite spectacular with many examples on my walk.
By and by I came to the Cathedral, which had been rebuilt recently after being destroyed
From there I went to the Far Eastern Art Museum. There was a special exhibition on Chinese Heilongjiang Province Print Art. There was no English, but a docent, who could speak a bit of English, gave me a program, which apparently was left over from 2011 when it was in America. These prints were lovely and amazing. The rest of the museum was lots of Russian portraits and icons, and some Japanese porcelain. I did see a painting that I thought I recognized as a Surikov and it was! What fun.
From there I went to see the Archeology Museum which had reproductions of some petroglyphs that I would have like to have seen, but I would have to make do with these. The museum was kind of a disappointment, as were the petroglyphs. Maybe the real thing would have been more interesting.
I was thinking to go on an hour cruise on the giant Amur River, but I had some time to kill—-the Archeological Museum didn’t take long! I found a lovely outdoor coffee shop and had an iced coffee, which was very good!
The cruise did go, as promised, and the weather was perfect with a nice breeze and the chance to sit outdoors but in the shade on the boat. There were probably about 35 people on the one-hour cruise and it was very pleasant.
The skyline from the river is very beautiful.
It is so nice the way they have developed their riverfront with beautiful promenades, benches, and museums.
And it is well used. I think I was the only foreigner on the boat, but there were many Russian tourists.
Tomorrow I shall do my last train ride to Vladivostok, the end of the line. These cities have been very worthwhile—-I only wish I had had more time in each.
Thanks to all of you who have emailed me—-it’s always fun to hear from you all.