On Golden Pond

Trip Start Jul 02, 2010
Trip End Aug 02, 2010

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Where I stayed
Hotel Angara Irkutsk
Read my review - 2/5 stars

Flag of Russia  , Siberia,
Thursday, July 22, 2010

We were meant to arrive at 9.45am but our carriage attendant was banging on our door just after 8am. We think it was her subtle way of telling us to hand in our linen and clean up our cabins. It felt almost like camp! Most of the train seemed to disembark at Irkutsk so the 4 of us, looking like cast-offs from "Survivor", fought through a sea of people to find our transfer driver.

Once we were on the road, we were reminded of the amazing driving skills of Russians – worse than Italians, but better than the Vietnamese. We still managed to arrive at Lake Baikal in one piece, several prayers later. It is so much cooler here which is a welcome relief from the west.

Seb and Jessie have been put in a different hotel than ours - our hotel is done in rustic cabin style and still looks new, as most of the village is slowly developing. The view from our balcony is amazing – we are looking right out over the lake. After breakfast, a shower (hooray!) and a change of clothes, we felt years younger than the ragged types that disembarked the train. We then met our guide Leana for a tour of Listvyanka.

We first went to the local museum where we learnt that Lake Baikal is the world's largest, deepest and oldest fresh water lake, has 20% of the world’s fresh water, and has creatures in there not found in any other part of the world. There was also an aquarium with seals and fish.

Unfortunately Ted fell sick and had to return to the hotel. We found out later that he ended up returning to the museum as he has left his iphone there. So he ended up getting daily facts and exercise all in the one day.

After the museum, the rest of us hiked to a viewpoint to get some better views of the lake. The day became a lot warmer as the mist over the lake shifted. As it was after 1pm, Leana suggested visiting a local church first before going to lunch. I probably should have said something as I was starving! I called Ted who was feeling better and we picked him up on the way through.

When we arrived for lunch (just before 4) I tried the local Omul fish, which is native only to Lake Baikal. It tasted fine but sorry; most fish tastes the same to me so I can’t give any details about it. After returning to our hotel, Jessie and Seb came over to enjoy some wine and cheese on our balcony before we headed to dinner at a local restaurant. The meal was nice but I think we pushed our luck when we decided to play a game of pool downstairs. Clearly the waitresses wanted to go home so they kept casting surly glares in our direction. But considering the money we’d already spent, we felt no guilt about having a good night out.


Unfortunately I was sick also today which I suspect has something to do with the lousy diet we’ve had over the last few days. I was supposed to do the Baikal picnic walk today which I had to forego, so my day involved just reading by the lake, going to lunch at the nasty café (they were playing Boney M’s “Rasputin”) and having a nap. Ted’s is more interesting.

After being picked up by the guide Sasha at our hotel, Ted, Jessie and Seb walked to the nearby pier to catch the ferry to the old town of Lake Baikal. The hotel was supposed to provide Ted with a breakfast box but didn’t. After disembarking, the four then followed the now disused Trans Siberian Railway. There were flies everywhere! Nine kilometers later they finally arrived at the beach, to find there was no shade and no-one had brought water (the guide did strangely bring wine and vodka). The one part of shade was gone in an hour! When the group sat down to enjoy BBQ chicken and salad for lunch, a whole group of blue butterflies joined them. Everyone decided to call a boat to pick them up at another beach which was another 6 kilometres away (as the weather was so hot), as opposed to walking all the way back. The guide arranged a pick up boat which was able to drop everyone off at their respective hotels. The funny thing is that we picked the picnic option as it sounded the easiest but unfortunately, it was the most exertive.

After resting, we then watched “Russia’s Funniest Home Video Show” and the Russian “Married with Children” before heading out for dinner. We went to the same café from yesterday as the staff there speak a little English, and spoke to another Aussie lady who told us her train from Moscow was “pure luxury”, saying the cabins were first class, and even had showers! Hmmm…were we put on the budget variety? We then met up with Seb and Jessie to check out their hotel (with a view right over the village), before heading back.


After an amazing 10 hours of sleep (we’re still making up for the train), we had breakfast and waited in our room until our transfer to Irkutsk arrived. He was supposed to arrive at 11.30am but decided to turn up at 10.45am instead, so it was a mad scramble to throw everything into bags and then race to the transfer vehicle.

On the way to Irkutsk we spoke to a Macedonian girl who was traveling to Vladivostok. She also told us that her train from Moscow was luxurious so I’m curious to know why we were put on the poorer variety. If we’d had a better ride, we would have better memories of those 87 hours!

We really like Irkutsk – it’s like a smaller version of Saint Petersburg. Even though it is raining here, we love the cool change. It is more obvious too that this is the Asian side of Russia as seen in the mix of nationalities. Our hotel is a renovated Soviet style hotel but is quite modern as well. I have to admit I am now keen to leave Russia – it has been enjoyable but some things such as poor service and the previous hot weather has been draining. Also they don’t serve diet drinks anywhere – no Pepsi Max or Coke Zero to be seen!

We handed in some laundry to ensure we would have enough clothes for the remainder of our trip (just over a week) and have ended up booking some tickets with Qantas for the trip home (Jetstar is filling up fast). For lunch we went to a place called the British Club which is an underground restaurant, completely decked out in UK garb. With all due respect to Russians, this was the best meal we’ve had since arriving here. The food was wonderful and cheap, the menu diverse (I tried Russian red caviar), the bread was soft and they had service with a smile. How un-Russian! Although we had read that the service this side of Russia is remarkably better.

We then went to the supermarket and stocked up for our trip tomorrow to Ulaanbaatar. The journey is just over 24 hours, which should be a walk in the park compared to our last train trip. We do however have our first border crossing which apparently can take several hours. Something we are not looking forward to.

The four of us were keen to check out the local nightlife, so we walked to a nearby club called “Liverpool” where we discovered, we were the only ones there (this was about 7pm). We then walked back in the opposite direction to try and find Irkutsk’s local venue (no luck there) before returning to the British Club for a few drinks and food. Still there didn’t seem to be anyone around (9pm).

We realized we were still thinking like Australians since the place was like a ghost town until 11pm (even on a Saturday night). We first went to a local bar (which doubles as a bowling alley), couldn’t figure out what to do, and ended up trying Liverpool again. After walking for 10 minutes down unlit streets in a Russian neighbourhood (nearly crapping bricks by this stage) we finally arrived. The place was filled with 20-somethings chain smoking and slamming back the grog. It almost reminded you of the Aussie pub scene 5 years ago before those pesky anti-smoking laws came into place! Ted and I headed back about 12.30pm for a few hours nap before our 4.30am station transfer the next day.
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My Review Of The Place I Stayed

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heatheravan on

Hi Andrew, thanks for the kind comments on our blog, have read some of yours and will read more when we get home. Like your style. Your Lake Baikal and Irkutsk was a little different to ours, so good to see. keep travelling Cheers A&H

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