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