A slow but busy day in Listvyanka
Listvyanka Travel Blog› entry 120 of 136 › view all entries
June 2nd, 2009 – by: Kramerdude
The first thing I noticed was the architecture of the houses that we walked past. Most of the construction is wood and there was the ornately decorated wooden shutters in a bright variety of colors that appears to be a local custom. We reached the lake and walked along it for a bit towards the center of town and the pier where several medium sized fishing boats are docked. We learned that you could hire a boat to take you out on the lake for a short excursion and most of the group thought this was a great idea so we negotiated with one of the captains to take us out for two hours for a modest fee (400 Rubles or about $12 per person for the eight of us that decided to go).
As we pulled out from the pier and onto Lake Baikal, the breeze kicked in and it got mighty cold.
Lake Baikal is the largest lake in the world by volume (reportedly containing nearly 20% of the liquid fresh water reserves on the planet), and it is the deepest.
We motored north for about an hour and then turned back around and headed back the way we came. Even seeing the same sights didn't change the fantastic views. Seeing this in early summer, I wonder what it would be like to come back in the winter to see the lake frozen solid. Maybe someday...
Back on land again, it was time to grab some food. At a market on the edge of town found some shashlik and plov among the stalls selling Russian knockoffs at inflated prices to the tourists.
After lunch, Jon, Heidi, Carlie and I wandered to the end of the road on the northeast edge of town on the recommendation of Andy and Mary who went that way while the rest of us were on the boat. At the edge of town was a small park, a rusting hulk of a ship along the lake, and then some more small homesteads. But nothing much else. So we headed back through town the way we had come before past the road back to Nikolai's looking for a couple of sites that were referenced in some books.
We were looking for St Nicholas Church and Retro Park. At first we didn't realize these were set back from the main road a bit and we walked right by. But this turned out to be an interesting excursion as we came to a different church along the road and as we walked around to see if this is what we were looking for we wandered through a small cemetery with ornately decorated headstones.
Turned back towards town and chose to take a side road that we thought might lead to the church and after heading back a ways we found it. The church wasn't much, but it was the first Russian Orthodox I had seen. We were allowed inside (they had obviously seen a fair share of travelers) and it was truly a different experience from Western Christian churches. The obvious difference is the separation of the congregation area from the sanctuary by the iconostasis. And then there is the iconography that is present in these churches commemorating the lives of various saints and apostles.
That said there wasn't a great deal on display here and it is a operating church so we moved on. Back out towards the lake we finally found Retro Park which was an intriguing little spot. Its really just another home where the owner has taken old Russian cars, torn them apart, and built all kinds of little creations in his yard. Pictures speak louder than words here so just take a glance through the images.
On the way back we realized we had some time to kill before an earlier planned rendezvous so we stopped at a small bar/cafe for a quick bit of refreshment. Then it was time for the grand event. I haven't mentioned it until now but earlier in the day when we first arrived at the lake and read a bit about the old wives tale that if you step in to Lake Baikal you will extend your life by 1 year, if you enter knee deep you will extend your life by 5 years, and if you go all the way in you will live 10 years longer.
Now Lake Baikal never gets very warm even in mid-summer, and this was still early summer. A sign posted at the pier earlier said that the water temp was 12C (53F) and the air temp was lucky to be pushing 15C (60F) this afternoon with a nice stiff breeze. It was COLD!!! Andy had a bottle of vodka that he had purchased earlier in the day and we all took a quick stiff shot of liquid courage as we disrobed down to our swim trunks or skivvies as the case may be and then it was a dash down to the water's edge. The first step was jarring, the second and third as the water quickly came to waist depth was shocking, the final dive into the icy cold water just took my breath away (literally).
All in all it was 10 minutes of action (took me longer to write this than to do it probably) but what a fun experience. And crazily enough we weren't finished jumping into bodies of cold water just yet either.
Back up at Nikolai's, he had been getting his banya ready for us to experience. A banya is essentially a Russian sauna. There is a standard method of using the banya that involves first sitting in the banya (at temps approaching 100C (180F) for a period of time, then heading outside to sit in the cool air for a short period. Once ready, you go back inside for a second sit in the steam and this time you have someone massage (or really slap) you with a venik (a set of leafy branches).
Finally it was time for dinner. We enjoyed smoked omul (a fish found only in Lake Baikal), mashed potatoes, and veggies prepared by Nikolai and his wife. The omul was quite tasty (and this from someone who is not a huge fish eater). At the end of the day we enjoyed some crazy charade game that was accompanied by many rounds of various drinks. It was a male verses female competition and suffice to say the blokes won handily and celebrated accordingly (with a traditional Mongolian wrestling celebration.
Well inebriated at this point it was finally time to end this day. The day itself didn't seem that busy at any point but it sure seems like a lot happened as I go back and write about it. Guess that makes it a good one.
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