. We had learnt one thing from our time in Russia and that was how to make a real picnic, we really surpassed ourselves this time, with cheeses, cold meats and fresh salad. Don't worry though we still reverted to our standard train dinner of pot noodles! Next stop was Naushki, the Russian Border town, where there is literally nothing! The scary looking border control got on board and collected our passports then our friendly train attendant came to our compartment and told us we could get off the train for 90 minutes, so with cameras and money in hand we set off to explore, ready to face all the black marketeers that we had read about ready the rip us off and rob us. The platforms were empty save for a few confused looking tourists wondering what exactly we were meant to do for 90 minutes. We followed the people who seemed to know where they were going and we found ourselves in a shop that required our best pointing and gesturing skills to get what we wanted. We left with ice creams and diet coke, mission successful. As we were walking we spotted a small park with a few battered sculptures so decided it was worth a look. As we are wondering around aimlessly suddenly we are surrounding by some rather large cows who have come into the park for some grass, so random. At this point the pointy horns were looking a bit menacing so we ventured back to the train. We paced the platforms with the local scabby dogs and finally we were allowed back on. Just as we were getting comfortable a Russian customs lady appeared at the door with a video camera attached to her jumper and took some footage of us clambering around the compartment trying to open the seats to show her our luggage. Next came the big dogs, then the same scary looking border control people returned our passports. 3.5 hours later we were on our way, next stop Mongolia. Suhbaatar at 10pm is dark, bleak, we did the same dance with our passports and luggage but this time we were back on the go in just 1.5 hours
. The worst part of the border crossing experience was that the friendly train attendant was required to lock the toilet (possibly just to upset us) but we seemingly needed to pee as soon as we arrived at the station so spent the vast majority of the border crossing willing the train to move so we could pee. this really did take bladder control to a new level, had it not been for the fear of a visit from the passport people or customs dogs our water bottles may have been refilled!! Beds back down, pj’s on and we were back to sleep. As usual our poor planning had us arriving in Ulan Batuur at 6:30am, so as woke the sun was just about making an appearance and we could see the grasslands that surround the city. The land was dotted with gurs (what the Mongolians call yurts) and within a matter of minutes the landscape was dotted with tower blocks which had gurs dotted around the bottom. True to his word our tour organiser had someone waiting on our platform to take us to our hostel, so this was Mongolia. Ulan Bataar was yet another sprawling grey city with seemingly even worse traffic problems than Russia, not to worry we are about to set off on a jeep tour to the Gobi Desert, now this is going to get interesting!
After successfully staying up all night we made it onto our next train and were on our way to Mongolia, just a short 30 hour train with a long stop at the Russian border of Naushki and the Mongolian border of Suhbaatar. Our train was just as comfy as the last and this time featured some rather nice floral blankets. We quickly set up our beds and within minutes the train had rocked us to sleep. Next thing we know we wake up and the sun has risen and gone are the sprawling forests we had seen on our way into Siberia, they had been replaced with vast flat grasslands. As we awoke we were just passing through Ulan Ude which is the capital of the Buryat Republic (the ones that used to make the seal coats!), so I quickly grabbed my Transiberian handbook and the running commentary began. Annoyingly the kilometre posts were on the opposite side of the track so I had to stand in the corridor to get an accurate reading of where we were. Sadly there were very few factoids to entertain me and to annoy Tim, basically we followed the Selenga River all the way to Mongolia, we did get a glimpse of Goose Lake, but compared to Lake Baikal this was more of a goose pond