It is a crisp, autumn day. One of those when the cold cuts the air like a sword, yet the sun dazzles you with its endless charm. The summer ended far too soon this year and even though we have just said goodbye to September only a few days ago, the temperatures have taken a quick drop to single digits. The weather gods behave like they are in a stock exchange playing random games with the seasons.
Oh but the sun, that glorious fireball of joy, it is shining so beautifully today spreading its soft rays in the sky deep blue like the ocean waters. Perfect for a little road trip down south into the charming Danish countryside.
Gisselfeld Kloster says the destination on our GPS. It wasn’t even on the agenda for the day, yet it turned out to be the absolute highlight of the trip. The road leading to it is straight out of a Danish countryside dream – rolling farm fields, wind turbines, deep forests and chirping birds. Now take it all and throw in a splash of autumn colours accentuated in the sunset glow and you have got yourself a beautiful postcard.
Tucked away in the south of Sjælland, an hour drive away from København, Gisselfeld castle is fortunately not on the major tourist radar at least not for now. Reaching there as the sun was about to set, we got the entire castle grounds to ourselves. I read somewhere that H.C. Andersen got his inspiration for the Ugly Duckling fairytale while a guest in the castle grounds. Who can blame him?
A small unassuming wooden gate guards the treasure that lies inside. Carefully opening the tiny gate you walk straight into a fairytale. Deserted castle grounds, surrounded by immaculate gardens, moats clear as mirrors, sun touching the surfaces softly, casting a golden glow on everything it touches, swans gliding gracefully on the tranquil waters, and not a single soul in sight, but one lonely fisherman navigating the lake in his small boat.
Photos © Ani Movsisyan & Andreas Eriksen
Having a ladybug land on my hand, meeting white deer first time ever!, walking towards a double rainbow under a pouring rain and smiling sun. All in one day. Copenhagen – my beautiful home, you are full of prettiness 💕
After quite an intensely busy week, I desperately needed some unwinding time that didn’t involve sitting in front of a computer and working on items from long to do lists. Instead it needed to be full of long walks in a good company and my trusty Leica to capture beautiful moments on the lens. It seemed that the weather gods joined the cause to cheer me up by clearing the thick grey skies over Copenhagen, whooshing away the howling winds and sending some beautiful autumn sun.
After some impromptu planning with an Indian colleague of mine, Rashika, we decided to start our Saturday bright and early with a lovely breakfast at a Vesterbro favourite – Mad og Kaffe. To get to enjoy a delicious breakfast at this place without having to wait in long, winding queues, you practically have to appear there when the doors open at 08:30 sharp. That is exactly what we did.
Tummies full and smiling, we headed towards Klampenborg for a day in the nature and beautiful autumn walks in Dyrehaven deer park.
First things first though. Pre-walk coffee and dessert to sweeten up the walk. Rashika got her first taste of traditional Danish pastry – hindbærsnitter (rasperry slices) at Cranks & Coffee. If you are a bike lover, you will appreciate this hyggelig hangout place by Klampenborg station.
Breakfast check, coffee check, hindbærsnitter check. Let the walk begin.
Photos © Ani Movsisyan
It is an early, early morning. I try to ignore the alarm, hoping, wishing it would go off and let me get back to the world made up of dreams. Not much luck there. The last stretch of the Trans-Siberian is calling us. I guess it is time to say do svedanye (so long) Russia! You have been a real charm. Next stop – Mongolia. First there is still 22 hours and 37 minutes to be spent in the train.
Second from the top is our train coming all the way from Moscow and going all the way to Beijing. If you do it non-stop, it will take you around 7 days.
Bye-bye Russian comfort, hello Chinese class. From here on China is officially taking over the Trans-Siberian stretch. Judging by the look and feel of the train interior, let’s just say it is good it’s only one day. The exterior – that’s another thing. I am totally loving the sleek green colour and the Chinese communist emblem.
Aboard the train another peculiar fact makes itself known – the serious looking, sometimes smiling female provodnitsa (train attendants) you see all along the Trans-Siberian stretch from Moscow to Irkutsk have all disappeared. No trace of them except the ones working in the restaurant. Instead you meet male Chinese attendants, who as you come to observe are more in favour of keep calm – take a break attitude, than actually doing their train chores.
Modernish amenities of Russian trains with more advanced A/C system are gone out the window. It is replaced by a more simplistic design of a revolving fan that makes so much noise, you really need to be desparate to turn it on. On a hot July day we were desparate. Fortunately after some time you get used to the constant background buzzing noise and stop noticing it.
Our neighbour is Mongolian speaking no Russian or English. Only Mongolian and Magyar, since she is living in Hungary. Not much chance of communication going on there. I call Google to help for general introduction. Otherwise it is just exchanging smiles and sharing my precious stash of sunflower seeds. Chewing sunflower seeds is also apparently popular among Mongolians.
While I chat away with a Canadian girl who has spent the last 6 days on the train all the way from Moscow, I notice Andreas hard at work shining the window. Then I remember – he was preparing for this stretch since home equipped with a wiping cloth. An insider tip – make sure you wipe the window close to your train compartment before the train sets off for the long journey east and south. Trust me you will not regret it. What is waiting for you is simply the BEST stretch of the whole 5.000 km Trans-Siberian ride. When the train rides south approaching the shore of Lake Baikal, hits its southermost point and makes a curvy turn and hits northward toward Ulan-Ude. On this stretch panoramic vistas of Lake Baikal become your companion.
Shining the window situation mostly applies to when the temperature hits the freezing degrees so you don’t want to risk catching pneumonia and opening the window. In the warm summer months we discovered that the Chinese attendant can unlock the small overhead windows.
When the most awaited moment finally arrives, everyone leaves the comfort of their compartments and gets glued to the windows. The narrow train corridor becomes a melting pot of nations, languages and cultures. Chinese, Mongolians, Europeans, Americans, everyone is gazing out.
As the train approaches Ulan-Ude, the lake views slowly disappear and are replaced by endless forests again. It is time to hit the restaurant before we reach the Mongolian border where we are told that they are going to detach the carriage housing the Russian restaurant so we better feast on our usual Russian delicacies of borsch and fried potatoes before they are left behind on the other side of the border.
To reach the restaurant cabin you literally have to go from one end of the train to the other, opening and closing doors. One of the doors you open, welcomes you to the first class world, mainly populated by Americans. I am wondering if there is any system or a pure draw of luck that decides which of the attendants gets to make the first class carriage his base. That guy is definitely enjoying the experience. Lounging in his cabin with a cigarette in his mouth, despite the fact that it is a non-smoking train.
The restaurant is more multicultural compared to the other trains we took across the Trans-Siberian.
We go with our usual favourites – the borsch and blini. As he carefully studies the menu, a happy smile appears on Andreas’ face. Apparently he found his childhood favourite dessert – peach compote with whipped cream. Of course he needs to have it. My feeble attempt at we just had a blini with jam, do we also need to order this, gets totally ignored. Childhood memories – what can you do? 😀
Hours roll by. Soon the bright summer day is replaced by an evening dusk and voila we reach the Russia-Mongolia border. What happens next is 4 hours on the border. 2 hours on the Russian side and 2 hours on the Mongolian. First Russian border control comes in dressed in full uniforms and armed with dogs, collects passports and disappears for 2 hours. Promising start. Passports are returned with beautiful stamps in, only to be snatched away again 30 minutes later by the Mongolian border control ladies who are less cheerful than their Russian counterparts. By the time we get our passports back it is already past midnight. The train is now cleared to continue its journey onto the Mongolia grasslands.
I get minimum amount of sleep lulled by the train noise. Waking up every so often, I give up when the beautiful light of the dawn hits our cabin. Opening the compartment door a totally different view greets you. Gone are the lush taiga forests of Russia. The vast grasslands of Mongolia welcome you to a whole new country.
It is a whole new day and a start of our week in Mongolia. Russia you have been such a charm, opening the doors to your beautiful country for us and showing us pretty corners along the 5.000 km stretch from Moscow to Ulan-Ude. It has also put my Russian language skills to test, I haven’t spoken so much Russian since high school. Pretty proud of myself. So long Russia, we will be back to explore more of your beauty for sure. Until then cайн уу (sain uu) Mongolia!
Photos © Andreas Eriksen & Ani Movsisyan
It is time to say good-bye. To the tiny village in the middle of nowhere going by the name Bugul’deyka, to the tranquil waters of Lake Baikal and to our kind host Volodya. And such moments can often get emotional. Especially when you get to experience special places and meet special people along the way. This one good-bye is shaping definitely out to be a pretty emotional one. Before we get to the tears welling in the eyes, waving farewell and shining the last smiles, there is still the last breakfast to be enjoyed in the company of Romanovs.
Yep you heard it right! Romanovs – the last tsarist dynasty of Russia. In this era where your every move, wish and preference can be tracked and predicted, a series about the Romanovs popped up on our Netflix radar as we were making our way through the vast Russian empire. How convenient. And so in the company of Romanovs we enjoyed a quiet morning in our Buryat home until the clock stroke 09:30 and it was time to head to Irkutsk.
The car is packed, and a sentimental walk around the house and the courtyard to bid farewell is accomplished. What is left is an emotional good-bye with Volodya. He managed to turn it into a beautiful, tear-filled ceremony as he put on his full Buryat suit and came bearing gifts.
Remember I told you some time ago, that you might get a chance to meet Volodya. Well here you go. A kind, kind soul that made our trip so special with his stories, kindness and humble personality.
Irkutsk is calling. A dusty, yet beautiful 4 hour drive in a right-hand car takes us to our destination. Being driven in a right-hand drive vehicle in a country where the traffic is officially left-handed can easily turn to an exhilarating experience. As you move from west to east in Russia you start noticing a few wrong sided adventurers, but wait until you reach Mongolia. There right-hand seems to be more the norm than the exception.
Four hours later we arrive to the very heart of Irkutsk to find the central streets and squares closed off for traffic. Apparently there is this thing called Silk Way Rally and it is slated to launch the day of our departure from nowhere else but Irkutsk and take on Russia, Mongolia and China. So the whole city is filled with show-off offroad vehicles. At this point Andreas is totally ecstatic and half-contemplating a change of plans to stay a day longer in Irkutsk.
This being our last day in Russia and preceding a yet another 24 hour train ride across the border to Mongolia, we decided to treat ourselves real nice and check into the fanciest hotel that Irkutsk has to offer with a real bed and a real shower. Apparently majority of Silk Way Rally participants had the same idea and so the hotel lobby and restaurant is filled up with groups from all corners of the world.
The sun is shining, it is a gorgeous day, the city is smiling and that all you need for smiling back. Irkutsk turns out to be such a charming city. Pity we only have a few hours to explore. We end up walking for hours and hours exploring small, cosy streets and big Soviet avenues.
What made me fall in love with Irkutsk are its wooden houses. We found a whole bunch of them scattered around in the city hunched over from the years of service and neglect, yet standing still proudly to tell stories of former days of glory. Even in their state of total despair, neglect and lack of loving care, they don’t fail to catch your eye.
Wooden house trail leads us to the Soviet neighbourhoods
After exploring the streets of Irkutsk for hours, finding pre-Soviet, Soviet and post-Soviet traces imprinted all over, we end up at Kvartal 130. Based on the recommendation of the hotel receptionist it was an area totally worth checking out, claiming to have replicas of Siberian style wooden houses. Oh we found the houses alright – nothing charming about them. What we also found was a totally touristic, soulless pedestrian street filled with loud restaurants, encircled by shopping stalls and malls and caged animals kept for petting.
This icon outside the mall was much more relatable.
Leaving Kvartal 130 behind we head back through the city, greeting Lenin on the way to find our home for the night.
It is the last few hours in Russia, I cannot believe tomorrow we will bid farewell to this beautiful land and cross the border to Mongolia. I seriously do NOT want to leave the comfy bed!!! The thought of getting up at 06:00 tomorrow morning to catch a 23 hour train ride to Ulanbataar sounds absolutely brutal. This is what goes on in my mind as I lay my head on the softest pillow ever.
Photos © Andreas Eriksen & Ani Movsisyan
It has been a month since our great Russian-Mongolian adventure came to an end. I have been overly optimistic in telling myself to keep up with the travelling bug and give life to my memories. Weeks have gone by, work happened with its usual business and endless list of tasks and to dos and projects, and my writing muse seems to have given up on me for a while.
With every noble intention in mind, I am sitting outside in the beautiful morning sun at a neighbourhood sidewalk café keen on breaking the spell and getting a new post out today. Wish me luck! So far I have managed to be a diligent student and catch up on my Italian studies. Totally not a sign of procrastination.
We are back in Bugul’deyka. We nevery actually left, still there for the last day. Remember our kind host Volodya. His mission of the day is to make our last day in the shores of Lake Baikal as memorable as possible. That includes creating ample opportunities for me to enjoy beautiful wild flower fields and for Andreas to take one last long ride in his oh-so-beloved UAZ dream car. A drive to the nearby taiga forest seems to be a perfect qualifier for both wishes.
The UAZ rolls quietly on the dusty path making every small bump and unevenness of the surface count. It is all part of the countryside charm. So buckle up. My wish of pretty wildflower encounters doesn’t make itself wait for long. Just an hour on the bumpy ride, the path turns into an enchanted forest covered in a carpet of purple and yellow blooms. I have always had a thing for pretty flowers. Perhaps doing something about that gardening dream of mine one day wouldn’t be such a bad idea. Having grown up with a field of red tulips and blooming trees of apricots, peaches and cherries in the backyard probably has something to do with my enchantment of flowers.
Enough about that. Taiga is calling. We are headed towards the middle of nowhere, where Volodya claims we will find a village with traditional wooden houses. As the fields of flowers slowly get swapped with even bumpier roads, the minutes slowly passing by seem endless. Volodya never disappoints, so we gotta trust that the village will appear out of nowhere anytime now.
An hour or so passes by. I manage to get comfortable in the dream car and doze off into the world of dreams amidst the bumpy, dusty drive. Someone (no need to call names) always gets amazed at my ability to fall asleep in the car on the most peculiar of roads and yet manage to get wide awake at home from the slightest noise.
What greets us is a mishmash of beautiful wooden houses, some looking abandoned and in desperate need of repair standing side by side with more beautiful neighbours showing clear signs of modernity done in the not so recent past. In whatever state of repair the houses find themselves, there is one thing that still makes them look charming. The windows – with their unique look and feel on each of the houses. It feels like you have entered an enchanted village and forest fairies will burst open the windows any minute now and come flying out.
There is not much sign left in the village that once housed close to a hundred inhabitants. Many have left for the city in the search of a better life. In the end of the village you come across what once used to be the Soviet cultural centre and is today totally devoid of humans and populated by a flock of goats. Across the street from the goat gathering center you will find a prominent looking house, one of the few that has been repaired recently and shows signs of inhabitance. It belongs to the mayor of the village. He and his buddies are lounged out in the front of the house chatting away with no care in the world. Encountering a group of foreigners, the mayor is quick to jump into conversation, reminiscing about the good, old Soviet times and how glorious the life was back then.
As the village tour comes to an end, we head back home to Bugul’deyka. Volodya needs to make provisions for the last supper – BBQ on the shore of Lake Baikal. He tried to convince me to make an Armenian style BBQ but due to lack of necessary ingredients quickly dropped the idea and turned to the Buryat traditional style.
The waters of Baikal are very tranquil today. The sun is painting the lake in burning red. As we wait for the chicken to grill, it is easy to get mesmerised by the view and draw into your own world of thoughts and dreams. The world seems so peaceful right at this moment.
Baikal has been an absolute charm, largely due to our kindest host. As the evening draws closer, Andreas heads off for one last river swim. Tomorrow is a new day and we will bid goodbye to Volodya in the hope of returning one day.
Photos © Andreas Eriksen & Ani Movsisyan
Copenhagen is so irresistibly pretty when the sun is shining. Today is yet another gorgeous day of perfect summer weather. Sitting on the balcony, listening to 70’s music and watching the sun set over the city, it feels like just the perfect setting for catching up on my travel writing.
Where were we? Oh yes, still in a far, far away village somewhere in Siberia, called Bugul’deyka. According to our Trans-Siberian schedule it is day 13. Good thing I scribbled down some notes throughout the days to remember the adventures and impressions of the day. The memory has a very fleeting habit, the small details tend to fly away like butterflies, leaving you with high-level contours after some time.
The day is a laid back one with no specific plans or agenda. Perhaps due to the fact that our host Volodya had quite a merry evening involving some vodka consumption (no judging), so he needs some recovery time. Me not minding some laissez faire-ness. Gives me a chance to catch up on my suspenseful reading of the Bottle of Lies (remember the book about the scary story of generic drugs). It is an absolute page-turner. Finding a sunny corner on the porch, with a cup of black tea and my favourite childhood chocolate – Krasnoya Shapochka (little red riding hood) for desert, I am totally enjoying the morning.
Time flies by in the total bliss of reading. Suddenly it’s midday and rather an opportune moment to explore the main attractions of our village.
Everything starts and revolves around the main avenue of the village – Lenin Street of course! Like any other self-respecting Russian city, something named after Lenin is a must. Moscow has the crown jewel of all – the Mausoleum, that’s naturally hard to beat. But naming the central street, which in the case of Bugul’deyka, is practically a dusty path, after Lenin, is quite prominent after all.
Just off the Lenin Street we find one of the two stores providing the food/drink/cigarette supplies to the village. Svetlana store becomes the lucky recipient of our attention. Among some exciting things, including Armenian brandy, you will find a very big selection of mayonnaise. Yep Russians seem to like their mayonnaise. On the picture below you can find 13 different mayonnaise containers, I would say after alcohol selection mayo must have the biggest assortment in the modest store.
After a few minutes of dusty strolling in plus 30 degrees, the grand village tour comes to an end as we decide to walk to Lake Baikal. At the point of making that decision, the distance of 3 km seems like a pretty casual stroll. In the sun and the dusty roads, the initial decision soon started losing its glamour. What strengthened the argument in favour of walking was the surrounding beautiful nature of blooming grass and wildflower fields.
By the time we reach Lake Baikal, it is almost time to get back home in order not to be late from our agreed lunch time. Luckily Volodya has recovered from his evening escapades and comes to our rescue in UAZ, to someone’s absolute joy.
The afternoon programme suddenly comes alive. Volodya has some plans of course. He wants to show us his favourite hideouts – a marble quarry, wildflower fields (especially for me) and a secret trail leading to the most gorgeous panoramic spot. Bring it on!
One last glance at the beautiful view and we descend down into our Soviet rides that are waiting at the foot of the hill.
Such a beautiful day filled with Sovietness, wildflower fields and prettiness everywhere. Before we call it a day, Andreas utters the magic words again – paydyom plavat and Volodya and him set off for their usual evening ritual of river swimming. And just out from the banya, we hardly escape an absolutely crazy downpour of insane hail and thunderstorms. That lasts for about half an hour and fills the entire courtyard with large hail and puddles, let alone the feeling that the sky will soon rip apart and an ocean of water will come storming down.
At least a beautiful and fresh morning can be awaiting us tomorrow. Good night!
Photos © Andreas Eriksen & Ani Movsisyan