The gem of Siberia- Lake Baikal (and Irkutsk)

After 5 days on a train, arriving in the same country you left is pretty surreal, but arriving in Irkutsk is something else. We were told to take “any tram and get of after three stops” in order to find our hostel. Now to me this doesn’t seem a foolproof plan!

We are on Lenin St. Here is Lenin looking similar to how he looked the other day in his Maussoleum.
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We took a walk through the town. This is the government building for Siberia which in true soviet style was built on the site of a church. Do not fear, Irkutsk has plenty of churches remaining!
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Like this one…
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And this one…
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And this one…
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And this is Ricky just monkeying around.. As he hasn't had his rabies shot this is about as close as he can get to animals!

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This is a statue which reminded Ricky of Lola…
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Lola who actually looks like this…

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After a walk around, Irkutsk seems like something out of a western, very dusty with battered up cars and drivers who really want to run you down. It is on the river and there is beautiful autumnal colours. One guidebook described it as the Paris of Siberia. The only conclusion I can come to is that they had had too much vodka when they saw this…
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But the reason we are here is for this beauty. The length of England and one mile deep, Lake Baikal holds 20% of the worlds unfrozen water. 2/3rds of the wildlife here (about 14,000 species) are unique to this lake.

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We travelled outside of Irkutsk about an hour to Listvyanka. It is a town stretched along the shore of Lake Baikal.
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From our hostel we took a walk along the lake, climbing up on a ski lift to get a fantastic view. It was beautiful.
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For dinner we went to a little cafe. In Russia if you order "pork" you will literally get pork steak, no veg or chips. It's kinda like design a meal. This has taken us a while..

Ricky with a KitKat bigger than his head…
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Back at Olga’s guesthouse there was only two rooms, ours and next door. The people in the room next door were from our carriage on the Trans Mongolian. They were a lovely Belgian couple and between us we discussed Russia’s quirks which made us feel a lot better about being lost and frustrated!

Olga woke us up to a lovely big breakfast and we went out into Listvyanka refreshed. We went to a fish market and bought a smoked omul, a fish unique to lake Baikal. Ricky threw the remains to some seagulls and we watched as they fought, almost drowning each other.
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We climbed a bit of cliff on the far edge of the village where you could see more vast expanse. In the winter apparently they run a marathon across the frozen lake which freezes to 6 metres.

Getting the "bus" back to Irkutsk was interesting. It is a blacked out mini van and we were joined by Koreans and 6 Russian policeman. This is a tourists worst nightmare as the police often spot check visas however these were off duty and very interested in us. They aren't very good with the letter R so they were calling Ricky, Vicky which soon became Victor. After protesting he gave in to being called Victor in favour of sharing their beer. They became a bit too interested with me and after discovering that Ricky and I weren't "marriaged" one of them gave me a coin which said in crylic "you have my heart." They photographed us and told Ricky he had a good one!

We met some of our friends for coffee in the evening before catching our night train. This is Irkutsk's answer to Starbucks…
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Russia has been a challenge. Great but tiring. It isn't touristy so it is very hard to get around and the average stranger on the street can be quite frosty. It is scary and vast and stern, but also rewarding and diverse. I guess after 12 days we will be pleased to see the blank faced stares at least smile as they struggle to understand us!

Next stop Mongolia…

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