Relaxing in Siberia

Lake Baikal Travel Blog

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Strolling along the shore of Lake Baikal

It felt really exciting to be in Siberia. It's one of those places you hear about, but never think you'll have any reason for going to.

We stopped off in Irkutsk to break our Trans-Mongolian train trip; we'd been on the train for four days. We'd really enjoyed the train journey, but it made a nice change to get off. We'd booked a three-day excursion through our tour company: two days staying in a wooden house in a village called Bolshoe Goloustnoe, on the shores of Lake Baikal, and a day in a homestay in Irkutsk itself.

We were met at the station and packed into two minibuses (there were eight of us who were going to be staying in the house togehter) for the hour and a half's drive to the lake.

Wooden house where we stayed in Bolshoe Goloustnoe
We were told by the others that we got the more comfortable van, but I'm not convinced. In Britain they drive on the left hand side of the road. In Moscow they drive on the right. In Siberia they drive on the side with fewer large stones! We were OK while we were still in the town (apart from one random excursion onto the grass verge to bypass a queue of traffic), but once we got off the surfaced roads it got quite bumpy. And the driver didn't seem to regard slowing down as an option.

In any case, we got to Bolshoe Goloustnoe in one piece, and were deposited at the small wooden house, and introduced to our host, a large Russian lady with bleached hair and leopard-print leggings. The house was fairly basic, with outside toilets and drinking water that appeared to have been sourced from the lake (which is a very clean lake).

Me at the circus!
But it's all part of the experience. The house was clean and well-appointed, and we were very happy there. The best part was the chance to have a wash, after four days on the train without a shower. We were allowed the use of a 'banya', which is the Russian equivalent of a sauna: a wooden steam room, where you can sit and relax. In contrast to a sauna, it is also a place where you can wash, as both hot and cold water are available, and the floor contains some holes for the water and soap to drain away. You come out into the cool Siberian air and feel truly invigorated. The banya was in a different house on the other side of the village, so on the walk back to our house afterwards we stopped off at the village shop to buy some vodka, which would form the basis for the evening's entertainment.
Bolshoe Goloustnoye
For a small shop in the middle of nowhere, they had a bewildering choice of different brands and sizes.

Our second day by the lake consisted of a visit to the village church, followed by a walk along the lakeshore. We stopped off at a small lodge for lunch, where we had barbecued fish, which had recently been caught from the lake. You can't beat freshly sourced food: it was delicious. The scenery is beautiful and the location very tranquil. The air feels so clean when you breathe it; you generally feel healthier just for being there.

The evening "party" in the house was similar to the previous day, but with beer replacing the vodka, and two randon Russian blokes who didn't speak any English - not sure where they came from.

On the third day we returned (via the bumpy road) to Irkutsk.

Old military hardware - Irkutsk
We were dropped off and introduced to our landlady. We had a bed set up in the living room for us. We popped to a pancake restaurant for some lunch, and in the afternoon went to the circus. The second half of the show was a travelling tiger tamer. The first half of the show was all the usual local acts. The clowns dragged three people out of the audience to participate in a gargling routine. Unfortunately for them they chose me as one of the three, and proceeded to tell me (in Russian, naturally, of which I don't speak a word) what I was expected to do! I think that it probably all added to the comedy spectacle. One of the most entertaining bits for us was the spectacle of toddlers posing for photos with one of the tigers in the lobby after the show. Presumably they don't get eaten too often.
Travlling tiger tamer - Irkutsk

It was Zoe's birthday, so we picked up a bottle of Georgian wine from the supermarket on the way back to the flat. Our landlady had cooked some sort of turkey burger-type thing, with a salad; not ideal birthday fare, but not too bad in the end. The wine went down well. Because we didn't speak any Russian we weren't really able to get very much out of the homestay experience. Our landlady didn't speak any English, and retired to the other room to leave us to eat dinner on our own.

The three places we visited in Russia (St Petersburg, Moscow and Irkutsk) were all very different in feel. I'm glad that we spent time in all three; they each show a different side of Russia.

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Strolling along the shore of Lake …
Strolling along the shore of Lake…
Wooden house where we stayed in Bo…
Wooden house where we stayed in B…
Me at the circus!
Me at the circus!
Bolshoe Goloustnoye
Bolshoe Goloustnoye
Old military hardware - Irkutsk
Old military hardware - Irkutsk
Travlling tiger tamer - Irkutsk
Travlling tiger tamer - Irkutsk
Lake Baikal
photo by: dfoo