The Russian carriages have stood up to their reputation. Clean, comfortable, well designed storage, crisp linen.
(A friend, Greg, asked us to qualify where the transition was from Europe to Asia. If a clean toilet is the gauge, then we've arrived.)
The train stopped at 5.30am for 3 hours (apparently) for border formalities. Whenever the train stops, the toilet gets locked so the poop doesn't drop onto the tracks. This was particularly frustrating for Helen who had a dose of Mongol Rumbles this morning and needed the loo every five minutes. She braved the freezing platform - as did most passengers for the morning ablutions - for the loo at the station.
When she came back, our carriage had been separated from the rest of the train and left to stand alone...
At around 8.30 four different sets of Mongolian border control / customs officers (and sniffer dog) commenced a much more extended and officious process compared to entering Mongolia from China.
After a five hour stop, and with an engine added, our very short train rattled onward. No dining car!
A slow crawl across the border past watch towers, barbed wire fences, our first Russian village, and then to our first Russian train station...
Then it was the Ruskis' turn to be officious. All baggage was checked, the cabin had a thorough search, another sniffer dog, passports stamped...
A four hour stop this time, where we had our first Russian lunch. Dumplings, potato and noodles. Aah, Russia.
Lee shared her compartment with two Mongolian snorers last night, emerging somewhat worse for wear. They made up for it with a very hospitable sharing of food and family photos; despite no common language, Lee learned that one of Boris and Tamara's sons is a champion weight lifter based in Tomsk, the other a student in Moscow. Lee was so overwhelmed by their generosity she had to keep escaping to our compartment!
We started with a very amicable male conductor, who made his best effort to communicate with us foreigners. Now we've got a stern faced female conductor that rattles demands quickly in Russian. But keeps an even more immaculate carriage.
During our morning stop, Helen and Shane bought onward tickets from Irkutsk to Moscow, a whopping 4 night 3 day journey. At least that's what we think we've booked; Helen's high school Russian is kind of rusty. Sadly we were unable to book a better class Firmeny train as they separate sexes and we want to travel as a family.
We expected the Mongolian countryside to be lightly populated, but Siberia is desolate. Not only are populated centres much more sparsely located, but there are numerous vacant houses and industrial buildings, which is probably an outcome of the new Russia?
Unbelievably, we passed a huge lake on which the small waves and ripples had been frozen into its surface! Bloody cold!!!
Shane, Helen, Rosie, Tom and Lee