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Mongolian cornish pasties

An early start, a few museums and temples and another exciting city to explore

sunny 26 °C

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Woken at 5am by our Provodnista the rolling green fields dotted with Ger camps and small Mongolian villages and towns, that appeared to have few roads around them, soon morphed into the dirty, grey suburbs of Ulaanbaatar that we had been promised.

A few Mongolian towns pass by

A few Mongolian towns pass by

Low rise ugly concrete buildings, industrial premises and adhoc rubbish tips perforated the view. Yet the continuous addition of small Ger camps to the landscape ensured that our slightly romantic view of Ulaanbaatar was maintained.

En route to UB

En route to UB

It was not until 1911, when Mongolia first proclaimed its independence from China, that the city became capital of Outer Mongolia; named Niisel Khuree (Capital Camp). In 1918 it was invaded by the Chinese and three years later the Russians. Finally, in 1924 the city was renamed Ulaanbaatar (Red Hero), in honor of the communist triumph, and declared the official capital of an ‘independent’ Mongolia (independent from China, not the Soviet Union).

Statue of Sükhbaatar - the liberator of Mongolia

Statue of Sükhbaatar - the liberator of Mongolia

Arriving at 6am the city was still quiet. At our guesthouse the two receptionists, asleep on cots behind their desk, were soon awake and showing us to our room. With showers making us feel almost reborn, after three days on the train, our first order of business was to obtain visas for our next destination.

Walking to the Chinese embassy we passed through Sükhbaatar Square, home to the declaration of independence by Damdin Sükhbaatar in 1921. The Square also saw the first protests in 1990, which eventually led to the fall of communism in Mongolia , after being the second country to ever proclaim themselves Communist. As the centre of the city and home to Parliament, museums and the State opera it would also commence and end the Naadam festival, later in the week, with the procession of the nine yak-tail banners to the National Stadium.

Soldier on guard outside Parliament

Soldier on guard outside Parliament

Arriving at the embassy an unpublished closure (for technical reasons!) required some re-planning but confident we could still obtain visa’s in time for our departure a week later we returned to Sükhbaatar Square and began our exploration of this exciting new city. Walking through the Captial a key change, from Russia, was the attitude of drivers to both pedestrians and each other. Horns constantly blew, whilst no quarter was ever given for any animate object on the street. The red and green of traffic lights mean very little in Ulaanbaatar. Certainly, a pedestrian crossing in no way ensures a safe crossing. Given that a green pedestrian walk light, amusingly shaped as an archer, wrestler or horse rider, warrants no safety pedestrians appeared to dodge through the traffic regardless of their actual state – adding to the danger. This attitude of not stopping, even when traffic was stationary immediately beyond the crosswalk, was a constant feature of our time in the city and something that must rank Mongolians as amongst the worst and certainly the most ungracious drivers in the world.

Beautiful Ink drawing at the National Museum

Beautiful Ink drawing at the National Museum

Yet, we conquered the roads and were soon inside the National Museum of Mongolia. Whilst the first floor houses some interesting, if not a little staid, exhibits on Stone Age sights in Mongolia, the 2nd showcases costumes, jewelry and hats from most of Mongolia’s ethnic groups along with some excellent pen and ink drawings representing life during the time of Genghis Khan.

Ger at the National Museum of Mongolia

Ger at the National Museum of Mongolia

The showcase of the museum is the 3rd floor. However, with the new exhibition dedicated to Genghis Khan not yet open it was a little disappointing as whilst the history of Mongolia was documented this key gallery was closed to the public. Outside the museum we were approached by one of the many individuals selling art purported to be painted by themselves. Whilst clearly not true (as all the paintings are the same and the vendors do not know the paintings!) some of their pieces were well executed and evocative. Something to look at later.

Mongolian caligraphy

Mongolian caligraphy

Wondering along the broken pavements, of the city, it was clear that at night walking the streets of the city could be treacherous. Not only were there a number of protruding curbstones and paviers to trip over it also appeared that a popular occupation was to steal manhole covers. Later in the week we even saw a group of very unofficial looking locals removing one. In key tourist areas of the city some even had six foot metal bars, bolted to the ground, over them to deter all but the most ardent of criminal. This practice left a plethora of often 10ft deep holes across the cities pavements. With aggressive drivers and the pavement hazards certainly walking the streets of Ulaanbaatar was not a simple activity.

Lunch is a Pirogik

Lunch is a Pirogik

Cornish pasties Mongolian style

Cornish pasties Mongolian style

An enjoyable lunch was secured from one of the various ‘Grab and Go’s’ that we had seen throughout the city. Like the others this one, located outside one of Mongolia’s most important tourist attractions - Gandan Khiid monastery – offered lamb, beef or chicken wrapped in pastry. Whilst fast food, like this, is a relatively new concept in Mongolia (we have yet to see the dreaded yellow ‘M’) our Cornish pasty like treats were just what we needed.

Outside Migjid Janraisig Süm Temple

Outside Migjid Janraisig Süm Temple

Trey spins her Prayer Wheel

Trey spins her Prayer Wheel

Entering the Gandan Khiid monastery we could soon see a variety of temples and gardens. With a full name of Gandantegchinlen, that translates roughly as the ‘the great place of complete joy’, building commenced at the monastery in 1838. However, like many monasteries in Mongolia during the purges of 1937, it was closed but not destroyed like many others. When the US Vice-President asked to view the temple during a visit in 1944 the temple was hurriedly opened up to cover the fact that many others had been laid waste. It was not until 1990 that the monastery was reopened to visitors, today supporting some 600 monks, within its confines.

Fattened pidgeons at the Monastery

Fattened pidgeons at the Monastery

Peek-a-boo

Peek-a-boo

Inside the magnificent, Tibetan style, white Migjid Janraisig Süm lies the 90ft high copper, with gold gilt covering, Migjid Janraisig statue- a 1996 reproduction of the original 1911 statue that was purportedly removed and melted down for bullets by the Russians in 1937. Vast and entirely dominating the interior of the temple, the statue contains within it 27 tonnes of medicinal herbs, 334 sutras, two million bundles of mantras, plus an entire Ger with furniture.

Migjid Janraisig Süm Temple

Migjid Janraisig Süm Temple

Persuasive sales see us buying tickets to a performance by the National Orchestra in a few days time

Persuasive sales see us buying tickets to a performance by the National Orchestra in a few days time

Wondering through the city we were soon able to grow familiar with the layout of the, relatively, compact city centre. Various art galleries held our attention, along with the Central Post Office and their magnificent stamps before supper called. Having had no Thai food for over a month we ended a long day at one of the few Thai restaurants in the city before retiring to our guesthouse and rest in an unusually stationary bed.

Arty camera work

Arty camera work

Posted by jamesh1066 17:43 Archived in Mongolia Tagged mongolia trans-mongolian ulaanbaatar Comments (0)

Time to reflect on our Trans-Siberian experience

Nine hours at the border offers pause for thought

sunny 23 °C

Trans-Mongolian Railway

Waking refreshed after sleep broken only sporadically by the rocking of the carriage or sudden halt breakfast was enjoyed overlooking the rolling hills and rocky outcrops of southern Siberia.

By late morning we had passed through Zagustay and along the pine and birch lakeshore of Goose Lake. Some 4,000 miles east of Moscow we arrived at the uneventful Russian border town of Naushki. Curiously we were asked to leave the train so that our carriage attendant could sleep. Why she required an empty carriage, a luxury we had not required, was unclear and as some French travelers commented ‘encore bizarre’. Yet as our forced disembarkation offered a welcome opportunity to stretch our legs we complied, spending the majority of our remaining roubles on supplies for the remaining journey and surprisingly good Russian ice cream.

Our Mongolian train

Our Mongolian train

Two hours later we returned to the station just in time to see our carriage rolling out of the station. Even though we knew the carriages were being shunted and prepared for the journey to Mongolia (with only two of our compartments actually continuing the journey) the sight of all of one’s luggage disappearing into the distance is slightly concerting. Yet, finally we were able to return to our compartment, spending a further five hours there, as immigration and customs officials inspected passports and bags.

As with apparently all bureaucracy in Russia this seven hour departure process appeared typically inefficient, designed more to fill the working day of the officials (who only had to process two trains, with two carriages each, per day) rather than ensure rigorous checks and searches were carried out. Yet with no alternative it gave time to reflect on our journey to date.

Our train arrives caught in the rays of the setting sun

Our train arrives caught in the rays of the setting sun

After spending seven nights on various trains crossing Russia, nearly double those spent in hotels, we could certainly understand the appeal of the Trans-Siberian Railway. As a highlight not only of our 2011 travels but of all our journeys, through the years, we were not the only passengers planning a return journey; which for us would be in the depth of winter, non-stop from Vladivostok to St Petersburg. Watching ever changing vistas, towns and villages pass by the romance of the train is easy to understand, so too the desire to ride non-stop.

As one progresses across a vast landscape the more one feels to be travelling with if not friends, fellow travelers, eager for conversation and with a common goal in sight. For all the English speaking east bound passengers we met this goal was the Naadam but it was curious how often our paths interconnected with those of other travelers. In the compartment next to ours a New Zealand lady was telling me of a Norwegian couple that they had been chatting to on their journey from Moscow. It was our friends from the bathhouse. I have only really experienced these social travel connections before in Bhutan, where a few tourists are visiting a small number of sights and inevitably meet each other, even if travelling independently. The Trans-Siberian Railway encourages this kind of interaction.

Looking forward to Mongolia

Looking forward to Mongolia

Yet, whilst the train has both fulfilled a lifelong desire and delivered a great travel experience Russia too has lived up to its hyperbole. Wondering Red Square, at night, with the Kremlin gently lit and the copula domed St. Basils is a wonderful tourist sight. Crossing Siberia with endless grassy plains and the desolation of Olkhon Island offered an insight into both the beauty and barrenness of this place of exile. Yet whilst the physical landscape was as vast as we had expected the dourness of the Russian people has also lived up to the western stereotype. True, if one perceived the Russians who we spent time with were, typically, friendly and helpful. Yet, it is also true that they typically do not smile or even acknowledge those passing by, even after sharing a compartment with them for three days. Whilst this is clearly the ‘Russian way’, along with the frustrating and often superfluous bureaucracy and high cost of living it does not generate a warmth for the country, as most of the eastern European countries visited on this trip have. So as our train finally crosses over the border and into Mongolia we reflect on a vast country that has delivered all nearly all of our preconceptions.

Trey gets arty on camera

Trey gets arty on camera

Clearing passport control and immigration took a relatively short two hours. Able to stretch our legs on the platform at Sükhbaatar we were suddenly amongst an Asian looking people happy to smile and acknowledge us. Small children seemed fascinated by the strange westerners that were amongst them, even though this train makes our journey every day.

After spending nine hours at the border we were finally able to commence our journey on the Trans-Mongolian Railway. It was not until 1947 that construction of the 1,200 mile Trans-Mongolian extension began. The line reached the Mongolian capital of Ulaanbaatar by 1949. With relations between the Soviet Union and China relaxing in the early 1950s construction began on the long planned extension of the line to Beijing. Spanning the Gobi Desert by 1956 the railroad connected Moscow and Beijing via Ulaanbaatar. Yet, this success was short lived. The Sino-Soviet split of the 1960s closed the border with service suspended until the 1980s.

Yet, with the border now very much open and as the train continued its journey south a change of scenery was quickly upon us. Forests thinned out into the lush, green pastures of the fertile Selenga Gol basin. By the time that sleep was upon us we had already seen our first Nomadic Mongolian, replete with Ger, horses or four-wheel drive vehicle. We had only travelled a few hundred miles, from the Russian border, but the change in both scenery and people was absolute. Tomorrow would see us arrive in Ulaanbaatar in readiness for the Naadam.

Posted by jamesh1066 17:15 Archived in Mongolia Tagged trans-siberian mongolia express trans-mongolian Comments (0)

Melancholy at leaving our Siberian island

An afternoon in Irkutsk and on to Ulaanbaatar

semi-overcast 17 °C

Olkhon Island – Irkutsk, Russia

With bags stacked on the roof and a minibus largely consisting of travelers from our guesthouse the 6-hour journey back to what we now termed ‘civilization’ would pass relatively quickly. Yet it was not without some sadness that we left the island. For whilst the weather had given us an unexpected glimpse of the difficulties of life in Siberia the acquaintances made and banya experience had more than compensated. As we left Khuzhir the rain soaked dirt roads, now turned to mud, made the drive a little slower and also ensured the color of our roof mounted bags had changed to a dark brown by the time we arrived in Irkutsk.

Departing from the train station, a few days previous, we had thought Irkutsk a generally uninspiring town, after the bright lights of Moscow. Now, after two nights on ‘the island’ the bright lights of Irkutsk held so much appeal. Grocery stores, restaurants and traffic had become almost foreign to us after our brief stay in the wilderness.

Our dodgy English tour guide does not get us lost in Irkutsk

Our dodgy English tour guide does not get us lost in Irkutsk

Eric, whom we had met on the island, had decided a third night alone on the island might induce a temptation to self harm. As such he was spending his last night before also departing for Mongolia at a Irkutsk hostel. This worked well for us providing not only a base to freshen up in but also an impromptu tour guide. Having stayed in the city before heading to the island he was able to provide a quick tour of the main sights before our 22:15 train to Ulaanbaatar, that evening.

Bogoyavlensky Cathedral

Bogoyavlensky Cathedral

With its rebuilt byzantine churches, waterfront location and warm sun (that had appeared as soon as we left the island) we could quickly see why Irkutsk is one of the most popular stops on the Trans-Siberian Railway. The eye-catching fairytale ensemble of the Bogoyavlensky Cathedral, with recently restored salmon, white and green towers adds a colorful dazzle to the otherwise dreary Angara riverfront. With Eric able to speak some Russian we were able to negotiate the purchase of two small icons from the Cathedral before wondering the riverfront, which provided for pleasant views of both the park and fast flowing river.

Even Lada's can go to weddings

Even Lada's can go to weddings

With early evening upon us a variety of buskers entertained the strolling locals as we said goodbye to Eric, with promises to meet up at the Naadam and headed for our rendezvous with the Trans-Mongolian Express.

Busker in Irkutsk

Busker in Irkutsk

Ensconced in a slightly newer carriage than we had become accustomed to it was clear by the number of English voices in the carriage that few locals would be making the trip to Ulaanbaatar.

Approaching the Mongolian border

Approaching the Mongolian border

Of the twelve carriages that left Irkutsk only two passenger carriages, the dining car and a guards van would actually cross the border. Yet, for now we were happy to watch the sun setting over this southern corner of Siberia and retire to another comfortable night on the train.

Ready for a good nights rest

Ready for a good nights rest

Posted by jamesh1066 14:11 Archived in Russia Tagged trains russia trans-siberian olkhon irkutsk Comments (0)

Banya, birching and Lada pirouettes

The island offers up one of her many pleasures and the rain ceases, briefly

rain 17 °C

Olkhon Island, Russia

Squat toilets and cold showers are considered luxuries on our island. Yet with cold rain still upon us the dawning of this new day resplendent with hangovers, tardiness and an excess of drunken stories from the night before did not bode well.

Cold and cold running showers

Cold and cold running showers

Eric with what had now become an expected misfortune had placed his North Face fleece on his electric heater the night before. Now resplendent with a unique and slightly holey jacket it proffered welcome merriment at the start of what promised to be a rain soaked day. With our scheduled jeep cancelled exciting activities seemed limited.

Chilling!

Chilling!

The Three Fleeces...after Eric set his on fire

The Three Fleeces...after Eric set his on fire

However, as with our chance meeting the day before, whilst the weather was against us, fortune continued to favor us today. At breakfast a German girl, fluent in both English and Russian was able to offer us the promise of a truly Russian experience. Perfect, for six weary travelers still needing to remove Trans-Siberian memories from their bodies a Russian banya or bathhouse was booked. For three houses this communal activity would provide shelter, warmth and unlimited hot water. By the end we were all grateful that the sun was not shining on us that day.

The fabled Bathhouse

The fabled Bathhouse

As with Japanese onsen there is a required ritual at the Russian bathhouse. Arriving at the large wooden cabin, chai or tea is first taken in the sitting area. Rested after the short work from our guesthouse we then enter the washing area. Scolding heart water, from the wood fired stove, is mixed with cold to create the perfect shower.

A fire to warm the water

A fire to warm the water

Large pans allowed this most welcome blend to cleanse and rejuvenate our bodies. Fully prepared one then enters the parilka or steam room for the final stage of ritualistic cleansing. Here, rocks heated by the furnace, have water poured over them using a long-handled ladle.

The only supermarket we ever found. Perfect for Banya supplies

The only supermarket we ever found. Perfect for Banya supplies

Along with a home blend of green tea, mint and larch (as we had seen for much of our journey across Russia) we had also the foresight to bring both beer and water to our banya experience. After the deep warmth of our bathing ritual the cold beer was idyllic even with the hangover remnants that remained with some of our Norwegian friends. Whilst this communal bathing appeared unfamiliar it soon became natural as the rotation of washing, steam room and beer continued throughout the afternoon.

Olkhon Island Reservoir Dogs. En route to Banya

Olkhon Island Reservoir Dogs. En route to Banya

After cleansing we were ready for the final stage in our banya initiation. This would involve the use of a venik (a tied bunch of birch branches). With a bather laid down in the steam room, another holding their feet up (to ensure total relaxation) and another progressively beating their back with the venik the final stage of this potentially painful but generally pleasant experience proved a perfect relaxant.

Virgin Venik

Virgin Venik

Assuming an informal role of chief beater and with towel secured around my head (to improve the experience for myself I am assured) a succession of Norwegian and American girls, English and Australian men pass through the steam room. With toxins now removed from the skin, after the post birching cold shower, the process is repeated for three hours until we are all clean and joyful of the Russian bathhouse experience.

All enjoy the blue towels' venik

All enjoy the blue towels' venik

Abandon hope all ye' that enter here

Abandon hope all ye' that enter here

Red Square Olkhon style

Red Square Olkhon style

Olkhon Island

Olkhon Island

Has potential

Has potential

With a renewed admiration for this island of surprises and with the rain offering a temporary sojourn we walk back towards Nikita’s but this time are able to resist her sultry temptations and explore the unmistakable Shaman Rocks.

A merry bunch of revellers

A merry bunch of revellers

Whilst not warranting naming, if they lay on the west coast of Scotland, the rugged coastline, beach views and prayer poles make for a pleasant diversion.

Prayer flags at the Lake

Prayer flags at the Lake

The beauty of Lake Baikal finally reveals itself

The beauty of Lake Baikal finally reveals itself

Apparently, the locals are of the same opinion. With mud flats offering wheel spinning options but also extremely muddy slides to the lake below drivers of various dilapidated eastern bloc cars demonstrate their prowess at over accelerating on wet, slippery ground. Clearly intoxicated and with frequent stops to ask us for more Vodka they fail, despite desperate attempts, to damage anything but the landscape significantly. For an island with few attractions it is vaguely understandable why this sort of activity might be considered fun. Yet, the young driver with what appeared his mother in the passenger seat (who might have been an elderly girlfriend) seemed pathetic, to our western eyes, as he tore up and nearly wrote off his prized 1980s Lada multiple times.

Two Ladas. Only one can conquer.

Two Ladas. Only one can conquer.

Whilst our merry adventures the night before caused some concerns that vaguely remembered events might be relived we still found ourselves returning to the Chinese temple, of Nikita’s, for another evening of socializing.

Even the cows head for Nikita's

Even the cows head for Nikita's

Eric and his adopted Belgian father at Nikita's

Eric and his adopted Belgian father at Nikita's

Resplendent with beer and Eric’s freshly smoked Omul fish (a delicacy found only in Lake Baikal) a promised evening of one beer and bed turned into a two o’clock in the morning muddy return to our guesthouse.

The cat likes our smoked fish. Pity it was mostly bones!

The cat likes our smoked fish. Pity it was mostly bones!

A good evenings work

A good evenings work

With promises made to meet up with many of our fellow revelers at the Naadam festival, in a few days time, the promise of fun and friends in Mongolia now also beckoned.

Posted by jamesh1066 14:04 Archived in Russia Tagged trains russia trans-siberian express olkhon Comments (0)

New friends enjoy desolation and despair in Siberia

Rain, wind and a war torn landscape cannot dishearten us.

rain 16 °C

Trans-Siberian Railway – Irkutsk – Olkhon Island, Russia

With time for breakfast we disembark the travelling hotel room that had served as our base for the last three nights at Irkutsk. Some 3,500 miles east of Moscow, Irkutsk, was once labeled the ‘Paris of Siberia’. With no time to view the city for us it is our departure point for a couple nights on Olkhon Island in Lake Baikal.

A typical railway station somewhere in Siberia

A typical railway station somewhere in Siberia

A fast and furious minibus takes us the 5 hours to the island. Leaving the traffic jams and fumes of the city behind we are soon passing vistas that resemble what might be considered the classic Steppes of Russia. Endless arable landscapes, perforated with wooden villages and hamlets. Yet soon the Steppes turn into thick evergreen forest rising over minor mountains, whose peaks open up onto an almost moon like landscape. This dry landscape, barren of vegetation, holds little appeal. As we continue to pass towns and villages we struggle to comprehend what industries keep their residents in place.

The Olkhon Island ferry

The Olkhon Island ferry

Reaching the ferry to Olkhon Island some four hours later provides a brief respite from the bottom numbing, rumbling of the dirt roads utilized for the last hour or so of the journey. With a driver clearly happy both on and off the road the random choice of gravel roads and the parallel running dirt and mud tracks has kept us all guessing for quite some time.

The Siberian countryside passes by

The Siberian countryside passes by

At the small ferry port the Driver continues to demonstrate the Russian style of driving by circumventing the entire queue of waiting cars and attempting to drive onto the ferry through the exit lane. Only the quick wits of an attendant, a solid steel barrier, a dented bumper and a padlock defeat our tireless warrior driver. Undeterred pushing, shoving and a variety of not to be repeated, but understandable by anyone, Russian words gets us onto the next ferry. If ever a minibus breathed in, ours did that afternoon, for we had somehow managed to grab the last space on the ferry! Even though the ferry was roll-on-roll-off the front ramp was obviously kept for special occasions as everyone had to reverse off the ferry, meaning we would also be first off.

Our first glimpse of Lake Baikal

Our first glimpse of Lake Baikal

From the ferry a further 30 miles over dirt tracks, passing through a continuing barren landscape, brought us to, what we believed to be, the key settlement on the island, Khuzhir. From our wood fire equipped room, at Chez Olga's, we could see the promised Lake Baikal, the ‘Pearl of Siberia’.

Chez Olga's - a home from home

Chez Olga's - a home from home

Yet the rain that started pouring, whilst on the ferry, detracts from the promised crystal clear body of the bluest water. With the promise of two days of cold rain the barren Siberian landscape, with dirt tracks fast becoming mud, this small island in the middle of the largest freshwater lake on earth (more than the 5 great lakes of North America combined), appeared to have little to hold our attention or desire to remain.

Our bijou accommodation

Our bijou accommodation

From our guesthouse the town of Khuzhir resembled the archetypal wild west town of the 1880s. Battered Lada’s and Commer looking vans traversed the streets. The image of desolation and bleakness that Siberia generates started to descend.

Is that a cow at the window!

Is that a cow at the window!

Yet within the hour we had joined a random bunch of fellow travelers, for dinner, our only common denominator being a fluency in English. Having arrived earlier in the day they had already located Nikita’s – a temple like mirage in the town – that served as Hostel, Bar and Social Hub for the town’s waifs and strafes! Whilst Australian, Kieran, seemed quite composed, fellow Brit Eric was clearly, slightly, lubricated after a short afternoons drinking. Ably looked after by her boyfriend, Stollee our new Norwegian friend, Karina was clearly a little worse for wear! Yet, this eclectic bunch of travelers ensured that our stay on Olkhon Island was to be a highlight of our rail adventure, just as the guide book had promised.

The fabled Nikita's. Land of pleasure and intrigue

The fabled Nikita's. Land of pleasure and intrigue

With the rain still pouring and the resemblance of the town to a far flung war in Afghanistan or Somalia increasing few options for passing the time were available. So with Nikita’s calling we walked through our downtown Kabul, copy cat, to spend a ‘quiet’ evening contemplating our fate. With the addition to our group of three Danish girls a evening of drinking, singing and general merriment entailed. With the bar consisting of Trans-Siberian travelers either heading west along our already travelled route or east to the inevitable Naadam festival in Ulaanbaatar we soon had a myriad of conversations, with cheap beer being supplied by the blue metal shack across the road.

...and so it began!

...and so it began!

An evening where a few pictures truly tell the story better than words!

A good start to the evening

A good start to the evening

Our new Norwegian friends and future bath house converts

Our new Norwegian friends and future bath house converts

Sofia and Eric. Denmark vs. England

Sofia and Eric. Denmark vs. England

Just one more!

Just one more!

No idea what Kieran is doing here!

No idea what Kieran is doing here!

One can only imagine

One can only imagine

How proud!

How proud!

Let it pour, let it pour!

Let it pour, let it pour!

As darkness fell around eleven o’clock we faced the nightmare scenario of a closed beer shop and our own exhausted supplies. Yet, it was a friendly Russian who came to our rescue. With a large plastic container filled with brown ‘Cognac’ we happily accepted a round of his illicit homebrew.

Fire water. Donated by our Russian friends

Fire water. Donated by our Russian friends

With few similarities to Cognac and an aftertaste that stirred memories of petrol filling stations this was certainly a potent, alcoholic brew. Despite the protestations of our Russian friend, Alexi, that he could still obtain beer for us at one o’clock in the morning, who began the dark, cold, wet and by now extremely muddy journey back to our guesthouse.

Eric...slightly worse for wears!

Eric...slightly worse for wears!

Despite Eric’s consistently incorrect protestations regards the direction of our accommodation (which failed to live down for the rest of our time on the island – poor guy and an excellent sport) we finally, with the help of a trusty Norwegian torch, made it home. The fire in our room had dwindled, yet the residual warmth it provided was sufficient. Sleep was soon upon us whilst the sound of rain continued, untroubled by the lateness of the hour.

Posted by jamesh1066 15:54 Archived in Russia Tagged train railway russia trans-siberian irkutsk Comments (0)

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