The Trans-Siberian, Irkutsck, and Lake Baikal
Ulan-Ude’s train terminal.
Hello friends, I’m back from Olkhon Island. I’m at the TransSib Hostel again waiting for my 3am train to Moscow. I have a few hours to kill, so why not catch you up with my life in Russia.
I left Ulaanbaatar a week ago by train and spent 1.5 days reading (as I told you in my last post). Here are some shots of my trip from UB to Irkutsck.
Pretty right? I’ll go into more detail about train riding in my next post. I’ll be on a train for 3-4 days by then and will have a lot more to tell.
I got into Irkutsck early in the morning and dropped off my bag at my hostel. I met some friendly travelers who gave me great advice about what to see in Irkutsck. One of them was a German named Golbi, and we both went exploring around the city. In Irkutsck, there is a large river that flows through the center of town. There is a river path with lots of trees and flowers; we walked along this path until we reached a super Russian monument. It had the communist star, an eagle with a scythe, and a man with an epic mustache. I was impressed. We decided to diverge from the city and quickly found a beautiful church/temple/cathedral. Something I learned about Russian architecture is that they love color for their churches. Golbi told me that Russia puts a lot of money in their churches. They want to make them look impressive, for the Russian people and for their respective gods.
There are churches everywhere and each has their own colors and personalities. They also are all orthodox, so I felt a little out of place with my Capri-shorts and t-shirt. The women inside wore covers over their heads. I eventually got the picture and put on my bandana, so to respect their traditions. I visited 3 churches and each one had beautiful paintings inside and smelled of burnt candles. It reminded me of my good ‘ole Catholic mass days. I had the realization that I hadn’t been in a church since China (Colleen and I found a Catholic church in Dali.) I am still not used to seeing so many around and also vice versa, I miss seeing the Buddhist temples. Where are the monks? Where are the prayer beads? Where am I? Yes, I’m exaggerating, but there is some truth. I do miss the temples.
Golbi and I found an outdoor market full of fruit and vegetables. I ate strawberries. I will repeat, I ate juicy, delicious strawberries! There was so much meat and dairy in Mongolia that I forgot what eating too much fruit feels like (which was a little uncomfortable, but totally worth it). Other than that, I spent the rest of the day relaxing, and prepping for my 4 day trip to Lake Baikal.
I left the following morning and jumped into a meaker with 11 other people. Two were Americans and I got to enjoy a hearty conversation about ecology and evolution with a biological engineering grad student. Hooray for science! After 7 hours in a meaker and a ferry boat, we made it to the island. (If you’re interested, I stayed at Sunny Hostel. It was very nice. Good people and good food. No complaints.) I roomed with a Londoner named Sue. She was a hoot. There was still a lot of daylight left, so I walked down to the beach and watched the sun go over the distant mountains. While I was waiting for the sun, I organized rocks and played my Siberian tongue instrument (I got in UB at the black market). Whenever I have free time, usually outside, I like to practice. I’ve really improved since I first got it 2 months ago.
The following day, I decided to go hiking. I ate breakfast, packed my bag, and headed towards the mountains to the East. I found a trail and walked for awhile. After a few hours, I made it to the top of a hill/mountain. I could see the village I was staying in and I could see Lake Baikal all around me. The day before, it didn’t hit me, just how big the lake is. It wasn’t until I reached the hilltop that I realized I couldn’t see land in the distance. Just water; fresh, drinkable water. I was surrounded by the worlds largest fresh water lake. Wow. I spent the rest of the day hiking around. There are interesting rock formations near the waters edge South of town, so I walked there and read my book on the rocks. The lake breeze and the smell of algae made me smile.
The next day, Sue and I took an excursion out to the SE part of the island to hike down to the water. It was a nice hike. There were lots of trees, flowers, and butterflies. The lake was beautiful from this side as well. There are more big stones to jump on and to sit on. I also watched seals play and eat fish. After the hike back to the van, we ate the local fish called omul. It is a white fish that is endemic to Lake Baikal and it sure is tasty. I was happy to have had fish again after a 3 month hiatus! I was pretty tired after the hike, but was persuaded to show off my volleyball skills. I was surrounded by a bunch of Russians and played volleyball until it got dark (at 11pm!). I am happy to say that I represented my country well in the art of volleyball. :)
Well, the next day Sue and I slowly got ready for our long trip back to Irkutsck. We both had trains to catch in the evening. I waved goodbye to Lake Baikal and watched the scenery go by. I said goodbye to Sue at the train station and now I am here, finishing my blog post at the perfect time. I should get to the train station.
I’ll be on the train for 3-4 days. My goals are to finish Game of Thrones and Steig Larson’s The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets Nest. I also want to learn some Russian. I’m sure I’ll meet some friendly people.
Thanks for reading. I’ll catch up with you later when I’m in Moscow.