Even though it was only 9am, I took the trolley to my hostel and figured it didn’t hurt to ask about dropping my bags to do some sightseeing, even if I couldn’t check-in yet, because I knew it’s not high season right now. Despite the fact that it was a little tricky to find the hostel, the owner (who speaks nothing but Russian but is somehow running a successful hostel with amazing reviews, simply through sheer kindness) let me check-in, gave me a tour, and then told me to take a nap/shower whenever I wanted. Clutch.
After relaxing for a bit, I ventured out to the Govinda’s restaurant nearby for lunch. I think Hare Krishna and Followers of Supreme Master Ching Hai are really funny religions, but I love their propensity for opening vegetarian restaurants all over the world. I had some great mock-meat dumplings and a ginger tea before hitting the open-air market for vegetables, so I could cook back at the hostel. For about $4 US, I got a bunch of potatoes, tomatoes, bell peppers, green onions & a bag of rice.
I assumed that, like most hostels, people had left behind seasonings, spices, sauces, etc. Wrong! After dropping my stuff to do some sightseeing, I cooked a rather bland dinner and made a mental note to look for some hot sauce at the supermarket.
A Finnish guy returned to the hostel from some sightseeing for the day, then a Brazilian guy and a British guy arrived together. We talked about plans for the next day, and I decided to visit Lake Baikal with the Finnish guy, while the other 2 contemplated going to an island on the lake to possibly stay there for a few days.
In the morning, I went with the Finn to the bus station, and he thankfully spoke some Russian, so we got tickets out to Listvyanka, on the edge of Lake Baikal. Lake Baikal is the largest freshwater place on the planet, measuring about 4mi/6.5km long and 1mi/1.6km deep. After walking around, taking pictures, and visiting the Baikal Museum, we caught the bus back to Irkutsk. Weather at the lake was multiple degrees cooler than Irkutsk, and there was a serious wind, so we’d had our fill. Funny enough, we got charged 10 Rubles (about $0.17 cents) more for tickets going back than going out in the morning. No idea why.
I picked up hot sauce at the supermarket and made a much better dinner that evening. The Brit and Brasileiro returned after deciding to sightsee for the day and go to the island the next day, which was good for the Finn, because he decided to join them. Everyone was exhausted from the cold and long train journeys recently, so after going to the supermarket to stock up for travel food (I got bread, mustard & some just-add-water spaghetti in a bowl—crazy but awesome), everyone caught up on TV shows on their phones/laptops. I finished Season 2 of Better Call Saul. Intense!!
Lake Baikal is absolutely unreal. The science of what’s there, how it got there, the flora/fauna…everything is really mind-boggling, and I liked it a lot. This lady at the tourist information center in Listvyanka told us to make sure to see this “large stone” sticking up from where the Irkut River feeds into the lake, and we were not impressed by this at all. It’s tiny! See the pictures. However, everything else was simply breathtaking. I’m only posting about half of the pictures I took, because I went a little nuts.
I was only in Irkutsk for 2 nights, so I planned for some sightseeing the next morning before my train onward to Mongolia in the afternoon. Short-but-sweet for my time in Irkutsk, and I saw the main thing I wanted: Lake Baikal.
Next post: Irkutsk sightseeing before the train to Mongolia + a serious blunder I made.
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