A Travellerspoint blog

July 2017

Khoomei lesson video has been added

Please see post of Khoomei lesson for video added at bottom

Click on the link to watch under Khoomei lesson post. Enjoy!

Posted by kelshell 04:19 Comments (1)

Last 2 entries posted out of order

Read second day Russian experience first

Again a glitch or operator error posted our experience out of order. Enjoy!

Posted by kelshell 20:12 Comments (0)

Second day Russian experience

How to get back to Mongolia

So the previous night we had asked when the train went back to Ulaanbaatar. We had been told 5:00 pm and the train only went to Sukhbaataar (Mongolian immigration point). Since we had arrived there in the dark and the train windows were required to have the shades pulled before the stop,we had no idea what was there. So we went to sleep wondering what the new day would bring.

We awoke late of course and were still being guarded. We ate some of our groceries and stayed in the room. A little while later a female guard came to ask us if we wanted to go to the cafeteria. We declined. At about 2:30 we asked our guard if we could go to eat. He was a friendly young man with some very minimal English. He took us outside and we started walking down the road. And walking. And walking - in the heat - for about 15 minutes. He took us into a restaurant which was empty. We ordered a cheap meal and then walked back. It was time to pack and leave. Back into the big area again we could see a one car train with what we surmised from the lettering was Irkutsk to Ulaanbaatar (both Mongolia and Russia use the Cyrillic alphabet). After more than an hour immigration began processing the train passengers. Our young Lieutenant had more papers for us to sign and resign (lots of errors so lots of resigning). He told us that the train would take us to Ulaanbaatar which surprised us. He then smiled and said, "you are free to leave. But you must pay fine or..... (we waited)... you will not be able to visit Russia in future" (does he think we will want to - really??). Now I must say that we had been told the night prior that our fine was 2000 rubles and payable within 60 days only via bank transfer which we were given the information for. Once escorted to the train and on board our passports were returned and then an argument broke out between immigration and the train hostess as she kept demanding our ticket. She relented after the immigration guy brought her more paperwork. We were sharing a lovely young Dutch couple's private berth (like our first one) as they were disembarking at Sukhbaataar anyway. Apparently the Lieutenant had asked everyone on the train who would share with 2 ladies from Canada and they were the only ones who had room and didn't mind. Our story circulated quickly so we had a lot of well wishes from Norwegians, Dutch and Danish passengers on the one car train.

When we arrived in Sukhbaataar we were processed back into Mongolia (luckily Canadians don't need a visa for Mongolia or we'd have been screwed). It was a one hour stop which stretched to two. Kellie was worried we would be kicked off the train here so she wanted to stay on. I went to find water and when I came back the train was closed up. Someone told me where Kellie was so we sat in the shade with our cold water. We had a lovely visit with a lawyer from Calcutta who was not surprised by our story. When we went back to the train the attendant invited us on and then followed us to the berth, nastily indicating we had to get off and buy a ticket and take another train. She was getting more worked up at our lack of understanding as we had agreed to go into the station and buy a ticket. Our lawyer friend stayed with us while she went to get her phone to translate. Her translation said buy ticket for sit on other car. Since it was only one car we were confused. She then typed 100,000 MNT stay here. We said we would pay that no problem as we had gotten more tugrhik out at the ATM. The lawyer laughed and said she was making 50$ and we had a first class berth now to Ulaanbaatar. Reverse bribery - is that extortion??

Posted by kelshell 20:07 Archived in Russia Comments (1)

Arriving back in Ulaanbaataar

storm 31 °C

After having bribed the train hostess to stay on the train so we could make it back to Ulaanbaatar Shelley and I settled in for the night train ride back to the capital city UB, that we both thought we would never see again. Shelley woke up rested along with the many other passengers who passed our train cabin all commenting on how well they had slept. Despite being so tired from the previous night's ordeal, I had found myself not being able to sleep at all, all night. The "rhythmic lulling" of the train movement was perceived by me as a constant shaking, rattling and scraping of the metal tires across tracks. The sound seemed to me to be like the train rails were too small to accommodate the wheels, or the conductor had challenges staying within them. In addition to these movements and sounds, our train wagon was mostly populated by tourists from Holland, who were social and lovely people, but they also liked to party! The morning bags full of empties was also evidence of their previous night's festivities. As the train pulled into the UB station, I was not at all feeling tired, but was glad to be back in a city that Shelley and I had come to know. We had a plan to find a taxi and return to our hotel and hope they had a room for us. So, at 5:45 a.m. we haggled with a taxi driver, now knowing what the cost should be for our ride back to the hotel, having only taken this trip two days before, and hoped the hotel would take us in.

Arriving at the hotel (and yes of course the taxi driver after agreeing to our price, magically had no change, so we had to pay him what he originally wanted) we felt that we somehow had made it back home! We knew that it would be too early to check in to a room but thought they would be willing to hold our bags and backpacks while we sought refuge in a familiar cafe called Millie's. However, to our surprise the front lobby doors were locked and no one was at the front desk. Shelley and I plopped ourselves down on the front stoop of the hotel with our numerous bags surrounding us, waiting for the hotel to show some sign of life. An hour and a half later, one of men we recognized from our previous stay poked his head out of the door and looked over to us in surprise with a combined look of 'what the heck are you two doing back here and Ohh no what happened'. He quickly ran to our side and started scooping up our backpacks while we grabbed our groceries and other bags. Shelley started telling him bits and pieces of our Russian experience while knowing he wasn't quite understanding all of the details, but he definitely got the idea. This caring man (we don't know his name) promptly checked the register and found us a room. He didn't even care about the rules of check in times and escorted us to our new room where Shelley and I once again felt like we were home safe and sound. We were very grateful for this mans care and consideration. It came at just the right time and helped us feel that yes, things can work out after all.

Once settling in our room, we contemplated our next steps. Having been assured countless times by the Russian officials that we would be allowed back into Russia (ON AUGUST 1ST), and no alarms would sound as our passports and visas were once again scrutinized, we started sorting out the best way to return to Moscow... or did we want to bypass it all together! One small detail we had to consider in all of this, was that my son Eli, on my instructions, had mailed my driver's license to our hotel in Moscow. Yes, on day one of our adventure I realized I did not bring this, and I was scheduled to drive the car in Turkey. We both agreed that our Russian detainment had not really sullied our thoughts on seeing Moscow, so we decided to sort out the most reasonable and efficient way to get there, hoping that we would be able to get back on track with our itinerary. Despite being told by the Russian head honcho that our train tickets were still valid and could be used, we were pretty sure that ship had sailed (or that train had left the station!). We were correct and after checking with the man who organized the tickets, he informed us that our train tickets were no longer valid. He also told us that he couldn't get us new tickets first class for August 1st - sold out. We had resigned ourselves to paying for a flight anyway as the new train would have us arriving in Moscow too many days late. So after researching flights, including bypassing Russia and heading straight to Estonia, we found the prices online so high we went to a travel agency. These are plentiful (entire street blocks of them) and even though it was Sunday we got a flight via Irkutsk on August 2nd for half of what we had found online. With our tickets in hand we went to find an ice cube tray (haha) so we could have some of our duty free Baileys purchased for the train. Finding none we improvised back at the room. On to trying to book train tickets online for the Moscow to St. Petersburg leg. Spent way too long trying to do this and gave up. This was using 3 different sites all of which would not accept our email addresses so we couldn't proceed to checkout. Take our chances when we get there?

Posted by kelshell 09:34 Archived in Mongolia Comments (0)

Train to Moscow - trip interrupted

"You have broken the law of the Russian Federation. You must come with us now!"

sunny 30 °C

Well we don't know how to tell you this but after all of our careful planning, we messed up on a little detail in a very big way. In order to get our Russian visa we needed an invitation from a person or business in Russia. We had difficulty getting this but finally found a way and got one from our Moscow hotel. We are booked there August 1-4th. We didn't even think of asking them to issue the invitation for July 28th as we were taking the train which crosses the border from Mongolia to Russia in the middle of the first night. 8 hours from Ulaanbaatar the train stops at Mongolian immigration. The immigration officer took one look at Kellie's passport with her visa for Russia and immediately said you have a problem. We both said "why?" and she said "your entry is for August 1st and today is the 28th of July." It dawned on us immediately what we hadn't accounted for. This stop for processing was over an hour so we were trying to figure out what to do. Once she came back on board with everyone's passports, Kellie asked her if we should get off the train. She said she had no idea what would happen at the Russian border (one hour later by train so we don't know which country governs the no man's land in between) but that we could try and see what happens. We now know we should have gotten off the train.

We tried to lie down for the hour long ride to the Russian border stop. Kellie had her pyjamas on as we had settled in for the four day trip. When the Russian immigration boarded the train, the lady who arrived at our berth barely looked at Kellie's passport before saying very sternly in heavily accented English, "You have a big problem. You have broken the law of the Russian Federation." She went on to say that this was very serious. She called over someone else who turned out to be the Lieutenant of the immigration station who was about 12 years old! He got on his cell phone and then she told us to pack. Then she talked to him again and said wait. This happened one more time. We were hoping they were going to waive the few days. But no! She said this has happened before for the exact same reason. We were asked to collect our belongings to come with them. By this time 3 more immigration officials had arrived and were standing in the doorway of our berth. Kellie asked if she could get dressed and they said yes but wouldn't let her close the door. After the woman intervened she was able to close the door. Within about 1 minute they were knocking on the door saying, "must faster!" Then again. We were trying to pack as well.

We were escorted into the station and told to sit. These people were all about 19-25 years old. We were kept sitting there for 2 hours with the occasional message of, "you must pay fine." They all kept coming on and off the train and in and out of the building and 3 different offices. Once they cleared the train (I kept telling Kellie they were going to let us back on and she said no they're not) the train pulled away and there we were. We were told to write in English on plain paper what our "translator" (original immigration lady) told us - addressed to the Lieutenant : "I do not speak Russian. I need a translator. I do not need a lawyer. I do not have financial hardship. Later when she read back this statement processed in Russian I said, "maybe we do need a lawyer" and she laughed and said "there is not one here so can't. "

After this all of the other officers were watching us while literally reams of paperwork were processed. They kept bringing paperwork out for us to sign. The whole time our translator was reading out in English what we were signing but who knows. During our long wait I had read a big board with Russian legislation on it poorly translated into English. It looked as if the fine could be between 2000 and 5000 rubles (about 40-100 dollars). Finally they took me into a separate room where a young cadet was taught how to take my fingerprints. Of course the older officer (who sort of appeared during all of this) was not very gentle and was explaining to the cadet the whole time as if no one else was in the room. The young Lieutenant was at a computer still processing paperwork. Kellie later told me that she asked where I was and was told that I was being fingerprinted. She then had her mugshot taken (yes front and both sides). After my fingerprints were done I had my mugshot taken and went back into the larger room. Kellie was then taken in for her fingerprints. By now it was about 3:30 a.m. I had asked a few times to use the bathroom but was told to wait until we were finished. The "translator/immigration lady" had told Kellie the bathroom cost 100 rubles. She then told us the "restroom" was 630 rubles. Kellie said, "I thought you said 100." Turns out they really meant a rest room like in a shitty airport lounge. We were led there and could use the included in the price bathroom. With a guard outside our door. And no passports. I don't think we would have gotten very far with our backpacks, day packs and 4 food bags (expected a long train ride remember!) anyway but we must have looked like a flight risk!

So, as Shelley has painted an accurate picture of our ordeal I thought I would add some additional thoughts. While recognizing that we did make a mistake regarding our entry date to Russia by 3 days, their response to this infraction was extreme in my view. Yes, it is Russia and I know I can hear Eli and Quinn saying "don't go to Russia all you will have is trouble." Boy were they right! Right from the train the Russian officials treated us like criminals and it wasn't just the processing of things that we associate with criminality (like mug shots and fingerprinting), but the overall attitude, tone used when speaking to us, and lack of respect. In addition to the late night, no sleep, and inability to use the bathroom, it was an odd feeling to be under guard. Shelley and I did have to pay for a room to rest in, which had 2 beds, but we could not leave this area and were diligently watched by our guard whenever we moved to go to the bathroom. By the time we settled in our beds, exhausted and not quite sure how we were going to be deported back to Mongolia, Shelley needed to take her pills and decided on swigging them back with the only liquid we had... vodka!!

Off to Moscow

Off to Moscow

Posted by kelshell 20:58 Archived in Russia Comments (1)

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