So! We had quite an uneventful time in Irkutsk, our last stop in Russia. Obviously we had a good look around the city, but sadly the plans we had to go to Lake Baikal didn't happen, as poor Rich had a funny tummy. It was very nice to have a rest from all the sightseeing though, and catch up on a lot of sleep.
We got back on the train on (our) Sunday night and arrived in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, very early on (our) Tuesday morning. I'd actually really enjoyed my time in Russia, but this train journey left a very bitter aftertaste.
We were very lucky to be sharing a cabin with a couple called Martin and Clara, from the Czech Republic. They were doing a shorter version of our trip, so we had lots to talk about, and their English was almost perfect, so we talked a lot! But long story short, the toilets were locked without warning for 5 hours, and were only opened after an older, very large, loud Australian man called Ivan yelled louder than the rest of us, in a slightly more threatening way. I think everyone on the train had asked at some point if they could please be opened again, and it was after he heard me getting upset with the attendant that Ivan must've decided enough was enough. There was no reason to keep them shut at all, and I was starting to feel a bit ill as, I'm sure, was everyone else. We did then have to sit in the dark, as he refused to put the lights on anywhere except the staff quarters, but you can't fight every battle you're invited to. It just seems that some people in Russia really don't like foreigners. There's more to the story than that, but I don't want to bore you all with train stories!
The scenery on this leg of the trip was incredible. There were no hills in Russia, or at least no noticeable hills. But as soon as we started to approach Mongolia the view changed hugely, and I was basically pinned to the window. I've never seen anything like it, except on TV maybe. The hills rolled for miles, some were snow capped, there were wild horses and Rich thinks he saw a vulture out the window too. The train stopped twice, once on the Russian side and once on the Mongolian side, as well as a few shorter stops in between. The Russian border guards were, again, quite intimidating, and made me very glad I wasn't travelling alone. The Mongolian border guards though were smiling and seemed happy. A very strange sight having just spent a few weeks in Russia! I noticed that all of us in the cabin were much more relaxed this time around.
We got off the train and saw two people from our hostel holding a sign for us, as promised. The (private, whoop whoop!) room was ready for us about 15 minutes after we got to the hostel, and we slept until early afternoon. Only one of the hostel workers seems to speak English, and much less people in general speak English here. It's quite difficult, as the language uses the same alphabet as Russian, but the letters all have different sounds. So what we had learnt in Russia is all gone again. Was kind of obvious though, as it's a totally different country! But even the word for no is made up of three words here. Yes has two words, and there are about five different ways to say hello. So I think we'll just continue to struggle until we leave.
We have 7 nights booked at this hostel, and then I'd like to take some kind of organised trip into the country. There are so many companies offering trips, but our hostel offer some so that's a good place to start. The lady who runs this place, Dooljma, is so helpful, and quite mothering to everyone. She's lovely. Tonight is only our second night, so we have some time to organise something. We spent the day exploring the city today, it's very small. You can walk from one end to the other in about 30-40 minutes, which feels strange for a capital city.
I'll send another email when we know what kind of trip we're taking, and how long we'll be out of WiFi range for etc. Until then, there's a surprising amount to see in the city.