Resources for this page
Day 8 - Irkutsk - The Big Sleep
We had the alarm clock set for 6 am so we could say "auf weidersehn" to the Germans - both the 16 elders and the "Toilet Hoggers" which we duly did. It was raining in Irkutsk, still quite cold but not enough to form snow. Having said our farewells to the Germans, this didn't leave us much time on the platform, especially as The General was also getting off here. This caused us much odd a problem as "The General" and his ontourage required the assistance of us Westerners. You see, The General had accumulated so many bouquets his wife was really struggling with them, and she couldn't carry her case. So in we stepped to her aid, much to The General's approval. His aide looked most relieved as he had most of the rest of the luggage!
Having done all this, I'm afraid it was all down hill from this point on for this day as I went back to sleep and woke up some 5 and half hours later at 1:15 PM, missing Lake Baikal, a feature of the trip and, according to Cousin Pete, the snow. However, he added that he didn't see too much else as the weather was so bad and the snow obscured the view in places.
Our next stop was Ulan Ude, where the French couple - our friends in the luncheon queue you'll remember - got off. It looks most likely that they'll have a miserable few days as the scenary and weather are similar to a wet bank holiday in Wales.
There is a lot more industry in this area, and overall, the scenary is a lot more interesting as the track twists and turns around the hills and river valleys. There is of course, plenty of wood to see, and the SIlver Birch hasn't left us. The villages or dachas we pass are constitued by low wooden single storey huts. It doesn't look squalid, but the dacha generally lack tarmacadam roads and have a scruffy look about them, you know, everything thrown around everywhere. However, they all seem to have their own quant rural charm and certainly don't lack modern equipment such as satelite dishes. Whether this extends to other "white" goods on the inside is difficult to tell. There aren't many piles of them around outside.
Having finished "brunch" (in my case) the train heating comes on and we settle down to the afternoon routine of writing this journal, bit of reading - a biography of Stalin, some tea of course with chocolate marshmallows such as you had a school (a Cousin Pete treat!) and if the Silver Birch and weather permits it, a look at the scenary.
Our next stop is Chita. The scenary has changed somewhat here as we are now following the Ingoda River valley and the track is winding up the valley side. The weather is still foul, too wet to get off at Chita, but an interesting stop non the less. Along the way, we've seen farmers on horseback and an Air Base - lots of MiG's sheeted up against the weather.
The valleys are wide and punctuated by copses on interminable Silver Birch; have you got the impression that we're a bit fed up with that type of tree now? The hill tops have some Fir (hurrah for biodiversity!) and the roads leading around them are mere mud tracks, the population scarse. The track though is looking very well maintained, with new Continous Welded Track, new concrete sleepers and pantograph masts and occasionally, locomotive and carriage works. And there is always always the continous rolling of the long freight trains in the opposite direction. It's quite a joke between us that every time we want to take an interesting photo, there's a Freight train in the way! Ha!
And that was the end of that day. Another beer, a talk with cousin Pete after dinner and try to get some sleep as best you can - not easy as the driver has the hammer down and the train rolls around and sways everytime it's going over the points. And it's getting the feel very much of "another night on the sofa" - all that training on the floors of the Halls of Residence of Wolverhampton Polytechnic are paying off now, but I don't remember one of our parties lasting a week!