Sleeping was fine, but were just a little dismayed to find the food boxes we’d come to rely on weren’t included in this portion, so it was back on the noodles and crisps (I am really pining for some Salt and Vinegar flavour right now, but you just can’t find them outside of the UK).
The big thing today though, was the border crossing. This afternoon we left Russia, and headed into Mongolia. When we woke up, the landscape had changed again to huge rolling fields of snow and frost, and was definitely some of the most beautiful scenery we’ve had on the trip.
We rolled into the station around 12, or thereabouts. The big issue with the train is time. It’s kept on Moscow time all through Russia, so you have to keep an eye on that, the actual time, and the time zone you’re heading into in order to make sure you know when to be back and when to be ready. It can get pretty frustrating). But it was definitely around lunch time, and the manager of our carriage told us the train would be leaving the platform fully locked up, so we could leave and go a wandering for a few hours. Seemed like a good idea so we headed out the station and had a look.
…Honestly not much to look at if I’m honest though. The border crossing happens in a little town called Naushki, which (at least in November) is very much the boonies. Not much open, a tiny little market consisting of 3 stalls selling clothes, and a lot of dogs wandering around free. We walked around a chunk of buildings, while some pondered if it was possible to climb a nearby hill and get back to the station in 2 1/2 hours. They decided against it due to snow, and we split up again. Once group to go get food at a grocers they’d seen, while the rest of us returned to the station to see what was on offer there.
As it turned out, a small shop, a pharmacy and a waiting area with dubious WiFi. Only 1 spot in the room seemed to get steady access, and your device had to be in a specific part. So some juggled with that trying to ‘check in’ while I read stuff on my tablet (attempted to get Internet to update this blog a few times but gave it up as a bad idea) and devoured crisps. I wasn’t actually feeling all that great though, so the wait became even worse.
Finally, our train (or at least our carriage), returned, and we all hopped back on. However, just because it was back didn’t mean we were going anywhere. It was another 2/12 hours at this station, during which, we had 2 passport checks, a bag check and a sniffer dog come inside the carriage. By the time we actually set off again, the moon had risen, and we were all climbing the walls. They do say this crossing takes about 5 hours, but considering you’ve been on a train for days, you assume you can handle it. Believe me when I say spending 5 hours in a moving train is far easier than spending 5 hours at an empty platform and stationary train.
And of course, we stop no more than an hour later on the opposite side of the border, with customs forms we don’t understand (the ‘engrish’ was terrible, and didn’t actually include a list of declarable goods, leaving us just a little confused), two more passport checks, and another bag check. Thankfully this stop didn’t take nearly as long, and we were finally, FINALLY through in less than 2 hours.
Our train was little, and didn’t have a dining cart, so the tour mates celebrated in the cabins with vodka and nuts, when the train stopped again. This time however, it was an actual station stop, so we hopped off for 20 minutes. Where I got the one highlight of the whole day. This little guy.Our carriage was being hooked up to a much larger train, so we decided to walk along it and see if a dining car was being hooked up. There wasn’t, or if it was, we were going to have to walk through several carriages of not particularly friendly acting individuals (there was someone having a full on screaming match at one of the conductresses), so I gave it up as a bad idea and headed back to the end of the train, where I saw a little bundle waddling towards me. There were people walking not too far from him so assumed he was someone’s puppy, and knelt down. It was only when said people kept on walking that I realised he was actually a stray.
But he was the friendliest little thing you’ve ever seen! Within minutes the entire group was out giving him attention. He bent into your hands, rolled onto his back, sat at attention – I found it hard to believe he was a stray considering just how well behaved he way. Or maybe he was just super intelligent – as our carriage conductor was just as smitten and ended up bringing him chicken from his own lunch. The only downside was that it was really too dark to get a good photo of him.
They had to drag us away from adorable puppy – and once we were all back in (and washed and disenfected our hands thoroughly – a well behaved stray dog in Mongolia is still a stray dog in Mongolia), I spent most of the excess 20 minutes just staring out the window at him. Everyone else practically wanted to take him with us!
Sadly we all had to focus on packing bags and getting ready for tomorrow. Due to the trains multiple times, we were going to lose an hour and our train rolled into Ulanbaataar at 5:10 in the morning. Getting the walking dead of our group up and coherent for that will be interesting.