I arrived in Ulan Ude on the overnight train from Irkutsk. Whilst I got some lovely evening views of Lake Baikal as we went round it (Ulan Ude lies to the south of the Lake), it would have been better to have completed this part of the trip in the day – worth thinking about if you intend to do this. The consolation was that we came into Ulan Ude alongside another majestic Siberian river, the Selenga, at dawn and I got a couple of decent pictures with the proper camera (I invested a fiver in a little doofer that clicks into the iPad and allows for a USB connection – really good), one of which I have attached to this post.
My hotel (the Saagin Morin) here in Ulan is a classic piece of Soviet architecture which looks a bit forbidding on the outside, but really friendly and efficient on the inside. They do brilliant coffees, which was a bit of a life saver as I hadn’t slept at all well on a hot train but did not want to waste the day catching up on my sleep, so quality caffeine was the order of the day. I decided to struggle on through to mid afternoon and then crash, as my next train is 02:45 tomorrow morning. My heart leapt when I heard that there was a swimming pool, so dashed down with my togs, only to find what can only be described as a birthing pool. I know I have developed a bit of a tummy with all this sitting around, but that’s ridiculous. Heho.
Ulan Ude feels really Mongolian. Due to its armaments industries it was not open to tourists for a long time, it has an oddly dual feel. On the one hand there is the obligatory Russian stuff (big square for people in funny hats to get all excited in October, huge and crumbling government buildings and a statue of Lenin’s head, the biggest in the world I’m told), but on the other an alternative centre that reflects its Buryat Mongol heritage, which is lovely. The weather is really pleasant (21 ish C and sunny), so I decide to take a big wander. It feels less prosperous than, say, Novosirbirsk but no less thriving. It’s very dusty and much of the newer buildings look a bit thrown up, although there are plenty of the older wooden structures that look far more suited to the conditions. I am told it gets bally freezing here in the winter, and you get the feeling that people were out enjoying the warmth with that in mind. It will be interesting to see how such a place as Ulan Ude develops – it does feel a world away from somewhere like Yekaterinburg (which of course it is).