Chapter 2: Ulan-Ude

Ulan – Ude , a Siberian city with Mongolian roots.

Having an almost 7-hour flight which leads you in a different continent but within the same… country is very uncommon. This is the flight that took us from Moscow to one of the most Asian-influenced Russian cities, the capital of Buryatia, Ulan- Ude . Definitely a taster for what is to travel in the biggest country of the world! Additionally, as the 20% of the population is originally from Mongolia, Ulan – Ude is an introduction to how Mongolia will look like. Unfortunately this time we are skipping Mongolia but we will come back in the future to explore it further.

Mongolian Cafe
Mongolian Tents in the central square of Ulan-Ude
We landed early morning in a small but efficient airport where a planned reconstruction is yet to come this year. Eight hours ahead of Greenwich time, five from Moscow and of course, the…warm welcome by the weather: the temperature is -34 °C, hooray! I have never been in such a low temperature so the shock was vivid but expected. We have been preparing for months after all! What we didn’t expect was that, only two breath-ins later, some ice was formed inside our nose and made our life even trickier! Welcome to Siberia!

 

“Stairs” formed out of ice

A tourist visit to UU (amongst other Russian cities) was prohibited by the Russian government till the early 90’s . Since then, the city has attracted lots of foreign tourists especially due to its proximity to the Lake Baikal and the Buddhist culture that is present in the area, the biggest Buddhist temple in Russia is actually few miles away from UU.

Memorial Pobedy
A taxi took us to the hostel where we abandoned our heavy backpacks and we headed to the central square (Ploshchad Sovietov) where the world’s largest Lenin head is located! Imposing indeed! The square is decorated with ice sculptures and the Triumph Arch «Tsar Gates» stands few meters away – it was first built in 1891 to welcome the last Russian tsar Nicolai the Second who was travelling from Vladivostock to st. Petersburg along the trans-Siberian railway but now it is a replica.

 

42 tons above me… I feel a bit scared!
Triumph Arch «Tsar Gates»

 

The main commercial road Arbat -named after the relevant Moscow street- is located below the arch. Many cafes here, two small shopping malls and two of the main museums too. Here we ate the cheapest meal we ever had in UU – 2 portions of grilled potatoes with onions and fresh mushrooms, 4 fried eggs, one Caesar salad and berry juice for only £4! Who said that only SE Asia is cheap?

 

Самовары (Samovar)-History Museum of Ulan-Ude
The city has its own small local (folklore?) market and of course we visited it! Here people buy meat, fruits, vegetables, winter gear and the famous reindeer boots for the price of about £160- very expensive for the locals but lots of people do wear them, these shoes look very warm! On the 2nd floor we even had one of our breakfasts for less than £1 in total!

 

Central Market – very interesting storefront signs, right?
Southern of the market , close to the river Uda, there is the Orthodox Church of Madonna Odigitrievsky (Odigitria). It is extremely weird that, in the mid of Siberia, there are Greek religion names and buildings – however, the Russian Orthodox Churches are much more beautiful and colourful, aren’t they? It is the first stone building in the city and the surrounding wooden buildings prove that.

 

Church
Orthodox Church of Madonna Odigitrievsky (Odigitria)
 The wooden houses of UU near the church are still inhabited by people. Carved windows and colourful walls are the core of the historic centre and a live myth of the city’s history and architecture. Unfortunately, it s getting more and more difficult for the locals to preserve the houses to a high standard for their living too, especially during the harsh winters when the temperatures can drop to -50 °C!

 

Ulan-Ude is an Asian wind-of-change within the cold Siberia and a city you can travel on a budget without being deprived! We could have taken the bus to Lake Baikal from here but we decided to travel along the lake on the trans-Siberian Railway to Irktsuk before settling in the villages around the lake. Tomorrow is the trans-Siberian train day then! Stay tuned!

 

What do you think? Is UU too remote for your bucket list?

 

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