Tuesday 19th April 2016

Location: Ulan-Ude

After driving through empty fields and tiny, ramshackled villages, I was finding it hard to imagine arriving into a city that supposedly had a population of over 400,000. But then, all of a sudden, it emerged on the horizon. Ulan-Ude hardly stands out from a crowd but compared to the last day and a half of woodlands, farmlands and empty space, it looked like a capital city.

It took me a couple of wrong turns, naturally, but I quite easily found my way to Ulan Ude Travellers House. Ivan opened the door to me and was so welcoming. I felt a little disorientated and it took me a while to find my voice after spending so long travelling but I immediately felt at ease as he showed me around. The hostel is comfortable, full of supplies and wonderful people. I almost walked in on someone in the shower in my desperation to wash off the grime, it was a fellow Brit who has been travelling West to East and had arrived in the early hours that day.

Best. Shower. Ever.

While half of me was itching to immediately go out and explore having been cooped up for so long, a cup of tea was offered, followed by another and it was difficult to resist the comfort of an armchair and getting to know the people around me as more and more emerged from the bedrooms. We spent a couple of hours exchanging Trans-Siberian stories and it was great to hear about what’s ahead of me.

Deciding it was probably time to leave the building, we went in search of dumplings. Finding a restaurant above the market with plentiful dumpling decor, we dug out Google Translate to try and order. No luck. Whipping out the live camera translation, my new favourite app, we deciphered the menu (ish) and avoided the ‘Crude Oils’ and ‘Guitar with Whistles’ in favour of ‘Beef Brine Ragu’ and ‘Gift From Pork’. We were amazed by the price, just £1 for mains, sides and a drink. We soon learn why. Enter…. 50 shades of beige.

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I think the photo speaks for itself.

We head back to the hostel with intentions of a power nap before hitting the bars but as the evening slipped by and the kind owners started making pizza from scratch and endless tea we realised we were quite happy going nowhere. Dennis the owner is an amazing conversationalist and I spent a good hour chewing his ear off and grilling him about his own travels. He’s promised to come and visit Worcester soon. His friend Sergie came for a visit and we all sat around playing Uno, cards and exchanging language lessons until the early hours of the morning.

I’ve very quickly learnt that this trip is as much, if not more, about the people as the places.

Wednesday 21st April 2016

Location: Ulan-Ude

The rain has well and truly followed me to Russia. I wouldn’t expect anything else. Finally mustering the energy and willpower to head out into the bad weather, a group from our hostel decided to go and visit the Datsan Rinpoche Bagsha temple. It’s just a quick trip on the 97 bus from the Baikal Plaza Hotel. It’s at the end of the line so it’s easy enough to navigate your way there.

Having spent a lot of time visiting temples in Asia, the attraction itself didn’t blow me away but what was worth the trip was the views over the city and the decorated trees and monuments overlooking the scenery. The multi-coloured flags looked great in the wind and it was a good spot to take some snaps. I think on a brighter day it would be a very relaxing and much more cultural experience but when you’re running inside to escape cold pelts of rain it doesn’t quite have the same Buddhist zen.

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Back down in town it was beginning to look a little brighter so we took a wander to check out the famous 70 ton Lenin Head and, to avoid yesterday’s mashed potato disaster, went for the top rated restaurant on TripAdvisor ‘Tengis’. The food was actually delicious. I ordered the ‘Tengis Soup’, a dumpling soup with lamb chops and my companions delved on dumplings, pickles and steak. Considering it was the fanciest restaurant in town, I think I still only just paid a fiver for all of the food I consumed. I’m still attempting to get rid of the garlic smell though!

With time and activities running out in Ulan-Ude, we decided we would carry on the high roller’s theme and head to Bar 12, the rooftop bar with a difference. Walking through a slightly ominous entrance we found ourselves in the rotating room sipping on one too many margaritas. The views from the bar are really special, particularly at sunset. The novelty of the rotating floor was fun and while it made coming back to your seat a little difficult after a few drinks, it did add something to the experience. It’s a little pricier than other bars in town but you’re still only paying £3 for a strong cocktail. Top tip: four (was it five?) margaritas are not the most ideal whistle whetter before navigating your way to a train station, although it makes sleeping on a bumpy ride much easier!

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Next up, Irkutsk!