Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Country Changeover

Time for another tour of Ulan Ude before catching the train.  This time we found a shorter way to the city centre, using the tank war memorial as our focal point for returning.  

Hubby has a theory about the current fashion for Union Jack tops over here.  He believes they heard we were coming. They wanted to give us a warmer welcome than Princess Anne, who was the last royal to come here. Hubby thinks he spotted more flags fronting various bosoms than she would have seen.  Not that he was looking.  Of course not!!

We spent our last hour communicating with V, our hostess.  She used to be a history teacher.  Her home is several storeys high, with no lift.  She has basic facilities and few material possessions.  She does, though, have a wealth of kindness and love.  She was our favourite homestay and I do hope we can stay in touch. 

V's friend drove us the station.  Perfect timing as the train had just arrived.  An elderly gentleman was on one of our two lower berths.  This was disappointing as I had looked forward to falling rather than climbing into bed.  With his ever-improving Russian, Hubby consulted the Mongolian Provodnista.  All smiles, she showed us along the corridor.  We had a compartment to ourselves.  It was great to have the privacy but I had enjoyed meeting past companions. 

This carriage seemed an upmarket version of previous ones.  Superior towels, bed linen and curtains.  Even the corridor seats had brocade covers.  

From the city we journeyed into vast plains with meandering rivers wit distant wooded hills for a backdrop.  We passed small communities where youngsters waved like 'The Railway Children'.  I waved frantically back.  

Magpies. Loads of them.  Being superstitious I am never quite sure whether to kiss the back/palm of my hand, salute or consult with the bird as to health of his wife?? As a result, I do the whole lot.  The other passengers must have thought I was repeating a strange mantra.  

Wow.  I just discovered an enormous blister on my Peter Pointer toe.  I have been having such a good time, I never noticed before.  Well. At least I won't have toted the blister plasters for nothing.  

As the world and Goose Lake passed by, we were struck by hunger pangs.  Food rations were checked.  4 Russian Wagon Wheels,  6 slices of slightly tough bread, 2 pre-sliced pieces of cheese (melted), 1 banana and 2 ready meals requiring hot water.  Washed down with bottled water, the cheese sarnies went down a treat.  Exhausted by the effort, hubby nodded off. 

Left to my own devices, my eyes focused on the ceiling light.  I had seen something like that before.  Either we were under observation from a spy camera or that pesky Dalek had followed us from Heathrow and was keeping his eye on us.  

I wandered outside and chatted to our neighbours.  One was a Mongolian student, going home for the first time in a year.  He knew the Provodnista.  More on that later.  Other travellers came from America and Holland.  They were all willing to pass the time of day. 

The train pulled into the border town of Naushki.  It was well patrolled by a Heinz 57 with her four pups.  An official in uniform collected our passports and immigration cards. He popped them in his leather briefcase.  Good job I picked up the card when a Provodnista dropped it at Irkutsk.  I hadn't realised its importance.  

A female official asked if we had anything to declare such as powerful drugs, poisons or more than ten thousand dollars.  How much??!!  We wished. 

A second, sterner lady checked the corridor for hidden contraband, lifting carpets and checking underfloor storage areas. We waited and we waited and we waited.  Hubby nodded off.

The official returned with our passports.  He insisted hubby woke up and stood up.  He looked the same to me either way.  We didn't argue the point.  We were ordered outside our compartment by a very stern young man.  He cursorily checked under our seats and brought down the top bunks to look there. He waved us back in, leaving us to push the beds back. We were definitely not going to argue. 

We waited and waited.  More checking of the corridor and raised voices.  Then the Russian officials gathered on the platform and marched back to their room.  We were allowed to depart.

We think they missed something though. Remember the student earlier.  Just before the border, he carried a large brown box down the corridor.  Not sure what was in it or where it went but it did not reappear until we had crossed the Mongolian border!!  Suspect the Provodnista may have known what happened because she gave me a big wink when the Russians left.  Please note, she does not appear in my photos. 

The train wheels made a mournful melody as we crossed no man's land.  Just when you think you can get some sleep, you can't!! It was the Mongolian border.  We had to fill in two forms neatly.  At 11pm, I was not fully functioning.  I managed my name but failed on my date of birth, not having noticed the year-month-day order!  I had already handed over my passport.  The second form wanted the passport number, so I had to request its return.  Please could someone tell me what photo sanitary relations are?  I left that question blank.  I did not ask for 'helf' as I was not in 'possission' of anything contraband. 

More waiting.  We heard someone ask other travellers to leave their room.  Thinking it might save time we vacated our room.  The official took one look at me and said 'Please go in.  Sit down.'  So, one in, one out.  Divide and conquer?  No, he just thought I looked frail.  

He did a more thorough check of the compartment than his Russian counterpart.  Thanking me and smiling, he left.  What a difference.  Our passports were returned and we were wished a pleasant journey.  More smiles.

By now the toilets have been locked for three hours.  I am beginning to regret drinks taken earlier.  As the train pulled away, our Mongolian student appeared with a large cloudy bottle and a smile on his face. 'Want to pee??', he enquired.  I shook my head.  I didn't have a funnel.
I was first in the queue when I heard the lock turn though!!

A relief to enter Mongolia indeed!!

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