Day 16 on Trans-Siberian Railway: Irkutsk –> Ulanbaatar

Good morning from Irkutsk :)

Good morning from Irkutsk :)

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.

Train timetable - so many destinations to choose from

Train timetable – so many destinations to choose from

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.

Russian comfort replaced by made in China

Russian comfort replaced by made in China. The official emblem looks so cool though.

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 out the window.

Modernish amenities of Russian trains with more advanced A/C system are gone out the window.

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.

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.

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.

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.

IMG_1011Shining 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.

IMG_3843When 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.

IMG_3850As 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.

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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.

First class luxury - fancy, fancy

First class luxury – fancy, fancy

Sleeping cabin that also comes with a shower

Sleeping cabin that also comes with a shower

The restaurant is more multicultural compared to the other trains we took across the Trans-Siberian.

Borsch - our usual

Borsch – our usual

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? 😀

Dessert from Andreas' childhood

Dessert from Andreas’ childhood

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.

Good morning Mongolia!

Good morning Mongolia!

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

Day 15 on Trans-Siberian Railway: A day in Irkutsk

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.

Volodya clad in his full Buryat outfit came out to see us off

Volodya clad in his full Buryat outfit came out to see us off

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.

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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.

View from our hotel room over Irkutsk

View from our hotel room over Irkutsk

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.

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IMG_0914The 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.

Welcome to Irkutsk!

Welcome to Irkutsk!

No matter where you go, you will find Chinese tourists even in the most remote locations.

No matter where you go, you will find Chinese tourists even in the most remote locations. And one thing they never fail doing is taking selfies and posing for photos

Guess policemen also need a break

Guess policemen also need a break

IMG_3723What 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.

Me wandering from one wooden house to another, admiring its architecture, colours and shapes.

Me wandering from one wooden house to another, admiring its architecture, colours and shapes.

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Wooden house trail leads us to the Soviet neighbourhoods

What a beauty!

What a beauty!

Circus building - an important remnant of Soviet times. For some reason having a dedicated building for circus was quite a thing in the Soviet republics.

Circus building – an important remnant of Soviet times. For some reason having a dedicated building for circus was quite a thing in the Soviet republics.

Another pretty sight of former glory

Another pretty sight of former glory

Definitely Soviet architecture - quite cool!

Definitely Soviet architecture – quite cool!

Entrance to an apartment complex - typical Soviet look and feel again

Entrance to an apartment complex – typical Soviet look and feel again

Marx Street - one of the main streets in Irkutsk

Marx Street – one of the main streets in Irkutsk

Oh hello there - of course we had to find a red star somewhere

Oh hello there – of course we had to find a red star somewhere

Lenin square. Lenin and The Internationale on the wall next to him.

Lenin square. Lenin and The Internationale on the wall next to him.

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.

Don't ask why - this creature was the main design icon in the biggest shopping mall

Don’t ask why – this creature was the main design icon in the biggest shopping mall

This icon outside the mall was much more relatable.

I love Irkutsk - yes, I have to agree!

I love Irkutsk – yes, I have to agree!

Leaving Kvartal 130 behind we head back through the city, greeting Lenin on the way to find our home for the night.

Lenin keeping a watchful eye over the city

Lenin keeping a watchful eye over the city

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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.

Good night Irkutsk!

Good night Irkutsk!

Photos © Andreas Eriksen & Ani Movsisyan

Day 13 on Trans-Siberian Railway: From fields of wildflowers to thunderstorms and hail

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.

Good morning from Bugul'deyka!

Good morning from Bugul’deyka!

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.

Our home in Bugul'deyka

Our home in Bugul’deyka

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.

Lenin Street marks the heart of the village life

Lenin Street marks the heart of the village life

And of course the street comes with a prominent memorial to the fallen hero of the Great Patriotic War (WWII)

And of course the street comes with a prominent memorial to the fallen hero of the Great Patriotic War (WWII)

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.

The humble selection of the store all marked with orange stickers

The humble selection of the store all marked with colourful price tags, brings back memories of Soviet times

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Typical wooden houses spread out in the village valley. Some have seen better days, others look like they just had felt the tender touch of recent renovations.

Typical wooden houses spread out in the village valley. Some have seen better days, others look like they just had felt the tender touch of recent renovations.

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.

The colours of summer

The colours of summer

Passing by wildflower fields

Passing by wildflower fields

These flowers seem so resilient

These flowers seem so resilient

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.

Andreas fulfils his dream of driving a UAZ!

Andreas fulfils his dream of driving an UAZ!

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!

A giant slab of marble and a little birdie

A giant slab of marble and a little birdie

An abandoned marble quarry

An abandoned marble quarry

My favourite type of hike minus the annoying mosquitoes

My favourite type of hike minus the annoying mosquitoes

We meet again pretty flower

We meet again pretty flower

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A serene moment taking in the panoramic view over Lake Baikal

A serene moment taking in the panoramic view over Lake Baikal

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One last glance at the beautiful view and we descend down into our Soviet rides that are waiting at the foot of the hill.

Our rides are waiting

Our rides are waiting

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.

The aftermath of the evening hail and thunderstorms

The aftermath of the evening hail and thunderstorms

At least a beautiful and fresh morning can be awaiting us tomorrow. Good night!

Photos © Andreas Eriksen & Ani Movsisyan

Day 12 on Trans-Siberian Railway: Tales from Siberia

Today’s adventure takes us to Olkhon island on Lake Baikal. To get there it is a 3 hour drive from Bugul’deyka. Again on dusty, bumpy roads… It seems like I will be saying these words far too often on this side of the earth.

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The landscape is nevertheless breathtaking. From a salt lake to taiga forests to grasslands and panoramic hills. Volodya for sure knows all the secret spots.

Roads like these are the standard this side of Russia

Roads like these are the standard this side of Russia

Our ride looking like it is just made for these landscapes

Our ride looking like it is just made for these landscapes

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On top of a hill overlooking Lake Baikal we meet Kostya – a local of the area in the midst of doing stretches and weight-lifting. He could easily be going for the young Siberian Rambo title. Very determined in his demeanour, we exchange a greeting, as Kostya is eager to show off his English skills. After a few minutes of introduction, he turns off to his Rambo activities in the scorching heat, while I turn away to get deeply engrossed in photographing the beautiful wild flowers of Siberia. Within a day in the area this has quickly become my favourite past time.

Aren't they just gorgeous <3

Aren’t they just gorgeous <3

Leaving the Siberian Rambo behind we continue towards the main attraction – Shamanka Rock. Now Buryats religion is shamanism and there are traces of it everywhere in this part of Siberia. As we drive along we often see Volodya raise up his right hand in a gesture of greeting. Greeting the spirits that protect the areas he says. Shamanka Rock is the center of shamanism.

Shamanka Rock

Shamanka Rock

As you drive along in Buryat lands you will notice colourful pillars erected along the roads. They are are called sergeh (ritual) pillars. They are needed so the spirits can come down from the sky and tie their horses to the pillars.

Sergeh pillars at Shamanka Rock

Sergeh pillars at Shamanka Rock

The pillar is a symbol of the tree of life, uniting three worlds. Three horizontal rings are carved on the pillar. The upper ring is for the gods to tie their horses when descending onto the earth, the middle one is for the humans and the lower – for the horses of the underground world.

Prayers made out of colourful clothing pieces are tied to sergeh pillars

Prayers written on colourful clothing pieces are tied to sergeh pillars

By the pillars we also find broken cigarets, rice and coins with eagle side up and an unusual smell. Volodya’s calm voice is heard again explaining that those are offerings to the spirits. Apparently there are different offering classes, the best being milk vodka the smell of which is what I apparently was met with (not a pleasant one I can tell you), wheat products coming second, followed by broken cigarets and coins. Coins need to be with the eagle side up.

Offering to the spirits

Offering to the spirits

The religious matters settled, for us the most beautiful draw of the area is the view to Lake Baikal. And what a serene view it is – out of this world beautiful.

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Heading back on the dusty, bumpy roads we get home tired and smiling from the day’s adventure. I get back to my evening favourite past-time – chasing the unraveling generic drug saga and transferring my travel memories on the digital ink. Andreas strikes up a half-German, quarter-Russian and quarter hand gesture conversation with Volodya which basically revolves around paydyom plavat (let’s go swimming) and heads off to do sunset pictures of and swimming in Lake Baikal.

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Photos © Andreas Eriksen & Ani Movsisyan

Day 11 on Trans-Siberian Railway: Privet Irkutsk!

IMG_03052 days 5 hours and 33 minutes, 3,500 km of distance, crossing 3 time zones… they just flew by. The documentary series ranging from Our Planet to Rotten loaded on my phone in the anticipation of the long hours on the train did not get fully utilised. It turns out I am more into reading on the train than watching films. Second revelation – time really just flew by.

It is nearing 06:22 – the ETA for pulling into Irkutsk railway station. And once again the Russian railway system is hits the metric for timeliness. On the dot the train pulls up at the train station. If this trend continues I will have to consider modifying German punctuality and adding a Russian twist to that.

Welcome to Irkutsk. A quick hello and goodbye as we head to our home for the next 5 days tucked away by the shores of Lake Baikal

Welcome to Irkutsk. A quick hello and goodbye as we head to our home for the next 5 days tucked away by the shores of Lake Baikal

The train comes to a stop. Commotion in the train corridor as carriage doors are pulled open and passengers starts marching towards the exit. The pleasant connections once forged in the train are now being pulled apart in a hasty manner. Going down the train steps and into the platform we become strangers again. Everyone rushes out into the open world waiting for them. A quick goodbye to our neghbours – the Russian grandma and her grandson – is all there is to say. They hurry out the train living behind a pleasant memory. One can’t stop but feel sentimental, at least I do.

Enough sentimentality, Irkutsk is waiting, looking all pretty and sunny. Our host Volodya is delayed in picking us up in his Soviet furgon, so there is nothing else to do but to find somewhere to get some food.

Breakfast in once glorious now spooky looking palace room turned into a sad hole

Breakfast in once glorious now spooky looking palace room turned into a sad hole

We didn’t have to go far to find this glorious ballroom that in the height of its fame in the Soviet years was probably quite the place to be seen in. Now in its ramshackle state it felt kind of spooky actually. A huge hall with a small counter on the side serving a sad menu of blinis and grechka (boiled buckwheat, the Russian equivalent of rice), the two kitchen dames looking stern and unwelcoming, half of the tables overturned and the rest looking like they could use a much needed upgrade into the modern age. At least the ballroom was light and airy and you half expected palace guests to flung open the big white doors and waltz right in.

The breakfast ordeal in the grand room is well accomplished. An hour has passed and still no trace of Volodya… Traffic jams we are told. Waiting out in the morning sun seems like a good idea giving us a chance to observe the flow of passengers in and out of the railway station.

As the second hour is approaching to its close, Andreas notices his dream car – a grey UAZ pull into the parking lot. Volodya is here finally together with his friend heading to Volodya’s mother’s place to help them build a new guesthouse! We hurry towards this kind looking man of Buryat origin as he walks in hurried steps and with outstretched arms to give us a welcome hug. Perhaps you will get a chance to meet Volodya in a later post, if not I tell you he has the kindest face and as it turns out is a very humble and quiet soul. Russian quickly becomes our speaking language as we strike up conversation like old acquaintances reunited again. Even Andreas seems to be catching up quickly with his small vocabulary of Russian words and Volodya spices the conversation up with his equally small German lingo.

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Volodya puts the UAZ in gear and on we roll first onto the paved streets of Irkutsk that after a while turn into dusty offroads. Our destination is a small village called Bugul’deyka north of Irkutsk by the shore of Lake Baikal. The 230 km will take around 4 hours to cross we are told. Well we are not in a hurry – everything is new and exciting and someone is excited like a kid to be riding in an UAZ.

Shortly into the roadtrip we realise that the Soviet design of our beautiful UAZ failed to consider modern amenities such as A/C. Let alone that the ingenious design of the van makes the windows in the back area close shut after a few bumps on the road. Very convenient given it is over 30 degrees of Celsius outside. Good we have an engineer on board – it didn’t take long for Andreas to design an A/C for our UAZ ride.

Good we have an engineer on board - it didn't take long for Andreas to design an A/C in the UAZ

Good we have an engineer on board – it didn’t take long for Andreas to design an A/C for our UAZ ride

Opening his bag to find one of the tools he always carries – a heavy-duty string, he quickly musters up an ingenious A/C system to force the window to stay open and allow for air to flow in. Now I finally feel appreciation for why he always insists on carrying his camping tools with him. I am making a mental note for myself to stop commenting on his habit on packing 3 kg of weight in his bag at all times when travelling consisting solely of various camping equipment.

With handmade A/C running efficiently we hit off the road again. Seems like a world apart from the tightly packed avenues of Moscow. And it couldn’t have been any  farther, we are more than 5,000 km away from the glamorous capital. The road here is open vastness covered with green fields, roaming horses and wild flowers.

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The symbol of Bugul'deyka area.

The symbol of the area. Volodya said that Bugul’deyka means the pasture where deer graze. So it only seemed appropriate to pay respects to the beautiful statue before continuing our roadtrip.

After four hours or so of bumpy and dusty ride we arrive at the village of Bugul’deyka. This will be our home for the next five days staying with the family of Volodya – all Buryat people native of the area. In the words of Volodya, Buryat are the descendants of the forest Mongols, while the Mongols living in Mongolia are the steppe (grassland) Mongols. Good to know. It is a mini introduction to what is expecting us on the other side of the border in the neighbouring Mongolia.

Our home in Bugul'deyka

Our home in Bugul’deyka is hidden behind the UAZ beauty

 

From five star hotels in posh Moscow to long drop toilets in the end of Russia - life is beautiful

From five star hotels in posh Moscow to long drop toilets in the end of Russia – life is beautiful

The house complex comes with a banya - every evening it gets heated up for shower purposes at least in the summer

The house complex comes with a banya – every evening it gets heated up for shower purposes at least in the summer

After getting a tour of our home and the key attractions – the toilet and the banya, we set off for the main draw of the area and of the highlight of our trip – Lake Baikal. It is just two km away from Bugul’deyka. We get there close to the sunset to find an absolute beauty.

Lake Baikal -  so still and pretty

Lake Baikal – so still and pretty

IMG_3042IMG_3028Lake Baikal – I am left mesmerised by its beauty, as I gaze to its still waters and a surface calm like a mirror with the sun softly dancing on it. Volodya standing next to me, looks longingly at the water, pointing at some yellow particles that are not supposed to be there and says quietly that the lake used to be so clean 10 years ago. A result of human contamination along the shores of it. Not dangerous he adds, you can swim it. I am not much of a swimmer, but it doesn’t take long for my Danish half to jump into the water which is clearly freezing cold for my taste being around 10 degrees but just perfect for his.

After a while we head back onto the road again. Volodya wants to show us his favourite panoramic spot. We drive into the forest to find a beautiful carpet of wild flowers. Everywhere you look – pretty flowers in shades of pink, purple, white and blue smile at you. My joy couldn’t be more complete. Siberia is so full of surprises. Wild flowers is not the thing that comes to mind when you think of Siberia. For me this vast land has always been associated with perpetual snow and freezing cold temperatures.

Wild flower fields everywhere - my happy place

Wild flower fields everywhere – my happy place

internal.5977f0ccffb34b44625e4ea918ab1781.DO01034073As I go crazy with taking pictures of all the pretty flowers I can find, I notice that annoying little creatures are feasting at my legs. Nasty mosquitoes are really having a blast. Within the 15 minutes that we spent in the forest, I was left with probably just as many humongous mosquito bites. Andreas got his share too. I think Volodya on the other hand must have some kind of magic potion on him that repels the annoying flies. Either that or the flies don’t touch the locals. The wild flowers are worth it though I try to tell myself… though during the next couple of days as my itching urges intensify I am not sure I still stay of the same naive opinion.

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After some short time of admiring the nature, we call it a day and head back home. At least some of us do. The fish in the family, aka Andreas decides that the swim in Lake Baikal is not enough for him. He also wants to test the waters in the local river. Armed with a newly mastered Russian expression – paydyom plavat (let’s go swim), Volodya and he set off to have an evening swim in the river.
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I turn to my exciting book world. After finishing the second Jan Guillou Hamilton book, I have transferred myself to India to read about a deceptive, disgusting and scary world of generic drugs. It is unfortunately depicting a reality we live in. Don’t even ask why. Bottle of Lies by Katherine Eban. Just read it and I promise it will scare the hell out of you and you will think twice next time you buy a drug that is generic. The world we live in can be so twisted and dirty.

To drive the crazy generic drug thoughts away I look at the wild flowers again to put a smile back on my face. It does the trick. Good night from Siberia!

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Photos © Andreas Eriksen & Ani Movsisyan