Irkutsk - Listvyanka / Lake Baikal

Listvyanka, may 11

We got off the train in Irkutsk at 3:40pm. Pete went looking for an ATM since we were out of rubles. I went out onto the street to scout for transportation. Listvyanka is about 70 kilometers away from Irkutsk and can be reached by boat, minibus or taxi. Boat is no option since it is not season yet. Minibus departs from the central market which is not quite close to the station. Though more expensive we decided for option "taxi". In Russia there are two kinds of taxis: the official "checkered" ones, and anything on four wheels without checkered doors...
I can imagine this last remark might not be too clear, so I will try to explain: in Russia the same goes as in China for food... In China anything on four legs and NOT being a table can be potential food. In Russia any vehicle on four wheels can be a potential taxi. It is a matter of raising your hand to any car and see if you can strike a deal with the driver. Be careful though and use your gut feeling when it comes to judging the driver....

Being able to negotiate in the local language helps when it comes to haggle and strike a deal. I did OK and managed to get a ride for us and our luggage to our Listvyanka hotel for R2000 (approx €50). Not too bad for a 70 kilometer ride, but considerably more expensive than a minibus of course. But being tired and in want of a shower makes you less concerned...
Our ride was a senior citizen, half Ukranian/half Georgian, making an extra ruble with his relatively new Renault Logan. He looked trustworthy and so did his car. And he was alone...

In the city gramps did not exceed 40, uses all lanes and appeared a bit detached. Pete and I exchanged looks and prepared for a long drive to Listvyanka. But we were wrong: once beyond the city limit our man floored the accelerator and sped at max eastbound. The speed indicator never dropped below 100... He was completely at ease and managed to call his wife while drinking the soda we bought him, all this while speeding along the one-lane highway. But we were dropped in front of our hotel in 1 hour flat! Chapeau!

The Volga ahead is a real taxi SuperGrampa Rustic Hotel Terema STEAKS!! Yes!!

Listvyanka is a small settlement with only about 1700 inhabitants, stretched over 4 kilometers of lakeshore. Not much space available on this narrow strip. Our hotel is on a hill in a valley, about 300 meters from the shore. View over the lake as advertised? Not from our room...

We were nackered and filthy after 55 hours on the train and only needed three things: shower, food and sleep. Since the hotel restaurant already closed at 6pm we found a restaurant nearby that served huge steaks, baked potatoes and a nice side salad. All this washed down with a few cold local beers. One of the best meals so far, and anything better than rice at this moment...!

Back to the hotel, lie down for 5 minutes to recharge, and all of a sudden it was 2am... Pete already was in a coma. Better undress and continue sleeping...

Listvyanka, may 12

The Baikalske Terema hotel is listed as being "rustic". This is a true fact which we will elaborate on.
We woke up at 8am, slept like a log but that was mainly because of pure fatigue, not because of comfort. The bed actually is a narrow (65 cm?) kids' cot with ditto mattress cover (mine had ladybugs print), not to mention the adult suitability of the mattress. Anything heavier than 40 kgs will feel the wooden construction poking through..
Concerning the building and amenities: the hotel is built Siberian style. Wooden poles, interlocked. Wooden floors, most likely laid without the use of a level. Dito for the shower cubicle. Not one side is level, and the drain is on the highest point of the tub. Result: water will not disappear. Curtain rods are slanting, making it difficult to close the curtains. But overall the place has it's charm for sure!

Lake Baikal Listvyanka Typical Siberian house Snow in may..

Network (LAN)-cables all over the place, but no Internet available (and probably never was, based on the settings I checked using IPCONFIG on my netbook). TV offers two channels: "Russia 1" in color, and "Russia 2" in black-and-white. No big deal, we are not here to watch TV...

Resumé: we wonder how this hotel made it to this high position on the appreciation-sites...

It is cold here... Very cold! We were glad we brought our cashmere sweaters and caps. The strong over-lake wind cuts through everything. We made a reconaissance tour around the area. Ended at the end of the road, literally, next to the local market. Coffee and cakes. The market offers mostly fish, fresh from the lake. Two species specifically: omul and sig. You will find both species in various ways: smoked, fresh, in bits, on sticks, grilled, whatever. You get the picture: it is all about the famous omul which is found exclusively in lake Baikal. We tried and decided we are eating some kind of salmon. No outspoken or specific taste...
The other dominating species of lake-fauna is the "nerpa"; a fresh-water seal which lives only in lake Baikal. Nerpa's are not served smoked, fresh, in bits, on sticks, grilled. Nope, it is too cuddly. Instead you will find them printed on mugs, fridge magnet, stuffed pluche, all the souvenir varieties you can imagine. And always these large puppy-like eyes staring at you...

..cold here! St. Nicolas church Listvyanka observe our rustic ceiling lights
and check out the curtain rails

Apparently we are too early in season. Summer temperatures easily reach 30 Celsius, but now mid-may it is still too cold and windy, and many attractions did not open yet. Back to the hotel, since it started to rain and hail. What contrast! Two days ago in a simmering Gobi-desert, now a freezing Baikal lake in the snow, wearing woollen caps!
M&M's, read, watch a movie, talk, eat, sleep.

Sleeping was difficult because a local party broke loose in the lobby, directly under our room. Since wall/floor isolation is absent and the wooden construction allows for big gaps between wall and floorparts, the noise was too much. After a complaint at the desk ("this is a hotel, not a local bar..?") the music was terminated at 11pm but the totally pissed locals needed until midnite to evacuate the premises.

Listvyanka, may 13

Last day in Listvyanka. We were set on visiting Port Baikal, across the Angara river. Port Baikal used to be the railhead of the Trans Siberian railway in the early 1900s. In the port the train (from Irkutsk) was ferried across the lake to Mysovaya on the east shore, and put on the tracks again.
Since the Irkutsk-Port Baikal tracks were flooded many times, the government constructed a new line from Irkutsk to Sludyanka to overcome the flooding issue. A part of the original tracks are now in use for tourist trains, during summerseason only.

Recession? Things start to fall apart.. local market Listvyanka

There's supposed to be a ferry from Port Baikal to Listvyanka but...: until may 15 only twice a day (8am and 6pm) which was of no use for us. There is no alternative unless you are able to travel via the road back to Irkutsk and cross the Angara. Since it was too cold we decided to keep moving and walked the 4 kilometer back to the end of the road. Hot coffee again, back to the local convenience store for the daily ration of M&Ms and Coke Zero for Pete. Good thing we had some movies in the laptop...

3pm: power cut. The first of several. Since water is pumped up, no water either. Who cares... Not us!

Synthesis Listvyanka:
Would we have known in advance we might have settled in Irkutsk and took a day-tour (several available) to Listvyanka / Port Arthur. One day will do to get a general impression. On the other hand it was a good and fresh break with a lot of body excercise after all the days in the trains. We still are facing another week in the train to Moscow!

View from the hotel local cemetery Thin ice warning!

Irkutsk, may 14

Alarm at 8am, pack and clean, breakfast set for 9am. Our (bit over-assertive) desk clerck informed us that breakfast would be suspended "a bit" since the cook was still waiting for her bus... A bit later turned out to be 9:30. Quick breakfast and to the roadside bus-pickup point. The bus turned out to be a marshrutka. This is a mini-bus, operating the regular bus routes but without a set timetable. When the driver decides he has enough passengers he will go. Price is a bit higher than regular bus but the average speed is higher as well.. Settle for some pushing and shoving to be seated. Price for the 70 km: R100 (approx. 2.50 euro) a head. Arrival at the central market. A short city transfer on tramline #1 takes you to the brand new Marriott hotel.

Marriott Irkutsk Our "T2" on he 8th floor Siberian style wooden house

Two charming young ladies to welcome us. Great job! So was room 808. Two big beds, room with full and good amenities, best of all: all walls and floors are level. When switching on the light, it actually comes on. View over the Angara river. As can be expected in Marriot (they will never change...): pay for Internet use on the room, while in the lobby it is for free (and super fast). We opted for the latter. The travelog update was on line in less than 10 minutes, including all the pics in backlog.

Freshen up and hit the town. No specific goal, just walkabout and get the vibe. Irkutsk is dubbed "Pearl of Siberia". Well, that we will decide for ourselves...

Theatre.. play on the 14th.... Irkutsk - Ulan Ude railway line

The theatre is a splendid building and we were set on attending tonite for a bit of culture during the trip. Alas: plays staged every day EXCEPT the 14th of may! Hamlet tomorrow, but by then we will be attending the TransSib play...
The weather was excellent. 24C, in our T-shirts in the sun. What a contrast with cold Listvyanka, only 70 km to the east... A city tour on tramline #1 in evening rush hour, finishing at the railway station for the necessary pics in the best natural light. Well, we managed quite well. While Pete had a ball, I spoke to some "collegue"-traindrivers to compare our working situations. Interesting to learn they deal with the same issues as we do in the West...

Lenin points us the way to Moscow Irkutsk Irkutsk Shunting in Irkutsk station

The station is on the left bank of the Angara river and NOT in the city centre. One need to cross the Glazkovski bridge. We did and made a dinner stop at Mr. Burger. This joint clearly "learned" a lot from the other greaseburger-chain for what concerns the concept but there were some differences: no customers, no WiFi and no milkshakes. We suspect we were the first customers ever. This place is brand new and the paint is still drying, judging by the odor in the rooms.

Mail train 904 Glazkovski bridge Angara-river Dinner at Mr Burger

Time for a bath! Our last opportunity for the next 76 hours to Moscow Yaroslavsk railway station in a T2 (two-person compartment), most likely without a shower...

Irkutsk, may 15

Our desk clerk from the Baikalske Terema Hotel offered to meet us in the lobby at 10am and give a guided tour in Irkutsk. Seemed like a good idea, since she is local and must know the ins and outs better than we do. We had time to kill. At 10am no "guide", nor at 10:30. We were not even surprised since we already decided this young lady was a bit too much bla-bla. Good for us since we could decently back out of the deal and do Irkutsk ourselves...

Kirov-square Church of the Redeemer Epiphany - church Irkutsk' founder statue

Irkutsk is not entirely the Paris of Siberia as it is projected. The atmosphere is pleasant, architecture is not too bad, there are several shiny-domed cathedrals, but those you will find in any major Russian city as well. Real highlights we did not discover. The resemblance with Paris eluded us.
Did some shopping for groceries and general supply for the voyage. Back to the hotel to collect our suitcases and head for the station. More pictures, some short movies of passing freigh trains and dinner in the station cafeteria.

Eternal Flame to commemorate
the fallen
Citymap Irkutsk Tram 1 to the station

We were on platform 1 with our backs to the main station building, waiting for our "Rossija". Since the Rossija is bearing train number #1 it is the most prestigious train of Rossija and thus it should be handled at platform 1 like a #1-train is supposed to. At 6:05pm the majestic Rossija entered the station! On track 7! Shit! Now we need to lug our 50+ kgs of luggage over there. No worries, the train leaves only in 45 minutes so plenty of time and enough to see...

Some Russian railway information: the nation spans 8 timezones from west to east. For railway timetables this is an extra complication since most trains take several days to reach their destinations, and for logistical reasons the time-leaps are impractical. Therefor the entire system is centred on Moscow time and that takes getting used to. Example: our train #1 is announced on the station indicators arriving at 1:05pm and departing 1:47pm, while the local time is 6:47pm. The clocks on the station indicate Moscow time but as soon as you leave the premises of the railways you will find a tram-stop clock, telling you it is 5 hours later... It will not be the first time a foreigner will miss his train because of this confusion.

Pete has fun, Onno babysit Deputy dog loco VL85-165 with long coaltrain
passes Irkutsk
Irkutsk Pass. local shunter

We made it to carriage 7 in the Rossija and checked in at our provodnitsa. I will prepare the compartment and stow the luggage while Pete will be in charge of the pictures of train and composition.
To be continued in the next chapter.

Train 659 to Tashet Irkutsk train indicator Elektritshka (suburban traffic) Platform indicator
(two trains Moscow-bound)

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