October 2, 2006

  • Friends who had previously come out here made it sound as if it seemed unsafe. I was traveling around by myself and roaming through
    the cities by myself much of the time and never felt unsafe.

  • All of the trains are on Moscow time. Even when you are in a city that is three time zones away from Moscow, the times at the train station
    will be in Moscow time. This is very weird. When we were inYekaterinaburg, we knew we were taking a 1:40am train…yet the clocks were
    telling us that it was only 11:40am. There is only one thing to do – set your watch to Moscow time and forget about the time zone you
    were just in.

  • People get nicer and nicer the further east you go. In other words, the more away from the big cities you go, the warmer the people are.
    Pretty much holds true to anywhere in the world.

  • There is quite an array of things to buy on the platforms at different stops. Everything from beverages to blinis to fur hats to chandeliers
    sticks to buckets of apples to stuffed squirrels on. Yes, I said ‘stuffed squirrels on sticks.’

  • Moscow is incredibly expensive. For that matter, you won’t be dining cheap in any of the cities out here.

  • Russian is surprisingly easy to learn how to read and write. Speaking it, however, is a whole different story.

  • In Lake Baikal, people use banyas (almost identical to saunas) as part of their cleaning ritual. They sit and sweat for a while and then rinse
    themselves off with cool water while still in the banya. It is such a great feeling!

  • After being here for only a few days, I find myself wanting to learn so much more about recent Russian history.

  • Gers are great. Especially when it is cold outside as there is a nice fire going in the middle to keep everybody warm.

  • When entering a Mongolian ger, step over the step. Stepping on it is considered to bring bad luck.

  • When entering a Mongolian ger, women turn to the left and men turn to the right. They stay on their respective sides.

  • Border formalities take a long time when crossing into a new country. Be prepared to have a lot of downtime. I can easily say that this was
    the only boring time I had on the train trip.

  • The bathrooms get locked about thirty minutes before stopping at a station. If you have to use the bathroom, make sure you are aware of
    the time that the next train stops so that the bathroom isn’t locked when you need to use it.

  • It is a myth that Siberia is always cold. We experienced some warm, beautiful temperatures.

  • The popular beer in Russia is Baltika.

  • Russia makes some great dark chocolate.

  • The Bactrian (aka two-humped) camels are indigenous to Mongolia. They look a lot like llamas.

  • If families in Mongolia are making food for you, you can be sure that you will be getting some form of mutton. It kind of gets a bad rap. It
    takes almost identical to beef.

  • Mongolia was a breath of fresh air for our wallets as it was soooo much cheaper than Russia.

  • Once you cross the Mongolia border, you are swarmed by Mongolians wanting to change money for you. “Change money?” were the only
    words I heard for the hour that I was here. They tried to scam people by showing them the exchange that they were going to give for the
    rubles (always pretty good) but then altered the number they punched into their calculators when they were do the math. It is important
    to watch their every move.

  • The only place we visited where we had to be ‘on-guard’ was Ulan Bator. Apparently it is very common to get pickpocketed at the Gandan

  • Taxi drivers will try to pull a fast one on you at the airports. Just walk right past them and go to the information desk. They will steer you
    in the right direction…at a fraction of that cost.

  • The metro in Saint Petersburg is a breeze. And while it looks a bit overwhelming in Moscow, I did not find it to be that difficult.

  • Take an opportunity to check out the different subway stations in Moscow – especially the ones on the circle line (not the technical name
    but it does run in a circle). Each one is unique and some look as if they just came out of a museum.

  • Provodnitsas (women) and provodniks (men) are the people that tend to your car on the train. They lock and unlock the bathrooms, give
    you sheets, collect your sheets and keep your car neat and tidy. It is smart to try to get on their good side – especially the provodnitsas in
    Russia. All it takes is asking their name in Russian. Then you’re in! The provodniks really only exist on the Chinese train and they are
    more than sweet and friendly.
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