We had a special interest in going to Lake Baikal, kind of a long story.* From Irkutsk, it is an easy van ride (take tram #1 from train station, then tram #4 for 2 stops to van area, keep saying ‘Listvyanka’ and you’ll get there) to the town of Listvyanka on the shores of Lake Baikal. We went and stayed a couple of nights. The weather was cool and rainy and we didn’t venture to Olkhon Island as is popular, but we enjoyed spending time near this UNESCO recognized lake. It holds 1/5 of the freshwater on the planet and has biological and geological significance including its own seal species.
The surrounding area, which we had glimpsed from the train, is gorgeously forested. Clearly this place deserves much more exploration but we had time and budget limits and we just relaxed at our cozy, pinewood cabin-style hotel and walked around the outskirts of town, getting a little taste of rural Siberia. The wooden houses are so lovely, the place was so green, we found a little historic church, and there were picturesque cows adding to the scenery.
There were flower petals falling like snow one day and dandelion flower crowns. A place called ‘retro art’ had whimsical metal sculptures like the metal fisherman above.
The town itself is quite touristy, full of Russian tourists and booming pop music and plenty of bars and travel companies offering boat rides and other excursions. We had trouble getting cash due to a hold placed on a bank card (they just realized we were traveling?! It’s been 10 months!) and hotels were pricier than Irkutsk. We stayed off the main drag and were surrounded by grass, paths, cows, birds, and trees. We found a little store that took our credit card and let us practice some Russian. The food was all behind the counter and you had to tell the cashier what you want. We cooked at our hotel. A funny incident happened when a local, a large bearded man, somewhat stern looking as seems typical in Russia, gave us many smiles and bought us some frozen dumplings-he had seen that we were buying the vegetarian ones and wanted us to have the ‘better’ pork ones! I took a lot of photos, finally up close after seeing this type of scenery from the train. Maybe we’ll come back here someday, there is much to see, I’d love to go camping and hiking further north along the lake.
*When we started going to the Pennsic Wars, a festival of the Society for Creative Anachronism, we camped with the Barony of Baikal. They are a great, welcoming, arts-oriented (as opposed to combat-focused) group named after the lake in Russia, and the way they came about this name is amusing. They shot a dart at a world map, and the dart landed on Lake Baikal. They proceeded to mispronounce the name, hence they are called the Barony of Baikal, rhyming it with ‘ale’- they say ‘buh-KALE’. The correct pronunciation is ‘bye-call’, so we thank them for the inspiration to get ourselves here! We’ve even been traveling with a Barony of Baikal flag; here is a photo of it in Baikal’s clear waters.