Privyet from Irkutsk!
After getting back to UB from the week in the desert, it was time to head off to Mother Russia! The actual Trans Siberian. The second leg of this massive train journey was UB to Irkutsk. Another 24 hour train ride, another country.
Irkutsk is a notable stop on the Trans Siberian because it gives close access to Lake Baikal (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), a lake with a lot of “est”s. Known as the Galapagos of Russia, it’s the world’s oldest freshwater lake. It’s the world’s deepest fresh water lake. It’s home to a whopping 20% of the WORLD’s freshwater supply. And, it’s pretty darn good looking (even at first glance from the train on a stormy day).
But first, I explored Irkutsk, my first Soviet city. I was amazed by how many people were rollerblading. There were a lot of people strolling the town and the river and it felt like it could be any city at home, until I saw the donkeys and reindeer (or donkeys with reindeer antlers) in the public square. I also didn’t know it yet, but the mini electric cars for kids to drive around the square are a staple of soviet cities. While kids tooled off in their fake Jeeps, I couldn’t help but think back to when I was younger, living just outside of Chicago. I wanted one of those cars SO BAD. No dice for me, but luckily, my best friend Stephanie had one. I think she got annoyed that I always wanted to drive it.
While wandering the city, I popped into an Irish pub (there’s always one – anywhere) for a rest and a snack. I ended up staying there awhile, meeting a nice 20 year old Russian girl stressing about her future. We chatted through the night, talking travel and politics.
Baikal was an easy hour and half journey by bus (once it filled up) and was absolutely stunning. The train had hugged the shoreline on the way in for over 150+ kilometers, but those views hadn’t done the lake justice. Surprisingly, the east side of the lake (closest to Ulan Ude) was covered in snow (and was even snowing as the train went through). The west side of the lake (closest to Irkutsk) was quite the opposite – sunny and warm.
I stayed until the sun started to set and the air started to cool, and went to hop a mini bus back. Filling up wouldn’t be a problem, I got to the back of a long line of others waiting. After about an hour of waiting, I finally got on a bus and was excited to get back to town to go to sleep early. It was not the quick ride it was on the way to the lake. It reminded me of coming back down to Denver from snowboarding for the weekend – a lot of cars and not a lot of road. Add in an accident and our 1.5 hour ride became 4.5 hours. Sure would have been nice to have a seat on that bus.
It was a good first taste of Russia and start to the Trans Sib. Next up, Novosibirsk and Omsk!