Siberia is the Asian part of the Russian Federation; a huge area (10% of the world’s land) with little population.
After completing Russian arrival formalities in our cabins we were on our way again at 10 am, next stop Ulan-Ude at 3 pm, 285 km from the border. We had a few hours in Ulan-Ude where Mongolian, Buryat, Buddhist and Russian cultures were on display at an afternoon concert. Some wonderful 200 year old wooden houses still remain in this city. After dinner, the train departed for Lake Baikal.
Sunday 25 September 2016
640 km long Lake Baikal (alt. 450m) is the world’s oldest and deepest (1637 meters) freshwater lake.
Our train waited in Slyudyanka at the southwestern end of the Lake until dawn to allow daylight travel on the historic and delightful Circum-Baikal Railway (built 1902-1904) along the northern shore to Port Baikal. A unique engineering achievement with many beautifully constructed bridges and tunnels, it was very picturesque with autumn colours and a highlight of our trip. From Port Baikal, a short ferry boat ride across the lake is a restored Cossack village where we had the most delicious Siberian pancakes (blinis).
Halfway back to Slyudyanka, at 7 pm, the train stopped at Palavinaya village to allow swimming in the freezing Lake – a favorite German activity – followed by a fantastic outdoor Siberian BBQ. It was cold, down jacket cold but food, wine and vodka warmed us. Outside temperature dropped to -2C but inside the train it’s always very warm.
Monday 26 September 2016
Irkutsk, 625 km from Ulan-Ude via Lake Baikal, is only 350 years old and was once known as the “Paris of Siberia” for its 19th century architecture and French fashions. Many wooden and stone buildings of that period of prosperity remain. We disembarked the train at 10 am for a day’s sightseeing and a fabulous home cooked meal at a family dacha in the forest about 30 minutes out of town.
After a night in a hotel, we left at 9 am. For us the weather was cold at -4°C but in the depths of Siberian winter expect -40°C. Next stop, Novosibirsk 1850 km, 31 hours, further west. Enroute we made two 20 minute technical stops to change engines – apparently Russian train engines are not allowed to stray too far from their homes.
An afternoon’s vodka tasting on the train went down quite well, so to speak. Pam’s favorite – the one infused with honey and chilli.
Wednesday 28 September 2016
Novosibirsk was established in the 1890’s as the Trans-Siberian Railway extended eastward and today is Siberia’s largest city.
When the train pulled in at 4 pm we were greeted with bread and salt, song and dance on the station platform. A visit to the local market, a brief city tour and we were on our way again at 8 pm. Maybe it was the Russian wine we had with dinner (which actually tasted OK) but the train seemed rougher than usual during the night, or maybe we hit a bump crossing the 2 time zones on the 1530km section to Yekaterinburg (in European Russia).