We’re staying for a couple of nights in Nikola, a tiny town on the Angara River which drains Lake Baikal. It’s near the slightly less-tiny town of Listvyanka, the main tourist destination on Lake Baikal about 75 minutes from Irkutsk. When the hotel in Irkutsk threw us out, we went to catch a bus to Listvyanka. Instead, just because it was there, ready to go, and cheap we ended up on a minibus – for all of $5 each. When they opened the back to put our luggage in, who was there but Dave and Hannah, the Canadian couple from both the Beijing-Ulan Bator and Ulan Bator-Irkutsk legs of our train trip. The omens were good.
What have we learned about Siberia so far? The gardens are amazing; it seems as though every house in a village has its own beautiful garden with deep, dark soil either just planted or now ready to plant.
The buildings are beautiful. Lots of wood, lots of color.
The lake is amazing. By volume, it’s the world’s largest freshwater lake – 20 percent of all unfrozen fresh water in the world is here, more than the five Great Lakes combined. We hiked the four miles into town and then back yesterday for some great views, and then had dinner last night at a hotel in Nikola with a million-dollar view of the lake. Gorgeous.
And the food. There is a local fish here that’s described as a distant relative to salmon. You eat it as caviar, raw, pickled, smoked, fried – you name it. All washed down with vodka, of course, and with the tastiest rye bread you’ve ever had.
We’re staying in a little, rustic lodge. It’s not fancy – we’re sharing a bathroom, for God’s sake! – but said bathroom does have a heated floor and a tile representation of the Roman Coliseum! The former seems somewhat more appropriate than the latter and of course makes me feel like we’re visiting Becky in Duluth. Oh yeah, and the lodge has a cat. Guess how long it took Mark to make friends.
We’re not entirely sure what’s up for the rest of the day. The young woman who acts as the manager here asked what time we’d like breakfast. Being morning people we suggested 7:00 AM. She countered with 9:00 AM and in our best negotiating style we said OK, so that’s what it will be. There’s supposed to be a 12-mile hike on the lake up to another little town that we’re going to try to do, if we can figure out how to catch a boat back at the end.
We can manage 12 miles, but 24 would be a challenge with a sprained wrist. Otherwise it would be no problem, of course.