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Heading into Mexico

written by Birgit, sorry no pictures of that day... we had other worries on our mind!

sunny 35 °C
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Our day started easy and relaxed. Sam and I were up already soon after 6am, such that the heat was still bearable. While Sam unpacked his sling trainer and did some exercise, I used the time to write up a bit more for the blog. Once Max was up and breakfast eaten, Sam and he left to go down to the lake while I was packing up.
And I realized that it would make sense to make sure we have all documents ready for getting easily into Mexico. And even though one should think that in a small van like ours it is straight forward to find everything, I managed to have trouble finding our car documents. Eventually Sam located them just next to the place where we store our important stuff like passports… Still, not finding them would have put quite a damper to our plans. Once we had the documents we headed off towards the border which was just 30 mins away from Patagonia Lake State Park.
You might recall that border and immigration situations tend to make me be rather tense and nervous. This was true also this time. And even though I always hope that everything will go just so smooth such that the nervousness would not have been justified at all, this time it was definitively justified…
At first things looked almost too easy: at the Nogales border no one on the US side even bothered (so let’s hope that no one will ever want to see any stamps in our passports for having left the US) and on the Mexican side we were only asked if we had anything to declare. Upon saying ‘no’ we were waved through and more or less forced our way into getting immigration cards. We were told to just park somewhere behind the border and to walk back into the immigrations building. A bit strange, but fine – why not! A friendly gentleman gave us the paperwork to fill, advised us where to pay the money and upon returning handed us our immigration cards with the stamped passports. Excellent.
So the three of us were now officially in Mexico with all required paperwork. That is us, but not our car. We were told that the customs entry point for temporarily importing cars would be about 20 km further down the road and that this is also where we’d get Mexican insurance. Hmmm, that did not sound too promising. I did not like the thought of not having insurance for these 20 km. As expected the border featured a couple of insurance places, but unfortunately only one which was selling Mexican insurance (all the others sold insurance for the US). And the quote I got there simply did not appeal too much: liability with a coverage of 20,000US$ should have cost 130US$ for a month. Upon my request that this was too little liability, I could have also bought one with 100,000US$ should have cost 200US$.
So I then did what I should have probably done already a while ago: I searched Mexican liability insurance on the web and as I wanted to avoid clicking through too many form sheets, I called a friendly lady on a toll free number. As promised on the web, she was able to give me a quote within a couple of minutes and hooray she offered me coverage of 500,000US$ for 121 US$ for a month… So without much further research, I purchased this insurance on the spot and had my insurance documents in my mailbox 5 mins later – thank you, internet!
So we were all set to head off into Mexico. Except that we did not have any local money yet. Unfortunately, this time it was my VISA which claimed to have not enough funds to give me money, so it was Sam using his newly unlocked Mastercard getting us cash.
We then worked our way south through the town of Nogales. And just from those first meters, it was clear that we were not in the US anymore. Traffic is just different. Wilder in comparison, faster and requiring a good bit of concentration. Sam managed well and felt reminded of his times in Romania.
We soon passed the city limits and were headed south on the highway. There was a stretch on the highway where 70km/h and 40 km/h signs were alternating like every 500m and Sam was a bit unclear on which one was the correct one. Not even a mile after having left Nogales, Sam had the flashing lights of a police car in the rear-view mirror and stopped next to the road.As you can imagine, Sam was shaking a bit – he had not expected to be caught out at all. So the policeman walks up to our car, Sam lowers the window. And it turns out that the policeman had seen Sam talk and had deducted that he was speaking on the phone. Not surprisingly as Sam was in fact speaking, but Max and I were both sitting in the back behind tinted windows… My Spanish was sufficient to clarify the situation and we were let go without any issues. Still, a bit of shock remained.
Still, the real issues were still to come: the next and last step we still had to accomplish was to import our car temporarily into Mexico. We knew that the original registration papers or the original title of the car were required to do so. And we had taken the conscious choice to take only the registration papers and just a copy of the title.
So we were quite positively minded when approaching the customs office. Our first stop was the copy place where copies of passport, immigration card and car registration were taken. We then proceeded with the copies to the banjercitio where everything was checked. And unfortunately the official behind the counter was not happy with the papers I presented him and refused to process them. When Sam asked what the chances were that we’d be able to go on, I was like 50-50. It’s always hard to judge on how these things will go. Officials might be very bureaucratic and insisting in having exactly what it takes and refusing everything else. Or there might be back doors and alternative ways of doing it that are not written down officially…. So we had to see what would be coming next: the official sent me to another counter to talk with the customs representative.
So once again I showed all the documents I have. He thoroughly checked the papers, went back to his colleague at the banjercitio and eventually returned asking for insurance papers. Luckily enough I was able to present the insurance documents – after all I had just gotten Mexican insurance for the car. But I did not have a copy at hand and consequently the customs official was not able to get a copy for himself.
So following the recommendation of the official, we went into the tiny store next door and asked if it was possible to print the insurance papers there. It was. I sent an email from my phone to the store keeper, then after some back and forth which involved him leaving the store twice for a couple of minutes he suddenly came back with a print out.
Before handing the precious print out (yes, it did come for quite a fee!) to the customs official we made sure that we got another two copies of it at the copy place. Then the customs official checked the insurance papers and attached it together with the other paperwork we had at hand to stamp it and write a note onto it saying that the copy of the title and insurance papers were accepted to compensate for the faulty registration papers… After thanking him for what feels a dozen times, we were able to go back to the banjercitio.
After this critical step was successfully achieved, the rest was easy: I had to stand in line a bit, then the stamped pile of documents was again thoroughly checked, I then had to fill additional paperwork about the contents of the camper van. As usual the window for the officials were at a very inconvenient height. To properly see and speak to the agent behind the window, I had to bend down to what is approximately breast height for me… But eventually I was happy to receive in return for paying the respective fee the sticker for the car and all relevant documents.
We did it! Even though a bit more complicated than anticipated, we were now all set to continue our journey as planned. At that stage it was already 3pm in the afternoon – it had taken almost four hours to get all of this done since we had approached the border in Nogales. So time to eat.
And then time to continue towards Hermosillo. Unfortunately, even though Hermosillo is a town with a population of over 800,000, there is no campground of RV park there. So we had to continue onwards towards San Carlos / Guaymas. The sun was going down already when we passed through Hermasillo and it was another 150 km to Guaymas. We knew that it was not recommended to drive in Mexico at night, but did not really know what else to do. So we just continued along the carretera towards the south.
Once we were out of Hermasillo the potholes subsided again, but it still felt a bit intimidating to go on a Mexican highway after having gotten used to the highways in the US. Having to rather narrow lanes and rather steep declines towards both sides without any additional asphalt on either side felt strange again. And considering that nobody seemed to stick to the posted speed limits, but surpassed them significantly did not help either. Just to illustrate: in a construction area where the onwards traffic was using the left lane and we were limited to the right line, a speed limit of 60 km/h was posted. I drove already about 95 km/h and was still overtaken by trucks and busses on stretches with almost no visibility and they were soon out of sight – I guess they were driving far beyond 120 km/h. So driving required a lot of concentration and we were happy to eventually arrive at 9pm in total darkness at the Totonaka RV park in San Carlos.
The security guard let us in and we could not resist to walk to the beach right across the street once we had parked our camper van. Everybody was exhausted and tired. And we were sweating! It was cool in comparison to Southern Arizona, roughly 86 °F (30 °C), but we were not used to temperatures including high humidity anymore!

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 12:46 Archived in Mexico Tagged mexico border insurance heat customs carretera humidity guaymas nogales Comments (0)

Bye bye Mexico & welcome to Southern California

written by Birgit, pictures mostly by Sam

sunny 30 °C
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Eventually we reached San Felipe and found a nice place at KiKi’s RV Park which featured a palapa on two levels. This allowed us to move our bedroom on the upper level of the palapa for a change. This was excellent – specifically as it is so hot and humid here in San Felipe such that we were thankful for every little breeze.

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We spent the next morning on the beach, eventually went into town for lunch and then used the opportunity of being in a place with lots of dunes for doing some quad riding. That was so much fun!

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Max first rode with his dad, later with me. Sam used the opportunity when he was alone on the quad to go fast, jump and try steep inclines and the like, whereas Max and I took it easy. At least whenever I was the one at the throttle. When Max had control, he did go full blast – at least until I got scared and took his hand away from the gas.

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After that excitement we were all a bit exhausted. While Sam and I were in favour of taking an actual break, Max continued playing all along – in this case playing with his little surfboard in the sand until he was all sandy.
Luckily enough with the beach just a couple of steps away, it was easy to get rid of the sand and to even get treated as a bonus to a nice sunset.

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The next morning, another dip in the sea was due before finally leaving the Sea of Cortez and with that also Mexico.
We were surprised to see that on our way towards the border, there were enormous white areas along the beach. When we found a turn off towards it from our highway, we explored what it was and realized that it was a huge salt pan or probably rather a salt sea. The blinding light from the pure white was fascinating!

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We were much less impressed by the border between Mexico and the USA. We had to wait for about an hour on the road directly south of the gigantic border fence between the two countries. When it was eventually our turn, we realized that this was directly the US side, i.e. there was no outgoing customs or immigration point at all. The agent at the US border was extremely friendly, explaining to us how to get to Mexican customs to make sure our car is officially out of the country again. He also asked about the soccer game of this evening – and with that we realized that this was the day when Germany was playing Italy in the Euro 2016. We had not been following the news at all in the last couple of days.
After going back to the Mexican side of the border, lots of waiting and a couple of referrals from one office to another, we were finally able to make sure that the temporary import of our RV was officially stopped. Once more we stood in line for getting back into the US and got questioned about our trip by another agent. This time we knew how to answer the questions and got into the US without much ado.
As a welcome to the US, we were treated to a nice sunset – they are just much more interesting whenever there are clouds around vs. a clear sky. And luckily enough we were not in the middle of one of those thunderstorms going on around us!

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Our first night back in the USA was the Friday night of Fourth of July weekend. Given that all campgrounds and RV parks were probably full on that weekend, we used freecampsites.net once more and found a nice BLM site not too far from the Mexicali border at Plaster City OHV area. We did see a couple of buggy drivers, but none of them stayed overnight. So we had the pleasure of having a lonely campsite again with a nice starry sky. And there’s nothing to complain about the toilet facilities – they were significantly cleaner than many others we had on our journey so far and featured a nice view…
The drive over the Tecate divide into San Diego the next morning was really nice. We only briefly passed through downtown San Diego before heading directly to the USS Midway, a decommissioned aircraft carrier that is now a museum in the San Diego harbour.

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After our visit to the USS Midway, we prolonged our parking and headed south along the embarcadero to a pleasant food court where we had a late lunch before heading north along the coast towards Los Angeles.

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We had reserved a spot for the night at the Los Angeles KOA in advance – a smart move since the KOA was fully booked by the time we arrived in the evening. I can’t really say that it is a pleasant place to stay: it was a classical RV park with RVs standing next to each other tightly and even though it’s called the Los Angeles KOA, it’s located in Pomona, a suburb 30 miles / 50 km away from downtown LA. Given the holiday weekend, we were charged 66 USD for the night, so a new record by far surpassing the previous 45 USD max we had paid back in Oklahoma. Still, it served our needs for having a place for the night.
The next morning, we were not able to resist going shopping at Aldi’s before heading towards downtown Los Angeles. More or less by coincidence we ended up in the Central Market an enormous food court featuring food from all corners of the world. It reminded us a bit of Spittalfield Market in East London. We opted for Chinese food – a good choice!

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Our walking tour of downtown featured Pershing Square, the jewellery district and a couple of theaters along Broadway. We were surprised to see lots of nice old buildings and architecture. Even though we usually say that we’re no big city people, once in a while it is very nice to stroll around a city after all – specifically after having been for such a long time in the rather lonely deserts of Mexico’s Baja.

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Posted by dreiumdiewelt 00:13 Archived in USA Tagged mexico market hut la outside border downtown salt palapa Comments (1)

Preparing for a long train ride

Ulaanbaatar to Naushki

sunny 27 °C
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Once again, we stayed at the Zaya Guesthouse. It felt like coming home again. We were greeted heartily and had to tell the stories of how our trip went. After a quick lunch, we headed straight into the shower. It felt great having a warm shower again – pure luxury after many days of doing without.
We also ran some errands. Our laundry had to be done and we needed to get our mobile phone repaired again. It only took 30 mins and our phone was as good as new. We did not feel like going out for dinner and preferred doing our shopping and staying ‘at home’ that evening.
Also the next morning we were not very keen on doing much. We had a very relaxed late breakfast and worked on the blog. After all, the last weeks of having neither a network connection nor power for the laptop had left the blog jet-lagged by almost four weeks vs. real life.
At the guest house, there were lots of really interesting people and we enjoyed exchanging stories with them about their respective trips. There were Rob and Gay from Australia who were about to head off towards five days in Mongolia before hitting the Trans-Siberian Railway towards Moscow and then Western Europe. It was fun to compare the stops they will be making along the way with our plans.
Then there were Gaёtan and Paul from France. They had bought cheap Chinese motorbikes in Western Mongolia and had spent the last four weeks riding them back to Ulaanbaatar – with only partial motorbiking experience that is. They planned to stay in Mongolia for another month before heading via China to Japan. One of them would travel for one more year and the other one would go back home.
Then there were two Irish around – Gary and his cousin Mick who planned to drive through Western Mongolia via Kazakhstan to Kirghistan. One-eyed Gary has the goal of eventually traveling to all countries of the world. But he’s not doing it the easy way of just checking countries. In fact, he had driven a Toyota Landcruiser with trailer from Magadan to Ulaanbaatar – something that several people had predicted to him as being not doable. He had so many fun stories to tell. Well, let’s be realistic: in retrospect it’s fun to hear them. I’m pretty certain that I would not have wanted to be a part in any of them myself. Bears, helicopter rides with drunken Russian pilots, getting stuck with the Landcruiser in a swelling river, etc. are only for the real adventurous and as Sam knows, I would panic way too easily than to enjoy the moment. Check out ‚1eyeonthe world‘ if you’re interested to learn more about Gary.
The next day, we ventured out after all again. We had lunch at a nice Indian restaurant (we were sure to find some vegetarian options there), explored the playgrounds of UB again. It was visibly much greener than during first visit – what difference three weeks can make!
We noticed once more how many Toyota Prius and other hybrid / e-cars were crowding the streets of UB - it felt like more than half of all cars. As most of these cars probably came from Japan as used cars, they were right hand drives. So more than half of all cars in town actually had the driver sitting in the wrong seat. After all, Mongolia is driving on the right-hand side – just like Russia or Europe is.

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In the evening, we had a last agenda item on our list: we went to a performance of the Tumen Ekh ensemble. It was a great show, combining traditional Mongolian music instruments, singing (including throat-singing), dancing and contortionists. All artists were absolute professionals and it was a pure pleasure to see them perform.
To close out the end of our great experience in Mongolia, we stopped to the Great Khan Irish Pub on the way home. As Max was tired, we did not stay very late, but still enjoyed a night out.
The last day was focused all around getting prepared for our upcoming train journey: we got our tickets printed out and our stuff packed. Sam purchased an extendable window cleaner such that he’d be able to clean the windows of the train and we got some food to keep us fed during the first 24h leg of traveling on the train. Sam made sure that he had another bottle of concentrated seabuckthorn juice – the Mongolian national drink that he had learned to appreciate during our travels through the steppe.
We had also noticed that since the repair of our mobile phone, both cameras did not work properly anymore. We tried to get the issue fixed, but to our dismay ended up with even worse of an issue with the camera than before. What a pity! Even though it’s great that the mobile works again, we had really liked to use our camera for quick shots here and there and we had used the video functionality extensively. So unfortunately, for the remaining three weeks of our travels, we would need to do without.
We got taken to the train station by car and enjoyed sitting on the platform in the sun. Temperatures had climbed up to 30 °C in the last couple of days. It’s hard to believe that just a bit over a week ago we were facing a snowstorm.

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Eventually our train pulled into the station and we headed to car 2. Our conductor Irina collected our tickets and passports and allowed us in. We had tried our Mongolian skills by greeting her ‘sain uu’ (hello), but realized a moment later that the train was already staffed with Russian personnel. It was finally time to put our little Russian to work. ‘Здравствуйте (Zdravstvuyte)’ worked fine.

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It took us a couple of minutes to figure out how the beds work and how to store all of our stuff in the compartment. Once everything had its place, Sam headed out to do some window cleaning. I had picked up that recommendation in a guidebook about the Trans-Siberian Railway and had read it out lout to Sam in the intent of getting a laugh. Instead, Sam was honestly fascinated by the idea and wanted to make all efforts possible to ensure that he’d be able to get as spotless pictures as possible from inside the train.

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The train left the station exactly on schedule. It was a very strange feeling to pull out of the station and to start rolling. After all, we were on our way home now. A last stretch of less than three weeks in Russia and then we’d be back with our families. After more than a year on the road that was somehow hard to believe and what had felt very surreal up to then, suddenly became reality.
But at the same time, it was also fascinating to be on a Russian train. We did not take long to start exploring all features of the train – most notably the samovar (i.e. the hot water boiler). It was perfect to brew ourselves a cup of tea to go with the cake we had bought back in UB. And while we had our afternoon tea, we were able to see the landscape passing by our windows.

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As sitting became too boring, we were soon standing in the aisle of the train – together with the few other guests traveling in our car. Our neighbors were from Australia and Germany and we obviously could not hesitate to compare the stops they were planning to do along the way with our plans.
From the windows, nice views of the steppe were passing by. Usually the view was undisturbed on one side, but the other side was a bit blemished by the power lines that were running along the train tracks. At first the landscape resembled very much what we had seen during our trip through Central Mongolia.

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But as we headed north, eventually we noticed more and more trees growing along the way. At first, they were only close to the rivers we passed, but after a while also the hills started to show more and more growth of trees. To Sam’s big dismay, they were mainly birch trees. It did not take long to have him sneezing continuously.

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Around 10pm we reached the Mongolian border post. A fair number of officials passed through the train cars: quarantine, customs, security and finally immigration. They took our passports and about 30 minutes later we got them back – with an exit stamp for wonderful Mongolia. We’ll be back at some stage!
Once the train finally left the station, it took over half an hour to reach the Russian border town. This time the procedure repeated, just with people dressed in different uniforms and speaking Russian instead of Mongolian. We were a bit nervous, as Russia is pretty intimidating in regards to formalities.
And in fact: the immigration officer was not happy with our visa. She asked where we had gotten them and shook her head in frustration. It took us a while to figure out that the Russian embassy in Cambodia had stuck the visa into our passports upside down, such that the machine-readable part was on the inside fold of the passport. Consequently, the lady was not able to easily scan our visa, but had to tediously type everything in. But despite her frustration, eventually she got her stamp out and stamped us into Russia.
What a relief! Despite our happiness of officially having made it to Russia, we left the celebrations for the next day. At 1:30am in the morning we just wanted to get into bed and go to sleep. Good night / Споко́йной но́чи (Spokóynoy nóchi)!

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 19:34 Archived in Mongolia Tagged train dance music border preparation immigration Comments (0)

Bye, bye Asia – welcome Europe

From Krasnoyarsk to Yekaterinburg

semi-overcast 20 °C
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Eventually we headed to the railway station and boarded our train. In an attempt to save some money, I had booked train no. 69 instead of the faster trains no. 1 or no. 19. For the longest segment of our train journey of 2282 km to Yekaterinburg we’d therefore be spending 36 hours in the train instead of 30. The train was just as comfortable as train no. 1 had been. The only difference seemed to be that it lacked the TV screen which we did not miss.
As we left Krasnoyarsk we noticed its size (almost a million inhabitants), as the apartment blocks seemed to continue forever. Once we left the town itself, for the next 40 km we passed lots of datcha colonies – the second homes with garden that many Russian families own. With many people living in rather small apartments without their own garden, this is their place to get away from the city and to grow vegetables and to have a base for outdoor activities. It was a lot of fun observing how people were planting their plots. It was a fairly hot summer day and Sam was quite disappointed that he did not catch some of the beauties with his camera.

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A bit later, we crossed the border between Eastern and Western Siberia. Once more we realized that we were getting closer and closer to home and to the end of our journey.
We passed through a hilly area. In regular intervals, we crossed some rivers and here and there a small town. Along the tracks there were endless swamps. We were wondering if potentially some of the ground might still be frozen in May, but were not able to check that theory. If we would have passed through this region in summer, we would have probably been haunted by mosquitoes. We clearly preferred spring time, as this is an experience we would not have been keen on making. Sam was plagued a bit by his allergies and it certainly did not help that along the tracks there were mostly birch trees.

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Time passed quickly on the train. Between watching the landscape pass by, playing with Max and eating, we did not get bored. We checked the timetable closely and made sure to get out of the train at all longer stops. Seemingly everyone left the train for the 20-min break In Mariinsk. There were lots of hawkers on the platform trying to sell their goods to the passengers. We also stocked up our supplies with them and then enjoyed the sunshine and the fresh air.

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At every wagon, the conductor was standing and making sure that only people with a ticket enter the train. She only checked the tickets of those people joining the train - all other passengers of ‘her’ wagon she knew by sight. That way we felt also safe to leave our compartment alone during our platform outings. Anyhow, we always felt very safe and secure in the trains and the stations.
We had originally considered if we should buy 2nd or 3rd class tickets and decided to go for 2nd class on all segments. This way we have a compartment with a door and potentially one person joining us. In 3rd class there are 54 instead of 36 people per wagon and there are no compartment doors. We were happy about our choice to go with 2nd class, as it was comfortable and we had a space for ourselves. In 3rd class, we would have probably met more people and seen more local culture. Still, whenever we passed through a 3rd class wagon, we agreed that we were not too keen on spending much time there. Due to the heat, most men were only wearing shorts and there was a clearly noticeable smell of alcohol in the air.
Even though we had bought only three of the four berths in our compartment, we had been alone for the whole day. But as we did not know if someone might potentially join us at one of the upcoming stations, we tried not to spread our stuff everywhere.

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We slept very well and did not even notice the long stop the train made in Novosibirsk in the middle of the night. It is a bit complicated to tell at which time we woke up: it was 6 am (Moscow time / train time), 8 am (Yekaterinburg time / our destination), 9 am (local time at our current location in Omsk) and 10 am (Krasnoyarsk time / where we entered the train). Maybe we would have slept even longer, but the fourth berth in our compartment finally got occupied. Pasha, an artist from Yaroslavl joined us. He had had a couple of performances in Omsk and was now on his way home.
We spent the whole day on the train. With the help of our guidebook and the km markers along the tracks, we were able to follow all major landmarks and sights. As we approached the town of Ishin, we noticed that here was significant flooding. We were not able to find out the cause of the flooding and also Pasha did not know what had happened here.

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As usual, we cherished every opportunity to get out of the train. It was sunny, but fairly cold. That did not stop some other passengers to stand outside in shorts and t-shirts. We got chatting with two Australian ladies. We introduced them to kvass, the Russian beverage we had repeatedly seen and finally tried: it is made by fermenting bread and sold to consumers from large yellow barrels. It reminded us a bit of malt beer with a nice lemon flavor. While it has a slight content of alcohol, it is considered non-alcoholic by Russian standards and the standard summer drink for the whole family.

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In the evening at km post 2102 (or 3800km of train travel within Siberia) we eventually passed from Siberia into the Ural region. Thanks to the fact that now the days of Siberian exile and forced labor camps are over, we had found our stay very pleasant and felt sad to leave.
At 10pm local time we reached Yekaterinburg, Russia's fourth largest town. We were picked up at the train station by Julia, the owner of the apartment we stayed that night. We enjoyed that luxury of being picked up and taken to her place. Even though it was still fairly light outside, we were already quite tired and happy not having to search for her place.

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Along the way to her very centrally located apartment, we passed many of the key sights and already got a first impression of the town. It was a perfect evening: there was not a single cloud in the sky and from our place on the 10th floor, we had a spectacular view of the town.
When we logged into the wifi at our place, we were stunned by a long WhatsApp from Elena. She’s a friend of Andrey and Angelica (who we had met a couple of weeks earlier in Cambodia) and lives in Yekaterinburg. Andrey had asked her if she’d like to meet us while we’d be there and she agreed. But more than that: she took off a day at work and had sent us a list of at least a dozen potential sightseeing opportunities for tomorrow. It sounded fabulous and we were looking forward to meet her.
We met Elena at 9am at our apartment. Even though we had not even seen a picture of her and she had only seen a picture of us at the pool, we immediately recognized each other. She was very sympathetic and we could not stop thanking her of taking a day off to meet people she never saw before. Our breakfast next door at Paul Bakery was a perfect start into the day. We used that opportunity to talk through the various options she had proposed to us and we decided to start with going in her Mini Cooper to the Asia – Europe Monument. The monument is located in the Ural Mountains some 40 km outside of the town center. Presumably the border of Asia and Europe is along the watershed. But the high Ural Mountains of our imagination turned out to be rather small rolling hills.

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In principle Europe and Asia are arguably on the single continent of Eurasia. As there is no real physical separation of the two, the borderline seems to be more of an artificial matter of definition. Still, we had lots of fun, standing at the monument with one foot in Asia and one in Europe. After 392 days of absence, we were officially back in Europe. And it was great being able to stand there at the exact border and to enjoy this event instead of just passing through by train.

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And as seen already a couple of times, here they were again: uncountable pieces of cloth tied to the trees, fences and everything around. What a beautiful custom!

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Elena had included into her list of potential sights also the local military museum. Sam did not hesitate and soon enough we found ourselves on the premises of UMMC’s Museum of Military Technology. In the large open-air exhibit, there were tanks, fighter jets, submarines, trains, artillery, amphibian vehicles and much more. To Sam’s surprise, there were also a couple of tanks from the USA on display, most notably the Sherman. A bit of research revealed that during World War II, the United States provided to the USSR with more than 7,000 tanks, 400,000 jeeps and 18,000 aircraft under a lend-lease program. Neither Sam nor I had ever heard of such a program and we were stunned about the incredible numbers.

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When we headed back into town, Elena suggested taking the metro for part of the way. It was a great idea: for one thing, we did not get stuck in traffic, but even more importantly we got to see the nicely decorated metro stations and the locals using it. For many years, the Yekaterinburg metro system held the official Guinness book entry for the smallest metro system in the world. But since a couple of extensions, they had to give up their record in return for a more efficient public transport system. The trip from ‘Kosmonautilor‘ to the ‘Geologicheskaya’ was indeed much quicker than if we had taken the car. As we emerged from the underground, we were greeted by the impressive circus building.

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A couple of minutes later, we felt like being in another world: Elena had suggested to have lunch at ‘Nigora’, an Uzbek restaurant. It was an excellent choice. The food was great and the atmosphere very friendly. With the Uzbek decorations and handicrafts, it seemed like we’d actually be there. And yes indeed: after that great lunch, we agreed that Uzbekistan is rightfully so on our list of places we want to visit someday.

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By the time we left the restaurant, we realized that we had perfect timing: we had obviously missed a massive rain shower, as there were puddles of rain all over the place. Max was happy to do some jumping. But the fun did not last for long: as the sun came out, the puddles dried up as quickly as they had appeared and we walked along the pleasant pedestrian zone of Yekaterinburg.

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We loved the town: everything was very clean, buildings were nicely renovated, there were lots of statues and monuments. Passing by the museum of illusions we were intrigued and had a look inside. We had no real idea of what was expecting us and soon found ourselves surrounded by fun wall filling pictures that invited us to stage as part of the scene. We had lots of fun.

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A bit further we passed a fountain just like the ones we had seen months earlier in St. Louis or Perth. Back then Max had not hesitated a minute to join other kids getting wet in the fountain, this time at about 20 °C it was simply too cold. Still, we considered ourselves very lucky with the weather: two days earlier the daily high in Yekaterinburg had been at 7 °C – while we had been sweating at 27 °C in Krasnoyarsk.

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We passed the dam of the Iset river, the beautiful Sevastyanov building and eventually reached the Church on the Blood. The church was built in the location where the last Russian tsar Nicolas II and his family had been killed in 1918. Even though the church is the highlight of many visitors of Yekaterinburg, we were already very saturated by everything we had seen so far. So we resorted to relaxing in a nearby café before heading back to our apartment.

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Wow – what a full day. We had so much fun discovering Elena’s beautiful home town. We enjoyed our time with Elena so much. And we’re still stunned by the Russian hospitality: taking a day off for an unknown family and to take them all over town that is very special. We are keeping our fingers crossed that one day we’ll be able to reciprocate and to host Elena (or Andrey and his family who got us in touch with her) at our place.

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By the time we reached our apartment, we realized that it was just an hour until Julia would pick us up to take us to our 10pm train. Time was flying and it had been such a fantastic day!
As we left the train station very late, there was not too much landscape to be seen anymore. We rather took our time to chat with Alexeyi who had booked the fourth bunk in our compartment. He is a super friendly lieutenant colonel working for the Russian army. He spoke a bit of English and so we found out that he had been stationed in Germany in the busy times of 1989.
While chatting with him, we realized how tired we were. We were sound asleep already before the train crossed the border into Europe. There was no doubt that we’d be having a good night’s sleep on the train to Kazan.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 21:05 Archived in Russia Tagged military train museum europe asia border tank ural Comments (0)

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