Bilzzard In Deepest Darkest Siberia!

Trip Start Feb 01, 2005
Trip End Dec 31, 2020

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Where I stayed
Victory Hotel

Flag of Russia  , Siberia,
Friday, April 29, 2011

We must have been very bad and sent to Siberia as punishment! Remember the old Hogan's Hero's Episodes where the mention of Siberia got them shivering in their boots and behaving lest they be sent there?

Well not really -  we are thrilled to be here, it has long been on the "bucket list" of places to go.
We did feel the force of a Siberian Blizzard however. Our guide Lena tells us that it made the Moscow news and anything that happens in Siberia rarely does. In 24 hours more snow and sleet fell than a normal winter month - and this is Spring!

We woke on the train, again to a wonderland of snow and ice with pine trees loaded and bowed down with heavy snow. It must have snowed right through the night. We could see there was a fierce wind swirling the snowflakes around. As the train pulled into station, the wind seemed to increase to a howl and as we stepped off the train with our packs, visibility was down to less than a metre. We found our guide and it turned out the Americans, Sharkey and Andres, who had been in the next train cabin to us, were with the same tour guide. But where were the Swedish girls Freda and Mia?? They had decided on the train they would ask our guide if they could pay to come with us, but now we could not find them in the howling wind and driving snow. We followed our guide via the underpass, to the van and shaking as much snow off ourselves as we could climbed into the warm van. Avan and Andres went back into the station to look, but could not see the girls. (Later they emailed to say they had gone straight into the station to buy their onward tickets, then couldn't find us).

Our driver then got a phone call to say the road to the village of Listvyanka, on the banks of Lake Baikal, where we were heading for a two night stay, was closed until at least 12 noon. It was now 8.30am. Our guide quickly rang a hotel and organized that we could wait in the foyer, out of the cold, until we heard more news of the road.

At 12 we headed off on what was to be a real adventure. The small van had snow Tyre's, 4 wheel drive and an excellent experienced driver, but the state of the road was horrific. Lots of cars were bogged and abandoned. People from the cars walked despondently in the snow, trying to get to somewhere out of the driving snow and get help for their vehicle. Often cars would slide out of control towards us and our driver had to take evasive action, that sent him into snow drifts. People were shovelling snow from beneath their Tyre's everywhere trying to get free. On several occasions (on the return trip) it was necessary for us to get out into the blizzard and push our van back onto the road.

Eventually after a three hour journey for 70 kms distance we arrived at the village to find that the power was totally out and could be out for days. Further as electricity is cheap in this area due to hydro electricity EVERYTHING including heating, works by electricity, so our hotel had no heating and no hot food or water and no means of creating any. Further some guests already there wanted to come home early due to these problems and the fact that if the weather continued they might not get out the next day for their next scheduled train. Our guide Lena strongly suggested we should not stay. Sharkey and Andres were booked into another establishment that cleverly had wood fires for heating and cooking, so they were going to be sort of OK, but still no electricity for pumps, so no flushing loos or showers. They elected to stay anyway as they had planned for longer at the Lake than us and hoped the conditions would improve. We elected to go back into the city of Irkutsk, after quickly getting a few pictures of the famous Lake Baikal and having our breakfast finally at 3pm at the guest house where Sharkey and Andres were staying. 

It is quite bizarre that up until yesterday the lake was totaly frozen and now there is not a bit of ice! The blizzard caused snow to fall on the ice, which was already thinning and the weight of the snow pushed the ice into the water and melted it. Then the wind further completed the lake meltdown, so that here we are looking at a lake with no ice and the surrounding area is covered in snow and ice. The day before it had been the complete opposite!

So another grueling trip through the blizzard took us back to Irkutsk with the company, this time, of two men from the Isle of Man. At one point on the return journey, we opted to help some police push their car out, which was blocking our progress. Lena organized a lovely hotel for us and arranged to meet us the next day for a walking tour of Irkutsk.

Freaky weather over, we awoke to sunshine and loads and loads of melting snow. Slush ankle deep everywhere. We are so glad we have excellent quality waterproof hiking boots. There was so much to see wandering around as people shovelled masses of snow and even used cherry pickers to get snow off buildings. Melted Ice dripped everywhere, like rain, off roofs and big pieces of ice fell off onto the sidewalks. We asked Lena if there were many injuries, and as often happens, five minutes later a large chuck fell off and hit me a glancing, but quite hard blow, across the shoulder blades and back, winding me a bit. Lucky it wasn't my head!

Being Saturday and Spring, both optimum times for weddings, we saw stretch limos and bridal parties everywhere at scenic spots for the wedding photos. It seemed ludicrous that the women wear the highest of heels and nonchalantly walk through ankle deep snow and slush as if it just doesn't exist. All the guests come with the bride and groom for the photos and there is much hilarity and popping of champagne corks. One party we saw had a waitress in a cute little outfit (and high heels of course) carrying a plate of savouries for the wedding guests, plodding through the slush. Another carried a tray of full champagne glasses. Lena pointed out the historic sights of the city centre in a two hour guided tour and then it was time to say goodbye to her and go back to our hotel for the evening.

Then 9pm the phone rang. It was Lena.

"Would you like the driver to take you back to Lake Baikal before you catch your train tomorrow? The road has been cleared with snow ploughs"

Would we ever!! Lake Baikal is UNESCO World Heritage listed and although we glimpsed it through the blizzard we would like to have a better look. It is the deepest lake in the world and has so many amazing statistics.

So we are off now in an hours time for another trip to the village of Listvyanka and Lake Baikal.

Blizzards, however are good for one thing........we are now totally up to date with our blog!!!
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