Leaving Mongolia behind, we boarded the trans-Siberian rail for the second time, just in time to watch a beautiful warm sunset as the train pulled out of Ulaanbaatar on its journey towards Russia – next stop Siberia and Lake Baikal!
The next train journey was around 30 hours in duration. Although there was no bogey changing required this time, it took many hours at the border crossing between Mongolia and Russia. We first stopped at the Mongolian border where we had to use the platform bathrooms to brush our teeth. Once the Mongolian border crossing procedures were complete, the train moved on to the Russian side. Things were a lot stricter on that side and took a lot longer… there were sniffer dogs on board the trains, we had to open up our luggage to be checked and we had video footage taken of us… nobody dared to smile for the camera!
Once we got our Russian entry stamps, we were allowed to leave the train for a few hours to explore the small town of Naushki in the Republic of Buryatia. It was a quaint little town with a couple of grocery shops (which didn’t stock very much) and a small café. The people there resembled the Mongolian people in terms of their facial features. We had lunch at the café where we also met a group of Russian soldiers who were on their lunch break… they were socializing with a different tour group while they washed their lunch down with shots of Vodka. The food at the café was delicious! It was possibly one of my best meals in Russia… either that or I was just really hungry for ‘proper’ food that was not junk or noodle soup! I had my first taste of Russian cuisine with Pelmeni (small doughy dumplings filled with meat) in a clear soup broth… I can still remember how good it tasted!
Naushki Grocery Store
The temperature had risen considerably and it was around 40 degrees as we returned from lunch. We were boiling hot and some of the folks in our group had actually started to fall ill. Once back on the train, we tried to pass the time in the heat while fanning ourselves, playing card games and of course drinking tea… no matter how hot it was there was always room for tea (and cake!).
As the train moved further into Siberia, there was a noticeable change in the landscape… I could see beautiful rows of tall silver birch trees lining the tracks in the distance.
It had been a dream of mine for a long time to ride the tran-Siberian rail and one day go to Siberia. However, when I used to think of arriving in Siberia, I always imagined it as an extremely cold, uninhabited place covered in forests of tall trees, with snow everywhere and huskies roaming freely. I’m not sure if it’s ever really like that (possibly in winter) but I was greeted with a very different sight in the middle of summer… stunning landscapes, beautiful lush green trees, lots of sunshine and no snow, ice or huskies in sight.
The train arrived in Irkutsk after almost 30 hours where we transferred via a beautiful scenic bus ride to our guesthouse near Lake Baikal in Listvyanka. Our guesthouse was very pretty with small homely bedrooms. Unfortunately we only had a day to spend in this town so we headed for a boat ride on the lake, taking in the gorgeous views of this massive body of water and the craggy mountains in the backdrop. It was a beautiful sight but nobody was brave enough to go for a swim in the freezing cold waters!
Beautiful Lake Baikal
Boat Trip on Lake Baikal
We also had time to briefly explore the town of Listvyanka. It was nice to walk around, go on a short hike, explore the local markets and sample some of the local cuisine such as smoked Omul fish. I also really liked looking at some of the houses in the town… quaint and colourful wooden houses lining the streets.
Smoked Omul Fish
Wooden Houses in Listvyanka
Hiking around Lake Baikal
We spent one night in the guesthouse before it was time to return to Irkutsk for a tour of the city and then jump back on board our train for the next 48 hours… it was going to be a long ride! It was great that they managed to accommodate our whole group in the same house overnight. We had a really fun and memorable evening; playing games, laughing, forging friendships, sampling local vodka and generally having a good time. These are some of the moments I’ll never forget!