Tue 2 Jul – day 52 Having left the train I saw that a good looking young lady with Chinese features had a paper with my name on it, so I went over and introduced myself; there was no offer to help with my bags.
Checked in and I asked about internet access, they have a business centre – so easy, but probably not cheap.
Up in the lift (a decent size for once) to the 6th floor and my room faces north, so cool(ish) as the sun is blazing hot. I dumped my bags and went straight back down to get on-line. I spent nearly 2 hours reading and replying to e-mails; a detailed one to my sister, who will show it to my Mum and then used that a basis to my other relatives and friends.
Having finished with the computer I paid the bill and went back to my room and emptied all my bags, so stuff everywhere. Tided up then went out for a wander. I needed to buy water as I had very little left. Went around the shopping mall that was built as part of the hotel complex; lots of small shops selling clothes, mobile phones and other bits and pieces, but no sign of a supermarket.
I walked down what was obviously the main street through the centre of the city and which had tram tracks in the centre of the road; under the railway line and I then turned right into the main square outside the local government HQ.
The traffic was horrendous, so I took extra care when crossing the road, no lights here, so watch for a gap and dash across. I was sweating buckets as it was blisteringly hot and there was no breeze at all. I sat down by the fountain outside the opera house and watched the water jets which are timed to the music which was playing; very pleasant. The children were trying to guess which fountain was going to spout next; get it wrong and you got wet.
I crossed the road and walked back up the hill; driving here was not for the faint hearted and the only thing that both vehicles and people steered clear off were the trams, especially when they were coming downhill.
I used the underpass to get back towards the hotel and then decided to check out the building next to what was the old hotel; it turned out to be another shopping mall full of one person shops selling mainly clothes. But upstairs I found the food hall and so bought 2 x 1 litre bottles of water and a large bar of chocolate; the lady shopkeeper and another customer were amazed to find an Englishman shopping, so much jabbering and grins.
Back in my room I decanted the water into my drinking bottles and one litre went straight down and this was quickly followed by another ½ litre. The heat was making me dehydrate.
The hot water in the shower took a long time to come through, but when it arrived it was very hot. Showered and washed my hair and I now felt really cleaned after three days of strip washes on the train.
Up to the restaurant on the 14th floor and there were great views to the south with the Selenga River meandering down from Mongolia. Having order shashlik and a Chinese beer, as there was nothing local and the alternatives were German or Czech, I started to read the guidebook info on Ulan-Ude, Khabarovsk and Vladivostok and found that there were plenty of things to see tomorrow.
The main course was good and the beer even better, so I ordered tiramisu for dessert and a cappuccino to wash it down. Both were good and I left a decent tip when paying the bill as the waitress had been very attentive.
To bed but I tossed and turned for sometime before dropping off. Woke up and looked at my watch, only 23:30hrs, but went to the loo and cleaned my teeth again; back to bed but still couldn’t settle.
Wed 3 Jul – day 53 I awoke at 07:00hrs and having been to the lavatory and cleaned my teeth, went back to bed again and quickly dropped off.
Up at 08:30hrs and the hot water arrived much quicker this morning. Having showered, tidied up my room and sorted out the laundry, it was up to the restaurant for breakfast. There were few people around as most guests had already eaten.
It was pouring with rain and by the look of things had been for some hours as the roads were flooded.
After breakfast I went on-line and checked my e-mails; one from Anne at John Allan Travel and I then amended yesterday’s long missive and sent it to my rugby colleagues.
Back to my room and I packed my day sac ready for my walk around town. Jacket on but not zipped up as it was quite warm and humid. Brolly up and I set off, but had to avoid the many puddles, some of which were quite deep. Traffic on the main road was busy, but just north of the railway underpass a lorry had broken down in the middle lane – chaos. I watched as the police arrived to take charge and eventually a breakdown truck hauled the lorry away.
I turned right and headed for the station, but was having to walk as far away from the road as was possible as the drivers in the speeding cars seemed to take great delight in making special efforts to splash the pedestrians.
It was yet another dash across the road to get to the station and there was a police checkpoint stopping drivers for random document checks.
Having walked down the steps and made my way carefully across the car park to avoid getting my feet wet, I went and double checked the departure time of my train tomorrow; exactly as advertised.
There was a very long (19 carriages) westbound train at the platform which had come from a town with an unpronounceable name far to the east; it will split at numerous points along the way as most of the carriages had different destination plates of the sides.
I stood and watched the comings and goings and was opposite one of the Platskart (dormitory) carriages and what I saw made it all the more certain that I would not travel that way.
There were lots of military personnel getting on the train in all states of dress, or to be more accurate undress.
It was amazing to see the number of people making a last minute dash to board the train; this included both passengers who had alighted during the stop as well as those departing. One lady had to make a run for it and her family threw the bags on after her as the train was pulling away. Then another lady arrived and banged on a closed door, the train stopped and she climbed on through the first open door to a tirade of abuse for the female duty station manager. It was a good job that the carriages still had old-fashioned doors operated by the Provodnista because in the west the doors would have shut automatically and the train departed.
There was much clucking from behind me and I turned to see two ladies in the booking office looking through an open window discussing what was going on and obviously not impressed.
Watching the coming and goings on the platform made for an interesting ½ hour and I then went back up on to the road and headed back towards the city centre. Along with the steady rain, there was a cooling breeze and this meant that the air felt much fresher.
I walked down Ul Lenina and saw a poster advertising a visit by the Dalai Lama, so the authorities are not bothered about upsetting the Chinese government; then under the Triumphal Arch, a reconstruction of the one built to commemorate the visit in 1891 by the then Crown Prince, Nicolai Alexandrovich and the future and last Russian Tsar, Nicolai the Second.
The main shopping area was a pedestrianised precinct, but due to the poor weather conditions there were few people around. I saw 4 German tourists going into the local museum, but I gave it a miss. Having taken photos of some sculptures, I saw a sign depicting a scissors and a comb, so down the steps and next to the public toilets was a barber’s, so hair cut time. He didn’t speak any English and the phrasebook was no help whatsoever, but with a few hand signals I got a good No 1+ and he trimmed my eyebrows as well. It cost just R170, less than £4, so I gave him R200.
Back out into the rain and I kept wandering south; around the Central Market square all the roads were flooded and the drivers were going slowly to avoid building up a bow wave and getting water on the electrics.
I came across a western style shopping mall, but for some reason hardly any of the floors had lights on so I gave it a miss.
Having walked as far as the Cathedral which has had the outside restored, I headed back passed the wooden houses, up Ul Lenina and the Irish Bar, then back to the hotel. It was till raining, but now only intermittently.
Back in my room I took off all the damp clothes and as I was feeling weary I had a snooze.
I was awoken by the phone ringing, “Mr David, it’s about your transfer to the station tomorrow, 13:00hrs”, “OK” and back off to sleep.
After being interviewed on Sunday I now know why I am being addressed as Mr David; Asians put their family name first, so Mr David it is.
When I awoke I thought about going out for more water and coke, but will do that in the morning.
Then hot water took ages to come through (again) when I went for a shower, but arrived in the end. The laundry has been returned with the clothes washed but not ironed.
The restaurant was fairly full, but I had a decent meal and a couple of beers before heading off to bed,
Thu 4 Jul – day 54 I woke at 01:00hrs, toilet and then back to bed and when I awoke again it was 06:30hrs, but I just rolled over and dozed off again. Up just after 07:00hrs and having showered it was off to breakfast; it took ages to get up to the 14th floor and only one of the lifts was working. The hotel must be pretty full as all the tables were occupied. Meat and vegetable rice followed by bread and jam and all washed down by coffee.
Having got some more roubles so that I could settle the bill for the extras in cash, I headed off to buy water, coke and chocolate ready for my train trip. Having packed my bags I went to the loo, better than on the train.
I went on-line again to advise people that I would be out of touch until I reach Vladivostok next Monday.
Having checked out I sat in the foyer waiting for the Transfer to take to the station. I have enjoyed Ulan-Ude as it a real hotchpotch of nationalities; the centre is small enough to walk around and the whole city felt very laid back and cosmopolitan as it was a major trading point for people coming from China and Mongolia. It was well worth the short stop and even the rain made my stay a little more pleasant.