Lake Baikal At Last And Trans Sib Travel.

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

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Flag of Russia  , Irkutsk,
Sunday, May 1, 2011

The clickety clack, clickety clack, clickety clack is ingrained in our body and mind.

As I write, we are on the longest haul of our Trans-Siberian trip, Irkutsk to Moscow 3 full days and 4 nights. We have paid extra for the luxury of a cabin to ourselves, but we are not alone or lonely. Our cabin proves to be a good party place for other travellers, given it has a bit extra space. 

Before we got on this train we had one last adventure. Our Irkutsk guide, Lena rang to say the driver would take us back to Lake Baikal and the village of Listvyanka, for a visit before he would take us to the train. It was amazing how different it looked now, two days after the blizzard. The road was a two lane highway instead of one set of tyre tracks in the deep snow. The snow ploughs and the sun had been busy. The pine trees along the roadside, we saw previously weighed down with heaps of snow, now were green and lush with not a sign of snow on them. However there were lots of broken limbs that succumbed under the weight of this record snowfall.

The view of the lake was breathtaking. Unknowingly, in the blizzard of Friday, we had been driving right alongside it for some time without being able to see it. Lake Baikal is the largest and deepest freshwater lake in the world and accounts for 20% of the whole world's freshwater. Pretty impressive!! It is 1,637 metres deep and 636 kms long with a width of 80 kms, at its widest. Scientists say it is at least 20 million years old. The other exciting thing about Lake Baikal, is that of its incredible 3,500 species of plants and animals a massive 2,600 of these can ONLY be found in Lake Baikal! One of these is the world's only freshwater seal, of which we saw in aquariums at the museum and research centre.

Lake Baikal is also UNESCO World Heritage listed.

The local legend says that if you swim in the freezing waters of Lake Baikal you can add 20 years to your life. We thought about it – briefly only (memories of our Antarctic swim haunted us) - and then decided that maybe it would partially work if we partially got wet, so we dipped our hands only and hoped for 2 extra years! Our hands were so cold it took about an hour to get them warm again. We did see one crazy man though, go all the way in, hoping for his 20 extra years.He my have gained 20 years but we reckon he lost a few centimeters also.  Shades of our madness in Antarctica last November!

Our driver didn’t speak much English and we tried to ask him if we could stop at a restaurant to dine on the famous Lake Baikal fish, the Omun, but he didn’t understand and took us the 70 kms back to Irkutsk. No matter, we still had 2 hours before the train so we found a fine dining restaurant and had a fabulous meal of Lake Baikal fish, enjoying it all the more because we were starving hungry. Then it was on the train for our mammoth train journey.

On this leg we have in our carriage, Patrick a New Zealander living in UK, and three Australians, Isabelle, Steph and Chloe. There were another couple, Dean and Sasha who had to stay back in Irkutsk, as Sasha was hospitalized for gastro troubles. On our previous leg we had got to know two Swedish girls, Mia and Frida and two American men Sharkey and Andres but they left Irkutsk on different trains to us.  In our carriage of 9 cabins, all the cabins have 4 beds and a door that closes. There is "cattle class" in other carriages which have 6 beds to an enclosure with no door. Our other friends are not all together, but have a procession of different Russian cabin mates, who get on and off at various stops, often in the middle of the night. Some of their cabin mates have a little English and can converse enough to impart some knowledge of Russian life. 

There are many misconceptions about the Trans- Siberian railway. Firstly it is not one train, but a multitude of trains that run on this route. The true section is the one we are travelling now from Irkutsk to Moscow. The first two legs we did were part of the Trans-Mongolian line. The second misconception is that it is a tourist orientated trip. No, no, no! This is for, and about, the locals getting from A to B. This adds to the experience, as so few English speakers are doing the trip (at this time of year anyway) that you are right in amongst the locals. There are many stops along the way, at both small and large stations. The carriage attendants do not speak English. They do however glare at us a lot to get their message across and say niet, niet! This is particularly the case when we try to go to the toilet. As the toilet flushes straight out onto the lines, it is against the rules to go within 15 minutes either side of a station and we don't know when a station is coming up! We take it all in good grace of course.

It is a comfortable way to travel. The beds, whilst hard are just wide enough and we have big fluffy pillows, sheets and a blanket. The carriage is heated, so we are dressed only in T-shirts, jeans and thongs. The toilet at the end of the carriage is western style and we have definitely had worse on other trains. There is a power point in the passageway for charging up the computer. We have a table, bed lights and best of all, a big picture window to watch the world go by.

As with our previous two legs of the journey, we purchased plenty of supermarket items for food (and wine!) and we are eating very well. All the trains we have travelled on have an amazing coal burning water boiler that delivers boiling water anytime you want, out of a tap so we can have coffee, tea, soup or noodles at anytime. There is a dining car on most legs (not Mongolia to Russia) but it is good to be preparing our own healthy meals of soup, tinned fish, vegetables, and cheese, followed by fruit and chocolate. We have brought along cereal, bananas and long life milk for breakfast.

Our time is spent reading, doing crosswords, chatting to others, planning further travel, writing and just plain gazing out the window to the Russian farms and forests, that form the rolling panorama outside our window.   

The train is still clickety clacking as I write. Bizarrely, the train runs on Moscow time which is 5 hours behind the time zone we left at Irkutsk. We have decided to gradually work ourselves around to Moscow time for sleeping and eating so we are not "train lagged" when we arrive.     

Next stop Moscow, with an rude arriving hour of 4.11am.

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