Having nothing better to do than sleep for the time being I decided to explore what would be my surroundings for the next three days and nights. I walked the narrow hall and found car after car looking exactly like the one I was in. I went on for about six cars or so before deciding to turn back–there obviously wasn’t much to see here. A few cars before I hit my own I heard some English voices and peeked in a berth while passing to see four white faces. “Ahh–nice to hear some English!” I remarked, sticking my head inside for a second. “It was actually Dutch, but no biggie” replied one of the guys in the room. They invited me inside and we introduced ourselves before breaking out a bottle of vodka. Turns out they were from the Netherlands and Belgium and had met up in Moscow when boarding the train. We had a nice chat before fatigue got the better of me and I retired to my cabin.
Tags: alan bator
, border crossing
, siberian express
, trans-siberian express
The flight on Air Astana to Novosibirsk was pretty uneventful. I arrived in the early afternoon, very tired, and set about on my first mission: finding a bus to take me to the train station. Unfortunately, I didn’t have many Russian rubles on me, I had no idea where the bus stop was, and the train station was quite a long ways away. I stepped out of the terminal and was immediately ‘attacked’ by multiple cabbies asking where I was going and if I needed a taxi. I refused all of them and lugged my bags towards the nearest bus. No luck–it wasn’t the one I was looking for.
We headed towards Astrakhan, the last major city in Russia before the border. Again, we were routed through the city, this time during rush hour. Outside of the city we ended up going over an interesting floating bridge where we had to pay a toll to cross. We were stopped for the fiftieth time by AK-47 welding border security guards because of our lack of a front license plate. After a brief explanation of how we don’t have front plates in Michigan, they let us go. Note to anyone planning on doing the rally with a US car–make sure you have a front license plate. It’s quite a pain getting stopped all the time.
Instead of heading in a diagonal line towards Kazakhstan we decided to go south and then over so that we could see Kalmykia, the only Buddhist province in Russia. Situated in the middle of the jut of Russia that contains Volgograd, Kalmykia is a mostly agricultural province with an extremely high Asian-population. As we headed out of Volgograd the change was immediate. All of a sudden the people were Asian and there were plains and livestock everywhere. It was a big change from Volgograd. I’m not sure as to why there is a Buddhist province in Russia, but it’s there!
Previously known as Stalingrad, Volgograd is a large, patriotic city in between Ukraine and Kazakhstan. We didn’t have much time to explore the city, as we wanted to be on our way to Kazakhstan by that evening. One thing we definitely couldn’t miss though was the giant Mother Russia (Rodina) statue looming over the city. We drove up to the hill it was perched on and marveled at the scope of the thing (larger than the Statue of Liberty). There was also a gold-roofed Orthodox Church as well as various memorials to those that had died in World War Two (along with Russia’s version of the Eternal Flame). It was all very surreal and a reminder of how much influence communism had on the country for 70 years or so.
We continued on the Russian side towards the city of Rostov-Na-Donu. Again, the freeway took us a circuitous route through the city, and we almost got lost a number of times. After we got out of the city we eventually came upon another team of four Brits doing the rally. We followed them for a while and when we stopped at a gas station we talked a bit and decided to convoy to Volgograd, as that’s where we were all heading.
We were behind schedule and had to try and catch up. To accomplish this we decided to drive straight on through the night and try to hit Volgograd, Russia sometime the next day.
In Ukraine freeways don’t go around cities as much as right through them. And not directly through them–they take you in a confusing maze of paths through each city. This resulted in us getting a bit lost almost every time we hit a mjaor city. Signs would often disappear (see previous post), and we would be left circling city streets trying to find where the highway started up again. This is even harder to do when it’s dark out, which was the case for our entire drive through Ukraine.