Border Crossing: Russia to Mongolia

We got a little over excited about our window. We slept nearly all night with it open, me and Florine woke up in the middle of the night absolutely freezing and I managed to wake Tom up to close it. We then woke up in the morning to a layer of ice on the inside of the window. That must be why they don’t like you opening them…

The scenery has changed loads since leaving Irkutsk. I woke up earlier than everyone else and managed to catch the last glimpse of Lake Baikal in the morning sunshine, before the scenery changed to open plain lands edged with mountains; this is real Siberia!

We had our first taste of the border crossing when leaving Russia (obviously). We reached a station and all ran off to use the toilet – I advise scheduling your toilet breaks but this obviously easier said than done, especially when your carriage attendant locks the toilet all the time! – before getting back on the train expecting hoards of border officials to board and start checking passports. This was not the case, not immediately anyway. The train went back and forward about twelve times, attaching, detaching and re-attaching various carriages, until when it finally stopped (at the same station) and we were allowed off again, we realised we were the only carriage left. Just a single carriage on our own without even a train to pull us along. Looks like we weren’t going anywhere for a while…

Four (stationary) hours later border officials came on, took our passports, searched our compartment, our bags (if half-heartedly) and sent a sniffer dog round the carriage. It’s all very official, although you can’t help but think they’re too bothered as you’re leaving the country anyway, rather than entering. 

I should mention that our carriage was very exclusive – it was empty! There was our group of four in one cabin and two Dutch guys in the one next to ours – Florine was so excited to speak Dutch again, it was so sweet the way her face lit up! – and that was it, all of the other cabins were empty. There were some advantages to this, we got friendly with the Dutch guys and could share a beer and chat in the corridor without worrying about waking people up. However, our carriage attendant, a Russian man this time, was so moody and because we were the only six people on the carriage he knew exactly what we were doing, all the time. We went to the shop to stock up on snacks and bought some beers, as soon as we headed back for the train he was like “no beers!” – what a charming man.

We then reached the Mongolian border crossing, again we were stationary for another three hours or so. They checked our passports, took them away, brought them back but didn’t search us at all, which I was really surprised about. Florine even managed to get a sneaky photo of the border official checking me against my [ten year old] passport. FYI, this is not a good idea. In our paperwork from Vodkatrain it says you can get into trouble if caught photographing border officials or military personnel…

After a few hours and eventually being given the all clear to continue, we were on our way to Ulaanbaatar. We had a delicious lunch of bread, cheese and cucumber – the little things really count when you’re on the train – and all settled with a nice cup of tea before bed. We had every intention of more drinking but after all the waiting around, the moment had passed. We’re saving our Russian prosecco for the Ger camp instead.

When settling down for a kip before arriving in Ulaanbaatar, we decided against opening the window due to the (literally) freezing conditions the night before. Oh what a mistake this was! Our delightful carriage attendant decided to whack to heating up to 30 degrees – this is no exaggeration, there is a temperature gauge in the corridor. We arrived at 6am this morning in Ulaanbaatar, greeted by our lovely honcho. The temperature was -30, this was an inside to outside temperature change of 60 degrees! Just let that sink in for a minute.

We’ve arrived at our hostel and it’s lovely, really modern and clean. Although I get the feeling everything is made for little people. Watching my Tom climb in and out of the miniature people carrier was rather amusing. He’s also curled up on the bunk beds too, bless. I can fit in the bed okay, just about. We’re getting a couple of hours kip before our honcho returns at 10am, he’s told us another Vodkatrain group (of two people) are currently doing the trip the other way round – Beijing to St Petersburg – and that we’ll be spending the next few days in Mongolia with them. I’m so looking forward to this! It’ll be great to ask them all our questions about Beijing and to tell them all about Russia. Let’s hope they like Dill, if they don’t, they might as well fly home now; Russian quisine is full of it.