Sorry that there's no postcard as yet but internet is very limited and we need a little time. We've tried the local post office that is supposed to have internet and if you've seen Little Britain, think of Little Russia. We've gone in many times but the computer (always) says niet!
When we get to Mongolia (on Tuesday) we'll update the postcards for the Trans Siberian and there will be loads of photos - that's a promise!
Friday 29 September.Well we're now on Lake Baikal staying at Derevenka Hotel in Listvyanka, a small village right on the lake.Its very beautiful, just what we needed after four days on the train - and 5,200 kilometers from Moscow!!!Firstly, before we get into the Trans Siberian trip, a couple of PS's from Moscow.After the Kremlin on Friday we headed back to our hostel and decided to buy some provisions for the train at our local supermarket.We whizzed round filling the basket, put it through the checkout, only to be told they didn't take credit/debit cards - and of course we didn't have enough cash (Eric having spent most of it on beer!).No problem, we thought - we'll get cash at one of the bankomat machines at the door.But turned out they weren't bankomats at all but probably some kind of loyalty card machine!So with much embarrassment, Eric set off in search for cash while Margaret was held hostage by the store security man until Eric came back with some money - about 30 minutes later.What a way to spend a Friday evening!! Saturday saw us head into town to leave our rucksacks at the station while we went off to visit the Cosmonautics Museum.Really fancied seeing, as promised in the guide book, superb video footages from space.Turned out to be a pretty depressing area - one where we'd considered staying (lucky escape!) - and to top it off the museum was totally closed and surrounded by corrugated iron.So back to the city centre where Eric had his first banya (Russian sauna) experience at the Sanduny Baths, and Margaret did some work on the internet.
On our travels we'd been puzzled by people gathering fallen oak leaves/twigs while walking in the parks - all will be revealed.Many of you will have heard about Eric's 'experience' at the Kirily baths in Budapest a few years ago.Well Sanduny didn't live up to that experience, thank goodness. But it was very relaxing (as I was told) with loads on naked men wandering about doing what naked men do and beating each other with --- bundles on oak and beech twigs. I'm also told there were bundles of more threatening prickly twigs - if you like that sort of thing! But at least Eric was cleaner than he'd been for some time!
Last PS.Some of the metro stations in Moscow are quite magnificent, but unfortunately taking photos of metro and train stations is generally forbidden so we only managed to sneak a few train station shots.After Moscow we were well ready for our Trans Siberian experience.It was great to have a few days rest from sightseeing in comfortable surroundings and, as it turned out, with great company.Boarded the train at 22.50, settled into our berths, soon joined by Yura - he speaks French so we were able to communicate - and then Luda.Yura was coming back from a business trip and Luda from visiting her son in Moscow - both traveling pretty much all the way to Irkutsk. It also turns out that Yura is a colonel in the Russian reserve army - so we had to be on our best behaviour!Into our bunks and the train left on time at 23.25.Couldn't have asked for better cabin companions. They were both lovely people - very thoughtful, helpful and generous. Yura gave us a present of his wife's (Natalie) CD of Irkutsk regional music - many thanks, Yura.We first listened to it sitting by Lake Baikal and enjoyed it immensely. The four nights on the train went by like a flash, unlike the train which lumbers along and has frequent stops - very welcome though for some fresh air, leg stretching and the chance to buy some food from the baboushkas on the station platforms.They cook fresh food and come to meet the trains to sell it to travellers hungry for a change from restaurant car fare and pot noodles.They also sell beer, fresh fruit, nuts, meats etc.The first two days, the landscape is gently undulating/mainly flat and predominantly silver birch and pine (known as the Taiga).Third day we woke up toa change - more hilly, more pines - especially the Siberian black pine - and a slower journey winding along river beds.On the second day Eric woke early, had cup of tea as the sun was rising - beautiful and peaceful.I was fast asleep, and after ablutions Eric went off to the dining car for eggs and coffee.Against a backdrop of VH1 Classics - Foreigner, Bon Jovi, Meatloaf etc - on the video, the countryside was very interesting - homesteads, villages, towns, industry/factories (some very run down), thickly forested and a generally very autumnal look. Stopped at Glazov looking for food, but found mainly soft toys for sale on the platform so bought an ice-cream instead.Stopped at Balezino to change engines - no idea why, but seems to be the usual thing - bought pyroshocks (a kind of vegetable/bread pastie thingy - very nice)and started to get to know our fellow travellers.On the platforms, weather is getting noticeably colder.That evening the meal in the dining car turned into a boozy vodka drinking session with Jerry and Catherine (he's English, she's Belgian - and that's where they live), Benedicte - lone girl traveller from Paris, Phil - lonetraveller from Eastbourne on lifetime dream trip before marrying Karen and settling in Australia, Patty (Australian) and Jonathan (New Zealand) - Patty had heard of us from Andrew and Catherine when she also stayed in Nord Hostel, St Petersburg), three very drunk Russian guys, Viktor an ex-boxer (with fists like broken hams) and his mates.You can see Viktor in the photos - does anyone recognise a famous Russian boxes called Viktor? Later that evening one of his mates was marched off in handcuffs by the police who patrol the train.Don't know how Viktor escaped the same fate!A bit slower start the next morning, as you'll understand. But at breakfast, got a smile from Gala the restaurant car waitress - who throughout the journey had a number of moods, swinging between the morose and downright rude.Mind you, she seemed to be doing all the work despite there being another guy there.But he seemed to be the boss and didn't do anything much other than count the money and scribble in a jotter.(We've noticed that this seems to pretty common in Russia - always someone who does the work and others who seem to do sweet fanny adams, and get away with it.Wish I'd had a job like that!)Today, discovered a few other sources of food, apart from our own supply of pot noodles - trolley service and the provenista (she who was in charge of our carriage and was always very smart - see couple of photos on the Trans Siberian album).She was in charge of: ensuring the toilet doors were looked half an hour before station stops and opening them 15 minutes after departure - timing variable, therefore timing of toilet visits was very important!; opening the doors at stations, ensuring we all got back on before leaving - so it was important to be able to recognise your provenista particularly at some late night stops, because they wouldn't let you on the wrong carriage or (thankfully) the wrong train; keeping the whole carriage, including the cabins and toilets clean and equipped - this involved hoovering the carriage twice a day (feet up, everyone) and straightening the runner (Eric was yanked off a couple of times!!).Strangely, our provenista took on a couple of hundredweight of potatoes (after checking them for quality) at Glaznov.We think she must have been selling them on the blackmarket.That same day we crossed into Siberia.Eric and I had a game of draughts - I won easily!Eric then played Yura, who had Luda as a very active strategic adviser, after dismissing the chance to play herself.A rather long and finely balanced game which Eric won.Did this help British/Russian relations do you think?Thirsty work so, as you can imagine, afterwards we headed to the restaurant car where we had another boozy night with the regulars and a sing-song, led by Hazel and Paul who are heading for a 6 month tour of SE Asia. Also met up with Ed from Farnham and his girlfriend and other friendly travellers. Later that night, stopped at Novosibirsk which had a wonderful, grand station of marble, where Eric and Jerry enjoyed a quick P for very little R.As we headed east, many stations had similar grand, clean and impressive qualities.The following day, stopped at Krosnoyarsk (means red valley) - it's church is on the 10 rouble note.Bought a couple of pyroshocks for breakfast, and Yura met his son and four of his six children on the platform (don't see each other often because of the distance involved so a good chance to meet up). The train runs on Moscow time, but we are in fact now 4 hours ahead so tonight must try to adjust to Irkutsk time.Bought warm boiled potatoes from a lovely old baboushka at Irlanska station and ate them together with remains of cold Russian sausage - really tasty.Eric had a final mini vodka session with Jerry and Phil, which ended when suddenly, out of the blue, the restaurant car changed to Irkutsk time (enforced by the on-board police).But not to be outdone, they continued in the space between the carriages. Woke up very early next day to arrive at Irkutsk (03.00 Moscow time/08.00 Irkutsk time). Another grand station. Agreed with Jerry and Catherine that we'd share a taxi to Listvyanka - a 70 kilometer drive away. Negotiated a fare of 1,300 roubles for a very hairy drive. Only well on the way did we notice that Eric was sitting in the driving seat and he didn't have a steering wheel! We were having to advise the driver when the road was clear to overtake - and there were lots of 'niet, niet'!! However, our first view of Lake Baikal was breathtaking - a glassy massive expanse of water seemingly surrounded by snow covered jaggy peaked mountains. Found Derevenka, where we were staying, and immediately decided to stay an extra day.The owners (Andrey and Zhanna) were so friendly, helpful and relaxed and the place is so quirky. Andrey built all the individual log cabins himself.He seems to be a local entrepreneur.Have a look at their website http://village2002.narod.ru/index_eng.html for some interesting information.We have a wonderful location right on the lake with a view looking south across the lake towards the snow-covered Khamar Daban range of mountains bordering Mongolia.Funny to think we'll be there next week.Jerry and Catherine decided to check in as well then we spent the day sightseeing, exploring and taking photos of traditional Siberian wooden houses (see photo album).Met Phil (from the train) and lots of others from the TS, plus an Irish trio from Japan doing the Trans Mongolian, BAM and a massive SE Asia trip.Headed up the ski lift for some great views of Lake Baikal.Heading back, met Phil.After a meal and a couple of beers in Derevenka had an early night (honestly), with the promise to meet Jerry and Catherine early next morning to do the Circum Baikal railway. Slept in!!!Woke at 10.30!!J and C had gone so had relaxing day catching up with (much needed) washing, exploring village and market (fish and trinkets) and sat in the sun on a pebbly beach saving ladybirds from drowning in the lake.On the way back, shared a hot freshly smoked Omul (local fish, bought from market) - mmmmm delicious.Met Phil!! - and learn he's going to be on our train to Ulan Baator on Sunday night, so made appointment to meet in restaurant car.Not for the first or last time, tried at the post office to access the internet. For those of you who know Little Britain, think 'Little Russia' - computer says niet.Three days later and still the 'computer says niet', and this time we're told 'computa kaputa'.As with every day, coffee and cake at the best cafe we've found in the whole of Russia.Met up with Jerry and Catherine for a banya at Derevenka.Steamy session with mint tea, jam (not sure which kind) and birch twigs (see Trans Siberian postcard).We felt much cleaner, younger, fresher and redder - especially after 5 days without a shower!!!!!!Met Birtha (a lone German traveller from London) - had meal at local restaurant (attached to the best café in Russia) where we found it difficult to stop the food coming.Explanation - we couldn't speak Russian, they couldn't speak English, and everything we mentioned as a possibility ended up on the table!Chicken salad was a whole chicken - how could they cook that in 20 minutes? The food was really good and tasty, but one thing we were all agreed on - the wine was crap!The first bottle tasted like cheap port and the next was like light strawberry wine.Got out alive and to be fair we weren't charged for the food we hadn't ordered.Returned to Derevenka for beers and chat with J and C, Birtha and Andrey, who brought out his home made English beer, which tasted like liquid coal.Jerry and Eric finished the 2 litre plastic bottle - surprise, surprise.To bed at 1.30.Every day, we'd gone down to the quay to take the hydrofoil to Bolshy Koty, the next village up the lake only accessible by boat, only to find as Little Russia would say, 'Hydrofoil says niet'.On Friday, at the quayside bumped into Patty and Jonathan from the train and surprise, surprise, the 'Hydrofoil says Da' - and it arrives on time.Bolshy Koty is a very isolated and tranquil Siberian village, nothing but old wooden houses, muddy lanes, and probably the smallest cathedral in Russia (see photo album).It reminded us of small villages in the north west highlands of Scotland (but the kiosk was open longer).During the walk round, was admiring a particularly bonny, colourful garden when, quick as flash, out pops the young man of the house to lure the girls into the garden and thrust posies of herbs into their hands (and Patty got a large carrot as well, which she later devoured with relish).But Eric, Jerry and Jonathan knew better and stayed outside, because next thing the young man was settig out a stall of trinkets and postcards for sale. A few, admittedly nice, postcards later we all headed back to Listvyanka where we said our goodbyes to Patty and Jonathan and, especially to Jerry and Catherine with whom we'd shared a great time on the train, in Listvyanka and in the banya.It was great to have their company and we had some great laughs and, Catherine, some great photos, oui?Day four in Listvyanka was a catch up with 'travel work' duties, but after the post office 'computer says niet' - yet again - we decided to explore the lanes/valleys off the main lakeside street, which is pretty much all we've seen so far and found that Listvyanka is much bigger than we first thought. Made a few surprising discoveries. One - there was no bankomat in the road by the post office.The sign we thought said bankomat said nothing of the sort, but was for rooms and Mongolian yurts to let.Two -an art gallery, which is on the official Russian museum list, displaying work by local artists, some very good.We got there just ahead of two coach parties!Three - the folk/rock bar up the valley next to Derevenka turned out to be a music theatre.Thank goodness Birtha didn't manage to persuade us to head up there for a night out especially as it's a 2 kilometre hike up a dark, muddy road!Back at Derevenka, found it had filled up with groups of families and friends of Andrey and Zhanna down for the weekend.After a nice meal of omul (yet again) gratinee and salad, went to head off to our log cabin to relax, but ended up sharing a few complementary vodkas and raw omul courtesy of a very inebriated Russian down from Irkutsk for the weekend with his family for BBQ, Karaoke, food and drink.Mind you, the vodka is nice here, hic!Sadly, we've reached our last day at Lake Baikal.Packed our bags ready for the next phase of the journey - now moving to the Trans Mongolian railway - and squeezed in a trip on the glass bottomed boat. Interesting, if only to see at first hand that Lake Baikal plummets steeply to its 1,637m depth very close to shore. Had intended to take the hydrofoil back to Irkutsk, but turned out it didn't come as fas as Listvyanka today.It was a lovely day and the place was heaving with day trippers so we were lucky to grab a mashrutka (sort of mini-bus) back to Irkutsk in time for a beer before boarding the train at 8.30pm.In summary, Lake Baikal is absolutely spectacular and we're really pleased we stayed a good few days.I guess it helped that we were really lucky with the weather, which was sunny and warm/mild almost every day.A Russian woman told me they have a saying that good people bring good weather - so maybe it wasn't so much down to luck!?PS.We've noticed that lots of cars here are right hand drive.Our assumption is that they can buy right hand drive Japanese cars more cheaply, therefore the left hand drive cars are a status symbol of wealth.May not be true of course - does anyone know?PPS. Don't know what the accident rate is on Russian roads but from the state of the vehicles, the way they drive and the amount of alcohol they consume from morning to night, traveling on the roads is pretty hairy!