22nd – 24th April 2016
If I thought my time in Ulan-Ude was quiet, it was simple a practice round for my experience in Irkutsk. After a short night on the train, I arrived in the city in the early hours of the morning and waited in the minus degree cold until I could get into my hostel. After unloading my bags and treating myself to a hot shower and quick nap, I set off to explore the city.
Irkutsk is a pretty place with endless churches to explore. I took a walk down to the windy embankment, calling in a few of the interesting buildings on the way. It was nice to get to the riverside and catch some extremely fresh air. Having been on a stifling hot and stuffy train for the majority of the past week, it did wonders for my lungs and head.
I paid a visit to some of the museums, a couple more churches and had a cherry brandy at a Soviet themed restaurant before heading back to the hostel to see what everyone was doing with their evening. Unfortunately my hostel choice left me in a strange situation for the rest of my trip. I returned to find I was the only one staying there and even the staff didn’t stay put overnight. With the place to myself I decided to make the most of the peace and quiet and full use of Wi-Fi and grab some cheap food from the supermarket and set myself up with a picnic and some overdue Skype sessions.
The next day I was booked in to do a trip to Listvyanka and see Lake Baikal. Again, I was the only person on my tour but my guide Maxim was very friendly and his English was faultless. He was very enthusiastic and spent the car journey explaining the history and politics of the area as we drove along the big road to the village (built specifically for a meeting with Eisenhower who never rocked up). We called into the Taltsy Museum where there were original and replica wooden buildings from Russian and Buryat history. I loved that it was open air and you could explore the buildings with the dramatic scenery behind it.
From the museum we went to a couple of different viewpoints to look over the lake and its surrounding area. One of the viewpoints included a decent hike that my legs were very happy about after such a seated journey so far! The lake is truly stunning. We missed the ice by a couple of days but that certainly didn’t take away from the view. It seemed a very suitable place to be spending Earth Day. I didn’t expect to see such clear views of the mountains in the distance, apparently it is quite a rarity so I felt very lucky to be able to see it. It’s a landscape I’ve never seen before and has been one of the highlights so far that has made this trip so very worth it.
The next stop was lunch and Maxim and I head to the local fish market where we bought hot smoked omul and took it to a cafe to demolish alongside some pastries and tea. I was a little hesitant trying a whole fish from a market after my previous Philippines food poisoning experience but it was delicious, some of the nicest fish I’ve ever had. After polishing off our grub we wondered round the craft market and I gave into my first souvenir – a piece of Baikal marble painted as a fisherwoman. Women weren’t often hunters or gatherers so I decided it was a good reminder for my mantelpiece for anytime I felt a little scared…. Remember that time you went across Russia on your own?
My second evening was spent solo again. It’s been fine to have the space and time to do whatever I want but it has been a little lonely at time. I think I was spoilt with the first parts of my journey and the people I met. But onwards and upwards, I’m appreciating the space – who knows what the other legs of my train journeys are going to be like! I’ll be clawing the walls for no people and easy access to Netflix I’m sure!