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August 11th, 2003

Somewhere on the Trans-Mongolian Railway, Russia

Leonid and I left Khuzir early enough that I would have some spare time to explore Irkutsk before my train was due to depart, but we didn't reckon on the ferry delays. Once again there was a long line of cars waiting to cross to the mainland, and once again there was nothing we could do but sit and play more chess.

Leonid made good time on the drive back to Irkutsk, and was generous enough to drive me around Irkutsk, pointing out its key sights: a few Orthodox churches, some ornately decorated wooden houses, and the massive Angara River. After a brief stop at an internet cafe -- my first contact with the "outside" world in a week -- I caught a cab to the train station and found my train.

My three cabinmates were a family of Finns: an elderly couple, and their forty-something niece. The woman looked stern-faced, the husband amiably senile, but the niece stood out with her purple-red hair, overly-tanned leathery skin, and boisterously loud voice. Upon hearing that I had been to Finland, she immediately pulled out some tourist literature on Karelia and directed me to read it. She spoke very little English, and in talking to me would often repeat the same phrase or sentence over and over, punctuating it with a meaningful glance each time, as if I hadn't really understood her the last time. She was a frustrating person to converse with, and I eventually took the strategy of responding to whatever she said in such a way as to minimize her chances to continue the conversation.

At first glance the train seemed even more spartan than the last, but I was comforted to discover that the bunks were not only longer, but perfectly level. Our carriage seemed to contain exclusively tourists, most of which were French travellers in a tour group. Soon after darkness fell, I headed to bed.

Irkutsk Cathedral

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