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  • Day26

    The Mighty Lake Baikal

    October 8, 2016 in Russia ⋅ ⛅ 4 °C

    This morning we woke to our last day on the train from Moscow to Irkutsk. The view out the window was decidedly frosty - the temperature was -7C, and the smell in the cabin was as bad as a men's changing room after a big sports match. Safe to say that our new Russian cabin mate, had done horrible things to the olifactory stew that comes from inhabiting the same poorly ventilated cabin, for four, nearly five days.

    After the episode the night before, we did the adult thing and made as much noise as humanly possible when vacating the cabin, to assist our favourite Russian cabin mate in continuing his sleep. There may also have been some repeated bumps of his bed, and some bright lights used to illuminate the room, just to let him know that we cared, we were thinking of him, and were to sad to be leaving him.

    On arrival at Irkutsk, the travelling party of about fifteen from the 2nd Class carriage, consisting of us, three Dutch, three French, four English, one Irish, and one Polish. We exchanged details, and departed company, perhaps for the last time. Regardless of whether we see our travelling mates again, the conversations and shared experiences on the train, will certainly be held in the memory, for a very long time indeed. Though perhaps not the most diverse travelling party you would ever hope to find, it was the epitomy of the EU. People from across the continent, with different views and values, not always agreeing, but always respecting any other point of view.

    After the brief 15 minute walk from the train station to our hotel, we were able to check-in really early, at just after 9:00 am, and even got to have a buffet breakfast at the hotel. The breakfast certainly helped to wake us up, as the last night on the train, we had not slept well at all. And then having filled our bellies, we walked across town to the bus station, to try and get to Listvyanka, a small, lakeside resort town, on the shores of Lake Baikal.

    Arriving at the station, it was clear that we would be waiting a long time for the next scheduled bus to Listvyanka, so we headed across the road to the minibus station to try our luck there. Minibuses operate as kind of public transport in Russia, where the city services are not as frequent, or rapid, or just don't leave at all. Minibuses will park up in set points around the city, with their destination advertised on the front windscreen. If the minibus is going where you want to go, you jump on, and when the driver decided he has enough fares on the bus, then you start the journey. You might wait five minutes or half an hour before you go, but the journey is generally much quicker than by city bus, as there are no scheduled stops other than at the very end. If you are a local though, you can always get the driver to stop whereever you need on the way to let you off, provided there is no detour from the main route.

    Travelling by minibus is something akin to a rollercoaster ride. There are only two known types of speed change - race car acceleration, or emergency brake. Everything in between is for other people. Minibus drivers are also very good at conserving the fuel consumption of their vehicles, by draughting behind vehicles in front. Two metres of space between car bumpers appears to be the generally accepted, best distance. This is relatvely easy when travelling at 10kph, but when doing 140kph down a hill in a minibus, it takes the skills of a fighter pilot,.

    After a minibus trip to Listvyanka, that didn't impress Courtney very much which was evident by the paleness in her knuckles, we made it to the lake. To look at the size of the boats on the water, the size of the trawler fleet, and the inability to see the other coast line of the lake, it feels far more like you are the seaside. The lake is enormous, and the water stretches all the way to the horizon, in most directions, when we stood on the shore. In summer time, Listvyanka, is supposed to be an absolutely humming tourist trap, but in the cold of autumn, it was much more managable, though I pity the person coming to the town to indulge in anything other than fishing trips on the lake, and hikes through the surrounding hills, and along the lake shore.

    Having explored everything there was to explore in a matter of half an hour, we reparied to a Georgian restaraunt for some lunch. It came in the form of large dumplings, that you were supposed to eat by hand, by grabbing the pinched pastry, and then biting into the ball of filling, trying as you did, to suck all the juices that might fall out, into your mouth. It was messy, but it was tasty, though Courtney might not agree, as anything without the strongest of flavours is often seen as bland by her.

    Following lunch, it was time to head back to Irkutsk, on another minibus. The trip back from more exciting than the trip to LIstvyanka, and consisted of multiple overtaking moves on blind corners, blind crests of hills, and with limited sapce in front of on-coming traffic. Through all of this though, the locals on the minibus didn't bat an eyelid, so we tried as best we could to look like this experience wasn't scaring us. And despite the less than stellar adherence to traffic rules by our minibus drivers, there were many others on the road, that were considerably morefast an loose with their interpretations.

    The walk back from the minibus stop to the hotel was through the middle of town, and took about twenty minutes at most. It gave us an opportunity to see what was there, and get a better feel for the city. The high street, if it can be called that, was very busy on what was a Saturday afternoon, but doesn't look like it has changed much since the fall of the Soviet era. The fruit and vegetable market is always interesting to have a look at, though it was sad to see so many old Russian ladies there, selling what meagre items they could grow in their little vegetable patches. Sellling a couple of courgettes and a handful of carrots, is just not going to make you rich.

    By the time we made it back to the hotel, we couldn't be bothered leaving again, so ate at one of the hotel's restaurants. The menu specialised in Siberian and Baikal region dishes, which all looked pretty decent to the eye of an omnivore. For vegetarians, options were very limited, though not non-existent.

    And then it was time for an early night's sleep.
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