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Excerpt from the Journal of Olds – Siberia

We arrived at Irkutsk at the end of the second [and major] leg of the Trans-Mongolian saga and hurriedly waddled off the train with our excessive baggage. There we were met on the platform by Katya, our guide for the day – awesome girl full of knowledge, a teacher, and spoke at least 4 different languages – if by any chance you’re reading this, thank you for a great day!

We met our driver Egor and made the 70km journey to Listvyanka, our base on the shore of Lake Baikal for the next few days.

The place was breathtaking.

The images we took over the course of our stay there will no doubt fail to do it justice, but it had just experienced the first snowfall of the winter and was in the process of thawing – for the most part sub-zero but the beautiful blue sky and a bright winter sun were a stark contrast to the uniform grey that the rest of Russia had been blanketed with.

After a shower and breakfast at our wooden lodge style accommodation we toured the Limnological museum and got the stats on the impressive Lake Baikal:

–          25-35 million years old [most lakes don’t “live” that long].

–          One fifth of the worlds freshwater supply

–          1.7km deep

Etc…

There’s a load more but that’s what Wikipedia is for. We then set out for a ski lift which was out-of-action so we proceeded to hike up the hill instead to a lookout point over the lake – incredible. Shedding layers as we went we descended and made our way to the wooden houses and church further along the bay. We rounded off the day with the lake speciality Omul, a freshwater fish that I believe is indigenous to the lake.

We said our goodbyes and took the long walk back to the hotel taking a hundred sunset photos en route, only to repeat the same journey again in full when we realised we needed provisions. Got myself a nice bruised leg while avoiding a car thanks to black ice too.

The remainder of our time in Listvyanka was all about relaxing and catching up on odd jobs and internet time. Except of course for the morning of our departure…

…local legend has it that the lake has properties that extend the life of those that brave its waters – 5 extra years for a paddle up to the knees but a bumper 20 years for those with the cojones to take a swim. After breakfast, with frost covering everything in the vicinity, we made our way to a jetty on the shore. Fi braved it to her knees on razor-sharp rocks that I couldn’t even walk on, so I acquired the water-proof cam, and the rest is video history – a full-pelt run and dive into the icy lake. I should at least make it past 50 now.

Fi followed suit, bravely plunging the icy depths and clocking up the years. Soon after we were picked up and returned to Irkutsk for a night there before the next leg of the Trans-Mongolian.

Now we find ourselves once again on a train, this time bound for Mongolia. The layout is similar to before, but in what I would guess is a more “Mongolian” style – decor, bedding and style seem different but on the whole the train is faaaaaar more comfortable. It’s peaceful, heated sensibly, the sky is blue, the sun is out, the endless sepia landscape is punctuated occasionally by settlements and mountains – all just seems more pleasant…

…the landscape does put me in the mood for some Fallout 3 though!