Sooooo, back on the train.
Not my brightest of morning starts- Train left around 0730hrs and I had ended up, finally, and to my eternal surprise, finding some nightlife in Irkutsk the previous evening… Therefore a 2am finish was not conducive to leaving the hostel at half past 6 the next morning. I am definitely too old for this malarkey. Although the restaurant tip about Georgian food was fantastic, thanks Cat. Proper dumplings and stew, good comfort food.
The train which greeted us at Irkutsk was rather older than the ones we’ve had so far, but was comfortable enough. I was beyond delighted to find that I had a compartment all to myself, because some top-up sleep was definitely required.
I immediately began a charm offensive with the carriage provodnitsa, which actually wasn’t really required because she was the smiliest, friendliest member of train staff I’d met so far in the trip. The train itself was a Mongolian Railways train which meant that the staff too were Mongolian, in general reputed to be friendlier than their Russian Railways equivalent.
After some lugging of laundry out of my compartment and sorting out the beds, sheets etc I gratefully popped to bed for a couple of hours. When I awoke, refreshed, I decided to have a wander for a cup of tea and, whilst visiting the Samovar, gave the provodnitsa one of my cakes which was VERY well received.
So much so, in fact, that a few minutes later the provodnitsa returned, proudly presenting me with another British person! I think she thought that Margaret was lonely in her compartment and that therefore we should share. Initially we both shared the conspiracy theory that the provodnitsa wanted her compartment to sleep in, although in hindsight I think it was just to make sure we had a good trip. Aaah.
At last I had a use for my quiz cards [Thanks mum!]. She looks delighted! She did point out a painfully obvious flaw however in that I can only ever use them fairly once as I’ll know all the answers! D’Oh.
The journey passed in a pleasant manner, as with all long train journeys here- Reading, relaxation, the occasional nap and near-constant eating. I was on Train 006, one of the fastest and most direct on this route, so it was mainly tourists on board. One of whom impressed me immensely.
Margaret had met Hilda earlier, and she popped into our compartment for a chat in the evening. 83 years old, travelling independently, a strong lass from Manchester. who’s been all over the world on her tod. She was most miffed about the restaurant since they had kept trying to persuade her to have a cup of tea with her meal, when all she wanted was a beer! She got it in the end.
I decided to go to the restaurant myself, but as I was walking through to the next carriage I was physically accosted by the provodnitsa, who through a bit of Mongolian and pointing summoned me to her office and showed me the pasties she was making, insisting that I should have them instead!
A strong rule of mine is saying “yes” on holiday in the majority of situations, so I returned to the compartment. 2 minutes later she entered bearing gifts:
And very nice they were too. So, day turned into night as we crossed the steppe, and the track started climbing into Mongolia. We’d attached another locomotive at Ulan-Ude for this bit. I’m actually quite sad I missed a visit there, a few people returned with tales of a beautiful town, and I learnt that the Mongol Rally had finished up there yesterday! Bugger.
Past lakes and hills, barbecuing locals and a fantastic sunset:
We reached the Russian border post by the mid-evening and began a merry-go-round of various officials wearing hats of varying size and of variable temper. I think we got off lightly as the 006 is a predominantly tourist train so they didn’t need to go overboard looking for contraband- It seems to be just traders bringing excessive amounts of stuff over the border that they worry about.
All of the compartments and carriages were searched twice though with sniffer dogs and customs officials, so we waited on the train for a good 3 hours. Before rumbling over to the Mongolian side and doing it aaaaallll again. Albeit on a slightly mellower basis.
Once we had our passports back we settled into a peaceful sleep, hoping to awake in Mongolia.
As it turned out, I woke at 0430hrs and had a slight panic because it looked like we were still at the border. We were not, the station just looked the same. We rolled into Ulaanbataar pretty much dead on time the next morning at 0720hrs, and so began the next phase of my adventure…