Sunday, January 27, 2013

Trans-Siberian Railway Part III: Lake Baikal and Listvyanka

This is Part 3 of a series on my trip on the Trans-Siberian Railway from St Petersburg to Beijing. It covers the time I spent at Lake Baikal, Listvyanka and Irkutsk, Siberia.

Part 1 (St Petersburg) is here and part 2 (Moscow and Siberia overland) is here.

This post is much delayed and for that I apologise... packing has commenced here as well as some lack lustre and depressing job hunting, so I've had no time to do anything fun.

We arrived in Listvyanka after 4 days and 4 nights of train travel over Siberia. Lisvyanka is a tiny dead end town that runs along the edge of the largest freshwater lake in the world, Lake Baikal. Azerbaijani oil billionaires build their mansions here and local people struggle on with money from the trickle of tourists that stream steadily though the town via nearby Irkutsk.
The lake has its own eco system and if you emptied it and directed all the worlds rivers into it, it still wouldn't be full after a year! It's the oldest lake in the world and has it's own native breeds of fish and seal.

A delicious cool breeze flowed over us from the water, everything felt fresh after the stifling conditions on the train and it was the ideal place to get ourselves together for a couple of days before travelling on to Mongolia.

A map to show you where we are now
In Listvyanka we are in home stays, sleeping in the spare rooms of local people. We stay with a quiet woman called Luiba, her sons are away serving their time in the army so she has an empty house. We never find out if she has (or had) a husband. She wears a big sweatshirt with English words written on it in clip art, including the word 'cellulite'. We are given tea to drink before we can have much dreamed of showers. We are given slippers to wear indoors.

After our showers, we walk down into the town past the edge of the lake. Thousands of tiny winged flies throng on the rocks and moored boats. I dip my feet in the icy, lapping waters.

A stuffed bear entices tourists to go and view the real bear within (we didn't)
Extending my life by 5 years by paddling in the freezing water.
A sad Karaoke place
Misty and cool jetties

Lunch at the cafe

I bought original Soviet coins and badges of Lenin off this friendly guy who posed seriously for me to take a picture. He laughed at me said I was a 'dirty capitalist' when I tried to haggle.

The miniest of mini Russian dolls

Welcomed back into the sparklingly clean home of Luiba, we are served the most delicious meal of fresh fried fish, direct from the lake, rice and salad. This was probably the best meal I've ever had, it was so nice.

So good.

Me, enjoying eating anything that isn't a pot noodle.

The room we stayed in. Half asleep in bed at night I still half imagined the movement of the train in my bones.

We walk up a steep road to a view point, the sun sets around us. There are strange chalked figures on the path, probably because it runs through a camp where children holiday in the summer
The view that greets us

We walk across a strange landscape of half cut trees to a hotel that literally has bullet holes through a sign outside the front door. We drink vodka and there are more stuffed bears in the lobby.

The next morning before we set off for Irkutsk for a night and then on to catch our train to Mongolia we look in the tiny Lake Baikal museum.

A seal native to the lake

Strange stuffed fish.

And wolves.

There are some amazing cars.

We head to Irkutsk to catch our train that will take us across the border to Ulaan Baatar ('Red Hero'), the capital of Mongolia.

Internet cafe

I think this was chocolate packaging.

The absolute best sushi of my entire life.

The hotel corridors were like a nightmare.

The train to Mongolia gets top marks for interior decor - plastic flowers and floral bedsheets on all the bunks as well as complimentary bottle of water. We settle in for our trip across the Siberian border to Mongolia.

Hopefully my next post won't take as long to write - it's going to be my favourite one I can already tell - MONGOLIA!


  1. Ah, this all looks so amazing! I would love to visit Lake Baikal and Siberia one day. I imagine it's great to stay in a real Russian house. The food does look great, too! I made the mistake in Moscow of only eating in McDonalds, and I really regret that now. I'm glad you didn't go and see the bear - I know zoos aren't great, really, but I've seen photos of bears being used for tourist money in Russia/Eastern Europe, and they're generally pretty neglected :(

    1. It was a fantastic experience. There were a surprising amount of live bears.. saw a baby one on a chain right outside of the Hermitage in St Petersburg, very very sad :(


Thanks for commenting!