Homestay in Listvyanka

Trip Start Apr 07, 2005
Trip End Jun 12, 2005

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Saturday, April 23, 2005

We booked a "homestay" for Listvyanka when we were in Moscow. A homestay is where you stay with a Russian family in their home - and it sounded like a pretty interesting thing to do. We initially booked 8 days in Moscow as Listvyanka seemed like a good place to spend some time and do some walking. When we were in Irkutsk though, the hostel owners said that 8 days was far too long and that we would be bored. Also, there were adverts in the Irkutsk hostel for homestays in Listvyanka so all in all we decided that we should only book in advance from now on if there are public holidays or other times of peak demand.

So we headed off to Listvyanka, hoping that there would be enough for us to do and that our Russian family would be friendly. It was raining in Irkutsk, and 90km due South East in Listvyanka it was snowing. We went to the bus station but ended up getting a "fixed route taxi". These are actually people carriers and they travel a set route charging per seat. They leave only when all the seats have been filled. We got off in Listvyanka and then, after fumbling about with a couple of tourist maps, realised that we should have got off 3km earlier! Nevermind, on we hiked with all our gear.

The homestay was in a Soviet apartment block. These are pig ugly at best and look remarkably uninviting, but it was fascinating to actually be staying in one. We were looking for Block 2 Apartment 15, but there were 3 or 4 blocks and no numbers. Fortunately after wondering around for a bit an English speaking Russian called Vladimir appeared. He is the contact for homestays and so he showed us to our destination.

The apartment itself was occupied by a lady called Ludmilla who was around mid 50s. Her second language was German which was a bit of a shame as it made communication pretty basic. Fortunately Sue could remember some of her German - although when Ludmilla pickedup on this everything came out in German. So much for practising our Russian, we thought!

Early spring is a transition season in Listvyanka - the lake is frozen but the thawing has started and so the ice is too infirm to take vehicles on it, but because the ice is still there the ferries are not running. Listvyanka itself is at the end of the road; essentially a dead end. The town is spread out along the road, which itself runs along the lakeside for 4 km. We had a walk along this road and began to see what people meant by their not being much to do - without being able to use the lake it was not possible to leave the immediate area.

Luckily, the Irkutsk agency that the Moscow hostel had booked our homestay through had us down for 5 days - so we phoned the Moscow hostel and got the other 3 days refunded.

Vladimir, who administers the homestays in Listvyanka, offered to take us to the observatory on the 2nd day. He has some equipment installed at the site and is responsible for collecting and analysing particles in the rain. His data goes to Moscow, but he had recently been to London and Liverpool to share his knowledge. The lake itself is an amazing hive of wildlife and there is a lot of scientific interest in what goes on. The observatory was 7km from our homestay, and we walked with Vladimir - first all the way through Listvyanka and then up into the hills. It was a really sunny day and great to have essentially a tour guide explaning all the local history. At the observatory he had a small carivan with a range of pretty sophisticated equipment to do his work.

On the return, we walked out on to the ice because he had a sampling pot to count the particles in the water. The lake is 40km wide at this point (and some 600km long!) and the whole lot was frozen. Due to expansion of the ice, there are plates that move and collide with one another. This meant that about 4 metres from the lake's shore, there was a 1 metre high ridge where the plates had moved over the winter, colliding, and raising up (in much the same way as plate techtonics have produced the Alps). We clambered over this ridge and walked out a short distance to Vladimir's water hole where he collected a sample.

We then walked along the ice parallel to the shore on the "lake side" of the fault line. Vladimir looked for a good route back over the fault - and then fell through the ice! Yep, that scared us a bit!! He explained that actually he had essentially fallen in to a pot hole - the surface at the fault gets broken and contorted with undulations capturing the sun - this melts to create a small puddle that the refreezes. This top layer is weak and your foot can go through it. This is not the ice proper though - that is 900mm thick and more than capable of supporting many people. Still, the sight of our guide falling in was enough to put the wind up us. When we crossed the fault - after Vladimir had scouted several times for a suitable crossing point - we both managed to get our feet wet as we tried to scramble over the pot holes.

Most of the rest of our time in Listvyanka was spent wondering around and trying out a few of the things that were on offer. We did a Russian Banya - a sauna that has a hot room and a cold pool. It was a detached log cabin on an outdoorsy type of hotel complex. We actually had the entire cabin for ourselves. The idea is that you stay in the hot room for a while and then come out and jump in the pool. Given that the pool was easily less than 10C we decided to just try and climb down the ladder. But after an hour or so, we got as far as to be able to descend the actually swim about in the pool!
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