So today is really really warm. Why is it that in the middle of Siberia at the end of October it's still +14C outside? Yet it's snowing in Moscow and Petersburg and pretty much everywhere else too. I'm understandably confused.
On the other hand, traveling in good weather is always good. Except in Irkutsk, where it decided to rain as though it were trying to turn the entire city into Lake Baikal's younger sister. Boo. But, we managed to get a Mongolian visa which was all important (and looks very pretty in my passport, which is also important). And also went to Lake Baikal, which was immense. It was like the sea, but drinkable! Unfortunately it was sleeting there when we went, so there was a lot of hurrying from place to place and much eating of smoked ommel (the native fish of Baikal). Mmmm smoked fish. It was good, except that we bought a lot of it and then had it for the next four meals. There's only so much I can take!
Accompanying us to Baikal was a crazy Russian by the name of Julia, who worked in the hostel we stayed in (the Downtown Hostel - much recommended). As seems to be the habit with us when we go to pretty places, we found the steepest hill we could and climbed it (it was like Divnogorsk all over again!). It was fun though, and we all dutifully dipped our hands into the lake. It's supposed to add a year to your life, and swimming is supposed to add 25 years (as long as it doesn't kill you instantly!). Needless to say, on a sleety day none of us were that brave (although Sophie and Christine drank some, to check it was actually fresh, and they're still living, which is a bonus I feel).
Most of this day I was very hungover, due to an unfortunate incident with an Australian and some (read: lots of) vodka... word of warning - when trying to drink vodka Russian style, don't try to outdo the crazy drunken Aussie. And remember that vodka waits for a while before hitting you. It was an interesting night, during which I got very well acquainted with the hostel's bathroom. Sorry to everyone. <hangs head in shame>
But, the fresh air of Baikal cured me and we were ready to continue our journey to Mongolia. This part of the journey was done second class, as there were no third class carriages across the border. You'll have to look at pictures (which I'll post some of when I get to somewhere that's not charging me money) to understand what they were like! But it was lots of fun, chatting with random Russians, Mongolians and the ubiquitous backpackers.
Border crossings are a nightmare. Why does it take 7 hours to check our passports twice? This is a question that can only be answered by the border guards, and they were too scary to ask. So I didn't.
We finally arrived at Ulaan Bataar (say it in a Scottish accent, and that's how it's pronounced, bizarrely enough) bright and early in the morning and were met by the guy from the hostel. Wasn't that nice of him? This hostel also deserves mention - the UB Guesthouse (which is mentioned in the Lonely Planet guides) and is a very friendly and helpful place. They organised our trip to Terelj, where we stayed in a ger and rode horses and drank mare's milk (nicer than it sounds!), and where it was so silent... I've never been somewhere that quiet before. No cars, no planes, no hustle and bustle of the city... it was amazing. Again, I'll post photos asap.
Mongolia is a strange country - it's kind of a cross between Russia, with the Soviet buildings still very much in evidence, and Asia, with the Buddhist monastery that sits right in the centre of the capital.
(Sorry to break this off here, but I need to get moving and will be back tomorrow anyway to write more. The combination of random game noises and a scary sounding Russian film is very distracting! And I'm still being charged by traffic as well as by time :( despite this being a different place. I'm also bored now.)
Coffee is thicker than water...