And yes we did it. We saw Baikal. We were looking forward to meeting it.
Krasnoyarsk – Irkutsk
distance: plus 1088 km
total distance from St Petersburg covered so far: 6409 km (oh dear)
local time: Moscow time + 5 hours
train: train Novokuznetsk – Vladivostok (the only one not departing from Moscow on our trip, besides we were in a separate coach attached to this train in Krasnoyarsk); takes you to Irkutsk from Krasnoyarsk in 16 hours 7 minutes
During our train ride from Krasnoyarsk to Irkutsk there was heavy rain and thunder and Monet-like views from the train window:
There were also crowds of Chinese people travelling on the same train with us, some funny moments and a classic snore during the night (remember tip #4 of the Russian Train Tips?). Already off to sleep, we saw some mist there out of the window. We thought it was mist but that was the forest fires. And then there was the sunrise at the station called Zima (Winter). In the morning we were in Irkutsk which won the Most Beautiful Railway Station competition of our trip (before I saw the Vladivostok one).
We hastened ourselves to get to Baikal, so we found a family also travelling there from the railways station and took a crazy marshrutka (a shared taxi or a non-state bus) to Listvyanka village and arrived at Baikal in an hour (65 km and just 120 RUB compared to about 3000 RUB for a single ticket on a hovercraft which anyway did not circulate that day as the waster level in the Angara river was not high enough). The very first glimpse of the Baikal Lake:
Sea? Yes, it definitely looked and felt like we were at sea. No matter how cold the water was. And that amazing color of the water which was the same as that of the sky, so that you couldn’t really tell one from the other!
Listvyanka is very touristy, over touristy to stay there for more than 1-2 days but it’s the surest way to see Baikal when you’re pressed with time. Loads of tourists, particularly annoying were buses and buses of Chinese tourists but Russians were creating quite a noise too. We stayed a bit off the coast at the “Olga’s Guesthouse” which was actually just a room in a host’s house. The host was pretty caring and we appreciated the calmness and family-ness of the house (no picture in this post). We were surprised to find lilac still blossoming in the early days of July all around the Lake. They say that Baikal’s summer is slow to arrive but then it stays on longer so that their autumn is smooth and warm.
Baikal’s unpredictable. We got sunburnt after staying on the beach for lunch and yet I cannot say we wanted that much to have a swim (which some more courageous people did do, having their blitz dip into the glacially cold Baikal water). One moment there was sun the next moment there was this, as if someone would open the fridge – or rather a freezer!:
God, I could take myriads of photos and none of them would render that subtlety of the Baikal beauty:
…and a child’s version in the kindergarten courtyard, called Pobeda (Victory):
unbelievably mirror-like delicate
Can’t choose, sorry!
some authentic corners up there into the hill away from the crowd:
let’s hope this was not there for the tourists either:
There where the Natural park begins the nature seem to surround you quite thickly – it’s a pity we did not go any further than the very beginning of it!
the Research Biology Institute down there at the waterfront:
Morning run along the shore the next day, couldn’t tell the sky from the water again:
Seriously, Baikal rocks!
Ahhr, hard to choose, so hard to choose!
Let’s put this one too 🙂
and this one too, showcasing the local arts:
This one is to remind me that we were not in Greece (this is what we were asking ourselves from time to time, are we in Greece?):
After our copious breakfast with homemade sweet rice bake we headed off to the nearby Nikola village, to the point where Baikal gives birth to the Angara river – the only river that takes its source from the Lake (and then flows into Yenisey):
Nature again, in the Baikal Tree Park (Dendrary), surrounded by birches, larches and whatnot. And the Baikal gleaming down there:
Later on we also took a boat trip along the coast, a short one but it gave us the idea of how vast and diverse Baikal is. It was windy as hell and we observed the rocks all around us. We were not in a hurry to leave this Siberian pearl:
…with its beauty, rough and delicate all at once:
But we had to get to Irkutsk at least before the sunset to see a bit of the city too. So we left off on a crazy marshrutka (which was even faster!) and had a walk through the center of Irkutsk and then along the river and – already after the sunset – we arrived at the station. On our way we saw a street where they collected log houses and created somewhat a tourist-trap with cafes, craft shops etc. I cannot say that Irkutsk is still The Paris of Siberia as it used to be called, but it’s obviously big and has some curious atmosphere that I couldn’t really make head or tail of in such short a stay (walk). Irkutsk (the name comes from the river Irkut) certainly preserved some of its authenticity (it was founded back in 1661) which is enhanced by all the peoples flowing into this Siberian hub.
Irkutsk Baikal highlights:
The view from the Tree Park (Dendrary) in Nikola village
a boat trip, a longer one if possible to see more of the coast
if possible, get to the Olkhon island or anywhere beyond Listvyanka
we didn’t go to see Nerpinary (where they keep the seals to show to tourists) nor to the Baikal museum nor did we take the tourist train on the Circum Baikal Railroad (though we took a regular one) which are the usual musts
if you’re a fish eater then you should try the endemic fish called omul
old houses in Irkutsk, the Angara embankment
Irkutsk Baikal in a few words: It looks like Irkutsk is there to see Baikal, I’m sorry 🙂 And Baikal is serene, fragile and so beautiful! An absolute must, particularly if you’re Russian!
After a plate of buckwheat with smetana in a stolovaya (canteen) near the station we had to wait quite long for the train… which would take us along Baikal shores in the wee hours to the next stop: Ulan-Ude.