Tip two. Do not overpack. My mantra had been 'even a straw weighs heavy on a long journey'. J and K looked like they had several haystacks in their copious luggage. J admitted that he had not even worn some items.
Looking a little haggard, J slumped into the minibus. A strange buzzing noise could be heard. Was this his pacemaker going into overdrive? Stand back - I am a trained first aider. No, it was the sound of his battery shaver. In the hustle and bustle, he had accidentally pushed the start button.
We arrived at some flats with the familiar grey metal doors and push buttons. I no longer felt perturbed by their appearance. A gawky, young man appeared and took us indoors. A flight of steps. 'Which one of you is man and wife?' he asked. We are both couples but J and K do not have the same surname. Glossing over this, our host showed J and K their room. We hovered in the corridor until we were turned around and taken back down the steps. Across the quad the three of us trudged. He pressed the keypad. No reply. Apologising, he returned to his flat, returning moments later. Correct code this time. The door swung open. Six sets of stairs to climb. Phew.
A tiny, elderly lady with the sweetest smile welcomed us into her home. She was kindness personified and treated us like her own from start to finish. It was worth the climb.
She laughed heartily when I used my drama skills to show my need for the toilet. She gave me a lesson in Russian clothes washing. First a board is placed over the bath. A large bowl stands on this. The tap is swung from the sink to the bowl and away you go. The drying takes place on the small balcony. While I washed she prepared breakfast.
Not only did we have the usual Russian food, it was enhanced by home-made jams. Fabulous.
A nap was in order as our sleep had been disturbed by our compartment colleague. My hubby can wake a house. This chap could have woken everyone on the train. Two hours and we both woke ready to hit the town.
Using a map and photos we were determined to find our way home. Thankfully, Ulan Ude was the easiest place to master geographically so far. The only hindrance were all those steps.
Steps up the slope to Lenin's monument- the largest head I have ever seen. I wanted to don a pair of red, sparkly slippers and click my heels three times.
The square here was continually visited by decorated stretch limos and cars. Brides, grooms and their retinues emerged for their obligatory photos. One groom stood head and shoulders through the sun roof, like Richard Gere in 'Pretty Woman'. Another was asked to pose like a reluctant groom. Initially he refused but his new wife insisted. Guess we know who will wear the trousers in that house!!
Over the road we were treated to a musical fountain performance. Jets pirouetted, leapt high and swirled in the air like the 'waltzing waters' of Kingussie. A little boy stood quietly, entranced by the free show.
More steps to a War Memorial. It too was worth the effort to see the elaborate wreaths, the bas-relief hero figures and the tank which perched aloft.
Hot and tired but happy, we were pleased to spot a landmark which led us home. Only six more sets of steps before we could settle down to a very pleasant evening with our hostess. We shared stories and photographs. We felt very honoured when she presented us with a postcard of Lake Baikal and a second of the Hambo Lama Itigilov. Look him up on Wiki if you don't know about him. A fascinating story.
And so at the end of the day, we have climbed many steps but top of our Russian Steppes is our charming, quaint and loveable hostess. Time for bed now. Long day ahead. Xx