Day 300: First views of Lake Baikal

At 23 pm Moscow time and 4 am local time we took train number 077. The train stopped for 20 minutes at the station and we had time to settle in our sleeping compartment while the train was still. This train was older than our first train but still confortable and clean. We had a kupe (second class) which has 4 beds, but luckily we were the only ones in this compartment. Read More

Day 298: Ulan-Ude

Our day started not so early as we went to bed late and Mario still needed time to recover from the vodka he had on the train. We had breakfast with Anfisa and Rusland and then we followed their advice to start exploring the city.

Ulan-Ude is the capital of the Buryat Republic and has a more Asian feel than Vladivostok, as the Buryat people make up almost half the population (415,000). We took the local minibus (marshrutka) nearby our hosts’ house to the city centre, and from there marshrutka 97 to the Rimpoche Bagsha Buddhist temple.

The temple was different from the temples we knew from Southeast Asia as Buryats follow closely the Tibetan Buddhism practices. We guess that resembles more to temples that could be found in Nepal or India. Ulan-Ude is the centre of Russian Buddhism. From our guidebook we learnt that the city is going through a spiritual regeneration process, with its Buryat residents demonstrating pride in their national origins through artwork and music, and reconnecting with their Buddhist roots (which were harshly suppressed under communism). This has been actively encouraged by the Dalai Lama, who has made five trips to the region since the fall of the Soviet Union.

We spent some time visiting the different buildings from the complex (which was not too big), and walked around “the trail of long life”. This was a road with gazebos with all the animals of the Buddhist calendar, and mantras for each year.

The views from the temple were very scenic, and we could appreciate the whole city from this vantage point. There was a special atmosphere at this place surrounding the forest.

We spent more than an hour here, and then went to a nearby café to have some lunch. We tried a nice soup, and the local speciality “Buuza”: traditional Buryat dumplings with minced beef and mutton, wrapped in thin dough and steamed.

Our next stop was city centre. We passed by Ploshchad Sovetov (the main square) where is impossible to miss the main attraction of the city: the world’s biggest Lenin head. Is 7.7 metres tall and weights 42 tonnes.

We found a few traditional Siberian wooden houses standing in between the newer concrete buildings, nice and friendly people and a relaxed atmosphere along the streets. We walked down Lenina street, passed by the Triumphal Arch, the Opera and Ballet Theatre, some old mansions built by pre-revolutionary merchants, and reached the Russian Orthodox Odigitrievsky Cathedral.

From here we did a loop through a quarter with traditional wooden houses.

We went on walking until reaching the place of Ulan-Ude foundation, located on the confluence of the Selenga and the Uda rivers. On the way back to the main square we also passed by the Victory Memorial park with a T-34 tank monument, dedicated to the fallen heroes of WWII.

For dinner Mariana wanted to go to Baataray Urgoo, which was serving Buryat food in a nice setting. We were struggling to find the location on our GPS, but it was not easy. A young guy approached us and asked if we were Americans. He offered some help to find the restaurant, but he didn’t know exactly were it was. His English was not very good, but he walked us to a bus stop and told us to take the bus that was approaching us. He was taking the same bus than us, but got off earlier. He told the driver the exact place we wanted to go so it was very helpful. Everybody was getting off the bus and we were the last ones. It was getting dark, and we thought we were going to the middle of nowhere. The driver suddenly stopped and pointed us where to walk. We went off and after a short walk we saw a little lighted up staircase to what seems to us like a hotel. We went in and a lady indicated us to go down towards the garden when we told her we wanted to eat. We found several interconnected yurts (traditional Mongolian tents) and then a door to the main restaurant. The place was really nice decorated with Buryat rugs, national costumes and good lightening. Buryats came from Mongolian tribes and had been accepted by the Russian government and became Russian many years ago. As they also populate parts of northern Mongolia, their language, food and customs are very similar to Mongolians. The restaurant menu was interesting and of course all in Russian so we tried to use the photos to decide what to order. The waitress couldn’t help much as she didn’t speak a word of English. We ate very well, and the food was delicious. Even though was a bit late, we were not the only guests in here. Before leaving we used the change to try some of the Buryat costumes.

When we left the restaurant back to the empty dark street we hoped that we wouldn’t need to wait too long for the next minibus to arrive. We reached the bus stop and no sign of bus coming. After 3 to 4 cars a car stopped and the driver asked in Russian something. We told them the address of our couchsurfing hosts and the guy gave us a lift. We tried to exchange some words with him as he was asking us many questions so with our little Russian and a bit of English we managed. It was a successful evening.

Days 295 to 297: Our Trans- Siberian adventure starts!

We woke up early to have breakfast and get all ready for our first train ride! It was raining but that didn’t stop our excitement. Our train was at 11, we had our e-tickets ready (we bought them online in advance), so we left the hostel in the direction to the train station. An important thing to point out is that all trains run on Moscow time, so we made sure we had one clock set with Moscow time (Mario’s phone) and one on local time (Mariana’s phone). From Vladivostok to Moscow we were going to cross 5 different time zones so we were getting ready for adjusting our clocks almost every day. Read More