I got in a bit of a flap over getting up at 4am for our train to Mongolia (Gill doesn't seem to worry about such things). The problem was my mobile phone screen packed up so I could not unlock it and set the alarm clock.
So I set a wake up call on the hotel phone but did not get the warm feeling the time set was correctly, I also found an alarm function on the TV and set that as well
So with three alarm clocks armed you would think I could get a good nights sleep, think again dear reader, I worried all night and was wide awake at 3.50 so had to go round and work out how to turn them all off before we upset the people in the next room.
Time on the Trans Siberian is not at all straight forward. All the timetables are written in Moscow time yet as we have travelled east we have had to add 1, 4, 5 and 6 hours to get the local time. At the station on Sunday morning at 4.55 the clock said it was 23.55 on Saturday as that was the time and day in Moscow.
The Trans Siberian Guide says that as a general rule the lower the train number the better the train. Our first was train 002, it was clean, modern (in a funny sort of Russian way), and everything worked well
Between Irkutsk (Siberia) and Ulan Bator (Mongolia) we were on train 006, it was older, the decor was 1950's posh but a bit tired, the beds harder and there were no sockets in the compartment, just three for all 18 occupants in a first class carriage and of course you would have to leave your phone or laptop in the corridor whilst it charges. It was however clean and the toilets, which drop straight onto the track, were spotless.
On this leg of the journey we passed through the Buryat Republic which is about the size of Italy but a bit colder. Most families seem to live in little wooden houses but no matter how tatty they all have satellite dishes. The landscape has changed from forest to scrubby farmland.
We then had the "what time do we arrive conundrum". The agents schedule said 6.40 local time but firstly what is local time and second how do you stack up the distances with the time taken. My fist guess at local time was an hour later than Irkutsk time which turned out to be right after a few doubts on my part. The second issue was solved when we worked out that crossing the border takes almost five hours! Goodness knows why, they check the passports twice of course (Russia leaving and Mongolia arriving) and a butch Russian woman searched our compartment for stowaways but what else took so long I have no idea. The train stood in the Russian checkpoint for two hours and then so as not to be outdone it stood in the Mongolian checkpoint for two and a half
More interesting facts about Lake Baikal. (Finally, you must be thinking)
To build the railway round the lake was thought to be too difficult and expensive so the original railway stopped at one side of the lake and the carriages and passengers were carried by ship across the lake. Eventually there were two ships, both manufactured in Newcastle and carried in parts overland to the lake where four engineers from the company managed the reassembly.
The ships were ice breakers with a propeller at the back to push and another at the front which sucked the water from under the ice which supposedly then collapsed. This arrangement lasted for a few years but the outbreak of war between Russian and Japan highlighted the bottleneck and they finally built the railway around the lake using convict labour. Exile to Siberia and labour camps was not a communist invention. Before the railway was built convicts had to walk the 3000 miles, sometimes by the time they got to the place of exile their sentence was half complete and they walked back again
So now the railway runs round the lake past some spectacular scenery and through a number of tunnels, the first we have noticed in 3000 miles of Russian railways.
We have just arrived in Ulan Bator where it has been snowing overnight. We have checked into the hotel which gets 10 Lucas stars - why? Because the staff are very helpful, no problem checking in at 8am, free WiFi everywhere, hot water, plug in the basin and power sockets all round the room and even better they are universal ones, i.e. will accept both UK and continental plugs, what more could you ask for?
Today we become real tourists with a guide to take us round the city. Stand by for a full report, more boring facts and a picture of a monastery.
Don't Ask Me The Time
Monday, March 10, 2014
Ulaanbaatar, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia