Friday, June 15, 2012

A Day at the Border

Leg 2: Ulaan Baatar to Irkutsk; 1,190 km/739 miles; 34 hours and 42 minutes

This leg was a bit odd and boring!  We spent two nights on the train, but traveled a shorter distance than the first leg when we had only one night on the train.  Why?  Because we spent most of our time, just over 11 hours, going through immigration proceedings, first at the Mongolian border and then at the Russian border.  We will never take the relatively quick airport immigration process for granted again.

We boarded the train at 8:00 p.m. with food in hand because we knew that the train wouldn't have a dining car.  After a bite to eat and a fun evening talking with our Belgian cabinmates, we made up our beds and slept.  At about 5:30 a.m. the train arrived at the Mongolian border.  Our provodnitsa (train attendant) woke us up before 7:00 a.m. to get our passports ready for the immigration officials.  Unfortunately, because we were at a station the bathrooms were locked, which meant no morning bathroom or teeth-brushing breaks.  Needless to say we were all really excited to get off the train and use the station bathroom once the paperwork was complete!

Side note: I was completely naive to the fact that train bathrooms empty directly onto the ground, which is why they are locked while in the station -- I learned this on our first overnight train in Thailand, but it still surprises me and grosses me out a little every time.  A friend pointed out that the track is covered in a lot of flowers because it is so well fertilized -- the silver lining :)

Just because the paperwork was finished did not mean that the waiting was finished.  We spent about four hours total at the Mongolia border.  Then we had our first daylight train travel for about 30 minutes until we reached the Russian side of the border.  It went something like this: welcome to Russia, give us your passport, and please wait six hours!  We had plenty of time to find a market, to buy some Russian bread, cheese, and tomatoes, and to meet several other travelers also waiting at immigration.  We met several people traveling the Trans-Siberian in the opposite direction from us, so we were able to tell them how wonderful Mongolia was and they told us equally wonderful things about Russia.  Finally we were on our way!

The border stop in Russia - we spent about six hours here!
The view down our carriage from just outside our cabin.  It was a very comfortable train!
Looking back across Siberia toward Mongolia from the rear window of our train


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