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// MY NAME IS DANIELAnd after years of dreaming I've sold everything I own and set off on the open road. I've made this site as a sort of photo journal of my travels. The map shows where I've been (red), where I've stayed a month or more (yellow), and where I plan to go (white). And so, armed with little more than a backpack, a camera, and a dream, I now take the road less traveled by. So it goes.


ULAN UDE Republic of Buryatia After being interrogated for more than an hour at the Mongolian-Russian border (miraculously my bus waited for me) I was allowed into Russia and arrived in Ulan Ude, which turned out to be one of my favorite cities in the country. I rented an apartment here for nearly two months (you can see it in the final photos) and made quite a lot of friends. Ulan Ude was founded by Russian Cossacks as a fort in 1666 and, being located between two rivers, was an important trade center between Russia and China. Today it is the capital of the Republic of Buryatia, one of 21 republics in the Russian Federation. The Buryat people are very closely related to the Mongolians; both were Buddhist nomadic herders who lived in gers (yurts) though unlike the Mongolians, most Buryats have moved into permanent housing and now are slightly outnumbered by ethnic Russians even in their own republic.
LAKE BAIKAL REPUBLIC OF BURYATIA Lake Baikal, located north of Ulan Ude in the heart of Siberia is the largest freshwater lake in the world by volume, holding more water than all the North American Great Lakes combined. In fact, Lake Baikal contains nearly 25% of all the world's fresh water and is the deepest, oldest lake known to exist. I stayed in a village here with a friend's family, who took me around on a snowmobile. The lake was of course, completely frozen over.

"Mortal world turned to ice, here be goblin paradise!" - Blix
TARBAGATAI REPUBLIC OF BURYATIA Tarbagatay is a not the easiest village to find or reach (and that is by design) but it has an interesting history... as well as some of the prettiest log cabins you'll ever encounter. The town is one of the oldest surviving communities of Old Believers, which were Orthodox Christians in Europe unhappy with the reforms of the church in 1652. The Czar of Russia denounced them as “schismatics”, arrested and executed their leaders, and they were forced to flee into neighboring Poland and Belarus. However Russia eventually invaded both countries, rounded up the Old Believers living there, and exiled them to Siberia. For a long time they were left alone there, growing produce and trading with the Buryats who were mostly cattle herders. But a second wave of persecution arrived under Communism, when all 80 Old Believer churches in Buratyia were burned down by the Soviets and the priests murdered (the Soviets also destroyed the Buryats' Buddhist temples and the local Russians' Orthodox churches). With the fall of Communism, there has been a resurgence for the Old Believers. In Tarbagatay is a small church which an old man gave me a tour, as well as a small museum of their life in Siberia. You can see both below.
IRKUTSK Irkutsk Oblast Leaving Buratyia, I took the famed Trans-Siberian Railway to the city of Irkutsk which sits on the opposite side of Lake Baikal. This is one of the largest cities in Siberia and also the capital of the Irkutsk Oblast (like a province). Irkutsk was a major center of exile in Russia, particularly in the 1800s when anti-czarist intellectuals and artists were sent here until there was one exile for every two locals. This lead to a flourish of intellectual and artistic activity in the city. Later, during the Russian Civil War which followed in the immediate aftermath of the overthrow of the Czars, many brutal battles were waged here. Note the amazing ice sculptures found throughout the city. It was while I was here that the temperature kept dropping to -35F (-37C) and my phone battery was destroyed by the sheer cold. So it goes.
KRASNOYARSK Krasnoyarsk Krai Krasnoyarsk is a pleasant little city on the Trans-Siberian Railway. I stopped here because otherwise I'd be on that train for several days straight and just couldn't bare the thought. Not that the train is bad, it's actually an amazing experience.
NOVOSIBIRSK Novosibirsk Oblast Well, a few more days on that train and I arrived in Novosibirsk, the third largest city in Russia. It was founded in 1893 as a stop on the future Trans-Siberian Railway (the long green building below is the train station). During WW2, the Soviets moved a great deal of industry here, far out of range of German bombers.
MASLENITSA FESTIVAL Novosibirsk Oblast I just happened to be in Novosibirsk during the annual Maslenitsa, which is celebrated across the Slavic world. A local family brought me to some festivities. Like Christmas and Easter, Maslenitsa is an ancient pagan holiday commandeered by early Christianity and given new Christian-orientated meanings (mostly pertaining to Lent). Originally the holiday was a Sun-festival celebrating the Slavic god Volos bringing an end to Winter. Though I missed it, a straw effigy of Lady Maslenitsa (which translates maybe to 'Butter Lady') is made and decorated with colorful clothes over the course of a week, before being stripped of her 'finery' and burned as a crop fertility offering.
EKATERINBURG Sverdlovsk Oblast My last stop in Russia was Yekaterinburg, which I found to be a very lovely city, located just a little east of the Ural Mountains which separate Europe from Asia. I visited that exact border in the mountains, standing with one foot in Asia and one foot in Europe (see below). Yekaterinburg is Russia's fourth largest city. The city was founded by Russians in the 1700s and named after Empress Catherine I, the first female ruler of Russia and whose granddaughter-in-law would be Catherine the Great, a modernizer of Russia. Some things to note: The white church next to the tram photo is the 'Church on the Blood' and built on the site of the house where the Czar and his family were exiled after the October Revolution of 1917. Several factions fought for control of the country during this time. The Bolshevik Communists eventually won and in 1918 they executed the Czar and his entire family (including his four young daughters) in their house where now the church stands. You can see a statue dedicated to his children below. Each is holding a cross. Unrelated, the dolls you see are all dressed in the various ethnic outfits of Russia, which is home to more than 180 different ethnic groups. There's a cool Soviet-era metro station below. And you'll see a statue of Yeltsin in front of the Boris Yeltsin Presidential Center, as Yeltsin was from a village here in Sverdlovsk Oblast. Sadly my time in Russia was up, so after visiting Yekaterinburg I boarded another train, this time bound for Kazakhstan.