Smoked Fish, Vodka and New Friends in Siberia.
Here is the next installment from our VU Travel Bloggers who have just spent a few days enjoying the magnificent Lake Baikal …
After an amazing time in Mongolia we were back on board the train and heading for Russia’s Siberia! We shared our small cabin on the train with two extremely lovely middle-aged Mongolian women. Between them, not a word of English could be spoken but we still managed to bond over a few chocolates throughout the trip – travel tip number one: sharing chocolate is definitely one way to win friends!
Arriving at the Mongolian border at 4am we waited until around 8am for Mongolian customs to come through the train and collect our passports. We played cards and indulged in some pre-packed midnight snacks to pass the time. After our passports were checked the train continued onto the Russian boarder where the customs were slightly tougher and immigration was a longer process (sniffer dogs included!) When all that was done and our passports were safely back in our hands we finally made our way towards Irkutsk – a 38 hour train ride in total!
We arrived in Irkutsk at around 8am the next morning. From the station we made our way to a quaint little Siberian town called Listvyanka on the shores of the incredibly massive Lake Baikal. We’d heard that the lake was big, but we didn’t realise HOW big until we stood on the shores and stared out into the distant horizon! The scenery was incredible, so natural and untouched we felt a million miles away from home, it was just so beautifully serene down by the water we immediately began to chill out and get into the groove of Siberian living!
Once again we met up with our Vodkatrain Honcho and got some local tips for the area. Lake Baikal was definitely the main attraction with an abundance of activities from fishing to hovercraft rides on offer we knew we’d be kept busy just by the lake alone! We were pretty gobsmacked when we were told that a hike around the lake would be an easy 2200km which makes it not so surprising to learn that it is also the deepest lake in the world, with an average depth of 770 metres. Our Honcho introduced us to the idea of local foods and feeling pretty hungry the group headed straight for the fish markets!
The locals were serious when they said fish market. The vendors were selling a type of fish called Omul which is only found in Lake Baikal. The Omul was smoked and generally sold with Turkish style bread (which was rather hard and at times) but regardless, it was still delicious! After the markets we continued on exploring the streets of Listvyanka, with its little wooden houses, this quintessential Siberian town oozes charm and we felt worlds away from the pressures of city living. Soaking in the natural surrounds we couldn’t help but to unwind and ease right into the simple life. As the sun came down it was time to wander back up to the guesthouse and call it a night.
The next day by local ferry we headed to Bolshie Koty a small village which is located on the western short of Lake Baikal. The ferry was packed with vodka drinking locals who were heading over to go camping for their Saturday night. Bolshie Koty is only accessible by boat, so it felt really remote and had a lovely small village vibe to it, this was definitely a perfect place to go camping.
We checked into our home style accommodation for the night and had a look around the town. The small shop sold smoked fish, bread and vodka (surprise, surprise!) which made it very easy for us to choose. So that was our night planned, bread, fish and vodka – doing it like the locals! We made our way up what was more like a cliff rather than a hill to a point where we could see the entire town and made a toast to the scenery as we ate our delicious dinner feeling like we were living the life.
We eventually made our way back to the hostel to find there was a black out and the local man we spoke to seemed to think it was going to last a while. So we made our way down to the lake where we lit a small fire to create some light and keep us warm. Within no time at all we had a few locals joining us which was really fun. The locals did not speak one word of English (other than vodka of course) but they were the friendliest Russians we had come across. They lived in Bolshie Koty with their young daughter and extended family. True to Russian custom, the night started off with a few shots of vodka… and ended with a few too many! We had a great time with the locals, this is what it’s all about- those unique experiences you never imagined you’d come across. I’ll definitely keep this night stored away in my memory bank for years to come!
The next morning we awoke feeling a little sad and sorry for ourselves and we decided that a 22km walk back to Listvyanka along the shores of Lake Baikal might be just what we needed! The hike back proved to be pretty testing at times with climbs up mountains that seemed to last forever, but the scenery was well worth it. The lush forests and the amazing colour and clarity of Lake Baikal was incredible. On what was supposed to be quite a straight forward walk back with minimal ways to get lost, we still managed to do a few extra detours and in the end, the 22km walk took us 5 hours to complete! After a very local dinner on the Lake Baikal’s shore of pork skewers, bread and beer it was time to put the feet up and get some rest!
- Bridgette & Ryan -