Entering the USSR through Mongolia was an experience! I was on a train from Beijing which stopped for a day in Ulan Bator, the capital of Mongolia. At the Mongolian/Siberian border, the train went into a building, much like a Jiffy Lube, and workers went under the train and changed the width of the wheels--on every car! Of course, all border crossings into, out of, and within the USSR are in the middle of the night, so seeing anything interesting was impossible.

Irkutsk: the "Paris of Siberia". Irkutsk was a pleasant surprise after the drabness of China. I had expected all the Russian women to look like "Babushkas", the little old lady type, with scarves on their heads, sweeping the streets. The women of Siberia were beautiful--a real mixture of eastern and western cultures. The town of about 1/2 million people, situated on the southwestern side of Lake Baikal, had a lot of charm. Many old log houses, complete with "gingerbread" stood along side tall modern high-rise apartments. Also, I found out right away that every Soviet town, no matter the size, had exceptional cultural events: ballets, concerts, recitals, plays...every night of the week. The ballet I attended in Irkutsk was first rate--the dancing, music, and stage props were definitely tops.

Inquiring at the "Intourist" office for a church "open for religion" (most churches in the Soviet Union were converted to other uses: Museums of Atheism, gymnasiums, etc.), I made my way by bus to the outskirts of town. The following day was Easter Sunday, and in my halting Russian, I asked the ladies, who by the way were wearing scarves and sweeping the steps, and generally preparing for the service, what time did church start in the morning. "Five o'clock," they responded. Well, that seemed pretty early, but knowing that the Russian Orthodox service lasted several hours, I felt that if I got there around 8:00 am, it would be OK.

Arriving at the church soon after 8:00 am, the service had not even started. Priests were bustling about getting things ready, the ladies were putting breads and cakes on the altar, and busily lighting the hundreds of candles. I soon realized that I had asked them: "What time did the church 'open' in the morning!" Church service actually began around 10:00 am. It turned out to be a memorable experience, even so.

After spending about 3 days in Irkutsk, I spent the next several days on the Trans-Siberian Railroad to Moscow. What a trip!

(More info soon!)

Please visit a really great web site on travel in the USSR which also includes many links to other USSR travel information.

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