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

Day 10 on Trans-Siberian Railway: 1,000 km to Irkutsk

Good morning Siberia!

Good morning Siberia!

It is another day on the Trans-Siberian. Just 24 more hours to go until we reach our destination – Irkutsk. Not much to report. It is the same, same. Restaurant visits, reading, writing, talking, day-dreaming.

On the menu of the day - borsch and our usual Greek salad

On the menu of the day – borsch and our usual Greek salad

C9C56D8E-78DB-48E3-BCCA-0F970250B30EOur Russian grandma turns out to be quite a cool lady, having travelled extensively around the world. She makes for a good travel companion, albeit a bit strict for the poor grandson, the 13 year old Sasha, that is under constant supervision. The control measures include strict phone time limitation and mandatory Russian reading. The list of control mechanisms is not exhaustive, but these two are the one Galya the grandma was very fond of imposing. She even tried to coerce me into some Russian reading time, which I politely managed to get out of.

As we draw closer to Irkutsk, the news about floods in the region intensify. It is still the topic of discussion for our German neighbours and now our Russian grandma has also gotten word about it. Angara river has caused quite a stir in the Irkutsk region resulting in quite dramatic floods to an extent that Putin had to fly in and make an appearance. We follow the famous British motto – keep calm and roll on. One of us is more predisposed to the keep calm part, and that one is for sure not me.

Angara river has caused quite a stir in the Irkutsk region resulting in floods to an extent that Putin had to fly in and make an appearance

Angara river has caused quite a stir in the Irkutsk region resulting in floods to an extent that Putin had to fly in and make an appearance

 Just 7 hours to go until the train pulls up at Irkutsk railway station.

Good night from Siberia!

Good night from Siberia!

Photos © Andreas Eriksen & Ani Movsisyan

Day 9 on Trans-Siberian Railway: Somewhere in Siberia 40 hours to go

The sun rises pretty early in Russia at this time of the year. Drifting in and out of sleep with my Guillou book under the pillow, I open my eyes at around 04:00 to find the sun peeking in from the partially drawn black-out curtain. No use in tossing and turning, the unraveling story of secret agent Hamilton is far too exciting for the sleep to kick back in. I succumb happily and transfer for some time to the 1970’s secret agent world of Western Europe. That keeps my intense attention for an hour. Looking at the watch again – 05:35. Time to day-dream a bit gazing out the train window at the passing Siberian landscape in the morning sun. I sneak out of our compartment, while my cabin neighbours and the whole carriage pretty much is deep in sleep.

What an idyllic moment!

What an idyllic moment!

Silence lulled by the sound of moving train. Beautiful morning light. Endless and endless forests. Thoughts wondering far and far.

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IMG_0135Soon other passengers aboard the train wake up filling the silence with life. Time for breakfast in the train restaurant. It is one of the exciting times of the day sampling the delights of the train chef and people watching.

The restaurant features quite a fancy decor

The restaurant features quite a fancy decor

In the restaurant amidst a big group of Germans discussing worriedly the ongoing floods in the Irkutsk region, we find a merry two-man group of locals. They are not wasting any time. Vodka is out and shots come one after another accompanied by a plate of pickles. Na zdorovye!

Na zdorovye!

Na zdorovye!

Back in our compartment, a provodnitsa comes by selling freshly baked buns filled with potatoes, cabbage and apple. We learn from our neighbours, the veteran travellers who have already spent 2 days on the train, that this a morning tradition. Well good traditions must be followed.

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Rest of the day is spent with “hygge” (the now world-famous Danish word for having a cosy time) in our cabin, watching Anastasia with our Russian neighbours, restaurant visits, admiring the Siberian countryside, Jan Guillou. Hours glide by. You don’t even notice and the day is slowly drawing to an end. Night has fallen over Siberia. 30 hours to go.

Anastasia is playing on the screen and black tea served in trademark RZD train glasses is ready. What more do you need for a good time!

Anastasia is playing on the screen and black tea served in trademark RZD train glasses is ready. What more do you need for a good time!

Our train favourite - fried potatoes with mushrooms and onions and of course smetana (sour cream)!

Our train favourite – fried potatoes with mushrooms and onions and of course smetana (sour cream)!

Another train favourite of ours - Greek salad

Another train favourite of ours – Greek salad

Sometimes the stops are long enough to hop out of the train, stretch out and stock up on goodies

Sometimes the stops are long enough to hop out of the train, stretch out and stock up on goodies

30 hours to go

30 hours to go

Photos © Andreas Eriksen & Ani Movsisyan

Day 8 on Trans-Siberian Railway: Yekaterinburg -> Irkutsk (2d 5h 33 min)

Dobroe utro from Yekaterinburg! It is our last day here as we prepare to embark on a 2 day 53 hour and 33 minute train journey through Siberia to Irkutsk. It is going to be an exciting ride.

We decide to pamper ourselves in preparation for the long train ride and basically spent a good part of the day indulging on Russian/French delicacies. How does the French cuisine come into the picture? Well, have some patience, you will find out later. In between the restaurant visits we managed to take an exhilarating taxi ride to the border of Europe and Asia and a good-bye stroll in the city. Our morning starts with a visit to Vysotsky Tower and skyline breakfast.

Vysotsky Tower sticking out amidst Soviet architecture of Yekaterinburg

Vysotsky Tower sticking out amidst Soviet architecture of Yekaterinburg

Panorama restaurant on one of the top floors of the Vysotsky Tower

Panorama restaurant on one of the top floors of the Vysotsky Tower

Another Ural specialty - sea buckthorn tea mixed with orange slices and other herbs

Another delicious Ural specialty – sea buckthorn tea mixed with orange slices and other herbs

Yekaterinburg in all its glory

Yekaterinburg in all its glory – view from the Panorama restaurant

Blocks and blocks of Soviet style architecture

Blocks and blocks of colourful buildings

Descending from the sky, we called a Yandex cab to the take us to the point where Europe stops officially and Asia takes over. The 15 minute ride was nothing short of exhilarating. With the driver looking like he just escaped prison with a toothpick in his month and the phone in his hand manoeuvring the busy city traffic… To his question “Should I wait to take you back to the city or you are going to stay here”, the quick response that followed was: “No, thanks. We are staying!”

The monument marking the continental division point is a very Soviet, very serious sign. Nothing special about it, other than two words saying Europe and Asia. A little bit of creativity wouldn’t hurt. At least the nearby souvenir store tried to make up for the Soviet dullness.

This is the point where Europe stops officially and Asia takes over

This is the point where Europe stops officially and Asia takes over

This cute souvenir could make for a better and a far more exciting landmark than the Soviet pillar

This cute souvenir could make for a better and a far more exciting landmark than the Soviet pillar. No surprises there – the brown bear signifies the European part and the cute, chubby panda – the Asian.

Staying on our side of the continents

Staying on our side of the continents

The landmark is set by a small forest and in the forest you find a few curiosities – a playground to keep the kids busy, while the parents tie a ribbon to the wish tree and pose in the Gates of Love.

Gates of love, say the two endearing swans

Gates of love, say the two endearing swans

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Look up, up, up…

Getting a more civilised taxi ride back to the city, we arrive at Le Grand Café, a special treat to ourselves before the 53 hour train ride. And what a treat it is!

Le Grand Café

Le Grand Café – hidden inside a fancy shopping mall

The crown jewel of Russian cuisine - black caviar and champagne. Now we are ready for the 53 hour ride!

The crown jewel of Russian cuisine – black caviar, blini and champagne. Now we are ready for the 53 hour ride!

You half expect a Russian tsar family to appear any minute on top of the staircase and come gracefully down

You half expect a Russian tsar family to appear any minute on top of the staircase and come gracefully down

As we are well into enjoying our beautifully hand-crafted dessert plates, we are joined by a mother-daughter duo at a neighbouring table. More interested in selfies and photoshoots, the duo provides a rather exciting entertainment.

A treat from the kind French chef at Le Grand Café

A treat from the kind French chef at Le Grand Café

The following and similar scenes continued on and off during the full 30 minutes that we had the pleasure of having this mother-daughter duo as neighbours. Dressed up in their Sunday best (it was only a Friday according to the calendar, but who cares…) featuring a red Chanel bag (can’t verify the authenticity of the bag), posing with the bag, without the bag, standing, sitting, together, alone, with food, without, trying out different tables…

OMG - this and similar scenes continued on and off during the 30 minute that we had the pleasure of having this mother-daughter duo as neighbours

OMG! This and similar scenes continued on and off during the 30 minutes that we had the pleasure of having this mother-daughter duo as neighbours.

A short park walk to enjoy the evening sun and we are ready to say do svidanye to Yekaterinburg!

Evening light in Dendropark

Evening light in Dendropark

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Scenes like this accompanied us all the way in Russia from Moscow to Yekaterinburg.

Scenes like this accompanied us all the way in Russia from Moscow to Yekaterinburg.

Arriving 30 minutes earlier at the train station we are ready to board the train bound for Irkutsk. 2 days 5 hours and 33 minutes, 3,500 km of distance, crossing 3 time zones.

Yekaterinburg Train Station

Yekaterinburg Train Station

Our carriage - favourite number 7 again!

Our carriage – favourite number 7 again!

Inside the train, the Russian roulette is in action again. With an anxious heart I open the compartment door to find a sweet Russian babushka with her grandson. As we come to learn later they live in the US and are spending their summer vacation in Russia, where the grandmother takes his grandson every year on a homeland visit. How delightful! Chance to practice some of my rusty Russian since the grandma doesn’t speak English.

The train pulls off the tracks and we slowly roll towards the vast landmass of Siberia. The sun is setting off and the night will soon fall.

Photos © Andreas Eriksen & Ani Movsisyan

Day 7 on Trans-Siberian Railway: Yekaterinburg

14 hours or so later the train pulls up at the Yekaterinburg station right on the dot. So far the Trans-Siberian trains have been rigidly following the train schedules with German punctuality.

Right on time!

Right on time!

Needless to say I didn’t get much sleep. Woken up by the arrival of the midnight passengers, there was no point in trying to get back to sleep. Instead I ended up reading a book by my favourite Swedish/French author Jan Guillou. He is so so good. I am a total bookaholic and have always been. Last year I was introduced to the Guillou universe and I cannot stop reading his books. If you are contemplating to embark on a Trans-Siberian adventure, Guillou book series can become your trusty train companion, making the hours just fly by.

Nåh back to Yekaterinburg. The city also goes by its more commonly known Soviet name Sverdlovsk. A city in the Urals, a city at the geographic border of Europe and Asia, a city where the last Russian emperor – Tsar Nicholas II and his family, were murdered in 1918, a city of traditional wooden houses and glass skyscrapers, a city of monuments paying homage to The Beatles, to the invisible man (whoever that is) and to nothing less than a computer keyboard, a city in the making and of contrasts. Welcome to Yekaterinburg! We have two days to explore it until the Trans-Siberian train whistles us on board again.

Yekaterinburg - a city on the border of Europe and Asia

Welcome to Yekaterinburg – a city on the border of Europe and Asia. Just in case you forgot, the big sign in the train station stands as a proud reminder.

Even the sign on the gates of the railway station reminds you of the mining region that you are in - the Urals

Even the sign on the gates of the railway station reminds you of the mining region that you are in – the Urals

Our plan of arriving in the hotel early in the morning and hoping for a way too early check-in works like a charm. The sweet receptionist, with Russian seriousness and a face with no hint of a smile, gives a green light and this time, unlike the Kazan capsule place, no extra charge is required. Just wait for 30 minutes. Excellent start of the day! Now that the shelter is secured, some breakfast is what will put an even bigger smile on my face.

What! Apricots - the lovely fruit of my home, Armenia.

What! Apricots – the lovely fruit of my home, Armenia.

Imagine the surprise on my face, where at the buffet amongst Russian blini and sirniki, I come face to face with this beauty – apricots! What! My first reaction is – have we taken the wrong train and woken up in Armenia. I am in heaven. Apricot is the fruit I miss the most from my home and finding it here in the middle of Russia, looking exactly like the apricots we have at home, my heart skipped a beat. I already like this city.

Having devoured most of the apricots in the buffet – sorry other guests, it is time to catch up on some sleep that I was deprived of in the train. Yekaterinburg explorations need to wait for a few hours, otherwise my sleep-deprived head cannot properly function.

Visotski Tower sticking out amidst Soviet architecture of Yekaterinburg

Vysotsky Tower standing out amidst Soviet architecture of Yekaterinburg

I must have been really tired – slept like a baby for a few hours the moment my head hit the pillow. Now I am ready to take on the city. Let’s go!

With no specific plan in mind we set off on a sunny walk in the neighbourhood, passing cosy parks and peculiar monuments along the way.

internal.59b8b86ecb494a3671ce0192d8c1afc9.DO01033938The first curios site is the keyboard monument – don’t ask why. Just because, I suppose. Standing there admiring the white stones dedicated to something so common and something that has permeated our lives so irreversibly seems strange at first sight, but why not?

IMG_9914We overhear a Russian girl telling her visiting friend that you are supposed to make a wish and hop around the stones to spell out the wish and that will make the wish come true. The friend looks pretty dubious and not really in the mood for hopping around spelling random wishes. The girl decides to be the brave one and set an example by jumping around for some time until she apparently decides that the wish is spelled out alright. The friend then has no choice but follow the example.

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Just a few steps away from the keyboard monument stands another one – to The Beatles and the Wall of Love.

internal.09b2e0ece894e92c149085c340fb444a.DO01033939Seems like the city is under major construction, there were high-rises popping up everywhere.

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Firework kiosk - what!?

Firework supermarket just off a main street in the middle of practically nothing much – what!?

A few hours of strolling around led us to a small café. The blue sky was quickly turning into a serious shade of grey with a promise of heavy rain. We sought refuge and found a nostalgic menu of Soviet/Russian delights to keep us busy – borsch, fried potatoes with mushroom and onion (this one is a big hit also on board the trains), blini and more.

Mors - a Ural specialty

Mors – a Ural specialty, made from fresh berries, sugar and water

Honey cake

Honey cake – this was a very popular cake in my childhood. A Soviet heritage, it was a must item on the menu for every New Year table.

The threat of rain is long gone. Free to roam the streets again or rather head to the hotel for a few hours of rest before our local tour of the city with Alexander. Who is Alexander, you might ask? Good question – a Yekaterinburg resident we found through Airbnb. He promised to show us the best of the city and his favourite spots.

The residents of Yekaterinburg have a sense of sarcasm

The residents of Yekaterinburg have a sense of sarcasm

Monument to the invisible man

Monument to the invisible man

We meet Alexander down in the hotel lobby and venture out into the city. Originally planned as 1.5 hour walk, it turns into a 3 hour beautiful sunset tour as Alexander excitedly leads us through one favourite landmark of his to another. It is always so exciting seeing a new place through the eyes of the locals, hearing their stories and their takes on places.

Beautiful wooden carvings on traditional Russian houses

Beautiful wooden carvings on traditional Russian houses. The few houses that are left in the city are under state protection.

Remnant of Soviet architecture

An interesting remnant of Soviet architecture

Site where the Romanovs were murdered

The Church on Blood – the site where the Romanovs were murdered in 1918. There stood a mansion here once, in the basement of which Romanovs were hiding. Now the church is rising here as a memorial to the last tsar of Russia and his family.

Soviet symbol and religious site in the background. There was time where those two didn't go well together

Soviet symbol and religious site in the background. There was a time where those two didn’t go so well together

Sunset by the river promenade

Beautiful sunset by the river promenade

Putin's residence when in town

Putin’s residence when in town

Playing chess

Deep in the game

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A beautiful sunset to seal off another beautiful day in Russia. Yekaterinburg has shown its prettiest side to us. Good night from the Urals!

Photos © Andreas Eriksen & Ani Movsisyan