13-17 March 2010
Somewhere crossing Siberia with flat land for miles, trees and more trees, lots of snow interspersed with huge villages of small wooden homes. This #2 train is top class but to get to the next wagon we cross thru an open space where the steel plates are frosted over from the cold. Russians appear to like living in hot enclosed spaces as they shut the doors and draw the curtains to a cabin that must be 80 degrees. Thankfully our cabin mate is thoughtful. We have stereo and television, room service and a smooth ride. Even little red booties. Train is full; I did not imagine so many wanting to go to Siberia. Excellent mobile coverage, something that I don’t get in Cambria. Stations and train on Moscow time regardless of local time.
We seem to be poking along as we cruise thru the many local stations; each time I look up it is much the same with endless expanses and countless birches. Grey sky, white snow, and white – black bark of birches. Perhaps in summer it would be worse for with leaves it would be difficult to see anything. The snow seems unbroken for miles. The occasional skier – a practical way to get around. I am sure we are the only “English” on the train. My German speaking travel mate brings out her dictionary and manages to communicate but most of the Russians speak far more English than I do Russian. When we stop more than ten minutes the babushkas are outside selling everything from beer to noodles and hats. A few snow flurries as we continue our journey thru Siberia to Lake Baikal. Temps are dropping. We will get a wakeup knock at about one for our departure.
Arriving train time is one am while the minute I set foot on the ground at Irkutsk it is 6:14. Can I suffer from train lag? Our guide and driver take us on a harrowing 70 km ride to our wonderful modern lodge in Listvianka overlooking Lake Baikal. The driver is on the right hand side here as thats how cars come from Japan (Japan puts the wheel on the left just for U.S.?). Yesterday was Voting Day so we talk politics.
Lake Baikal is sunny but cold at 0-1F degrees and a hoped for high of 20 or so. It can and does get to -40 but thankfully it is the start of spring now, or so the locals say. Not much in town and very cold. We visited the local cemetery then walked magnificent Lake Baikal. It gives me a funny feeling as I look down: there are ice cracks and fissures, snow patterns under ice, cars, divers and dog sleds on the ice. The ice is up to 6-8 feet thick and clear. It is all quite beautiful and unique. Mountains can be seen in the distance. The pressure ice piles up in huge blocks at the edge. Looking over this largest and deepest lake in the world toward Mongolia, I feel much like Shackleton must have felt crossing the Antarctic.
A real Siberian day with wind chill effecting already cold temps. It is sunny but quite brutal on the exposed skin. Walked to the Lake Baika research museum. Didn’t know there were inland seals on a lake. Very interesting tour of facilities. There are 332 Rivers that feed Baikal and only one flowing out. It is the steaming one we can see from the overlook. Visited the fish market and for about 5$ we bought two steamed Omul fish (sort of a trout) bread and tea. Delicious. Snug in our room we watched the sunset over Lake Baikal. It is a cold night and we sit with our beer and pictures. We can hear strong bursts of wind and know it is very cold.
In the morning we will visit Talzy Museum, an outside park with many examples of the regional wooden buildings of the Buryats. Then it will be the day in Irkutsk before catching the Trans-Siberian for the Far East.