A summer holiday on rails
My friend and I started our holiday the moment we stepped onboard a train in Moscow for Suzdal, which only took a couple of hours. We spent a day there where we explored old churches, had a sauna, drank vodka and ate the most delicious cucumbers I have ever tasted.
This was followed by a 44-hour stretch from Vladimir to Novosibirsk. The trains were absolutely OK. Had been prepared for worse. We had a cute hostess in our car who made sure we all had clean bedding, towels and food. She spoke not a word of English but could always find some passenger to act an interpreter. We initially shared our compartment with a couple from The Netherlands, then a pleasant Russian couple and for the last 24 hours, a Russian family with children moved into our compartment. All three sets of traveling companions had limited English, but everyone was very polite and fine to share the compartment with.
It was fun to pass all those locations that you only see from your seat when you fly over Siberia on the way from Japan or China to Europe. When I flew home above Krasnoyarsk a couple of weeks later, I thought: “That was where we got off the train to stretch our legs”.
After 44 hours, we finally arrived in Novosibirsk, which to be honest, is not the most fun city I've seen. My time there was mostly spent running and sleeping. We rapidly moved on to Irkutsk (31 hours from Novosibirsk) that is a somewhat more attractive city. We also spent a night at Lake Baikal, which was very beautiful.
However, for me, the most beautiful sights were when we reached Mongolia (a further 24 hours from Irkutsk). Wild horses, camels and enormous plains, steppes and deserts.
We spent three nights in Mongolia. One of which was a hysterical evening with a few nomads out in a yurt.
We stayed with an old nomad woman and her other guests (or neighbors, her English was a bit too vague for us to understand) invited us to a barbecue and vodka evening. They drink one at a time in Mongolia. Oldest first and then downwards in age order. As everyone always checks you when it's your turn to drink, it's impossible to cheat and throw the vodka over your shoulder. Nor are you allowed to pour your own drink which makes it difficult to control how much you get in your glass.
The evening concluded with a strange Mongolian karaoke with the most beautiful sunset I’ve ever seen in the background. Totally unpopulated green hills and plains, mountains and grazing horses. I could not see enough of it.
The next morning, I woke in a yurt with the world's worst hangover. Forced myself to eat a bit of breakfast. Then the great grandmother who was the undoubted head of the entire household, wanted me to try on her adult children's party best. A really tough lady. Almost 90 years old and still training racehorses, drinking vodka, tending her 200 animals and singing like a goddess. She has also had 12 children. Which was probably why I couldn’t refuse when she absolutely insisted I should dress in Mongolia party best and ride a horse for the very first time. Fortunately, it all went well.
What a fantastic place. So brutally beautiful.
Not a good idea
Trying to ride a horse after a vodka race with Mongolian nomads has to be on the list of not advisable combinations.
Experience of the week:
You know you’ve spent too much time in First and Business Class airline beds when you wake up in a train sleeper compartment in the middle of the night and instinctively wonder where the seat belt is.
October 18, 2018