The World Records of Lake Baikal
The main reason that we stopped off our Trans-Siberian rail journey at Irkutsk, apart from following the Green Line, obviously (See Day 705) was to visit Lake Baikal. This enormous lake is the oldest, deepest and largest freshwater lake in the world!
Formed 25 million years ago, Lake Baikal is 5,314 ft deep (1,637 m), over three-quarters of which is below sea level and holds 23% of the earth’s fresh surface water! We had to visit this beast. But the one day tours were a hefty £75 each. What to do? Being nifty with research, we found out that we could get a bus there, return price £4.28 each – bargain!
Despite not leaving until 10 am, it was still minus 7 degrees with icy pavements. We finally reached the bus station and hopped onto a minibus for the 75-minute drive to Listyvanka on the western shore of the lake. Our journey was pleasant, gazing out of the window with acres of silver birch and pine forests, and hamlets of wooden dachas nestling in gaps.
As we got off the bus, the first thing we did was look out over the stunning lake. We were so lucky to have an amazingly clear blue sky so could see the jagged snow-capped mountains on the Eastern side in Buryatia, where we’re be heading off tomorrow. The gentle waves caressed the pebbled beach and seemed to stroke every muscle in my body; I felt so relaxed and yet refreshed. What a place.
And then we turned around to see Listyvanka. It was quite a contrast. A rather tacky seaside resort, much shut up for the low season with tourist information kiosks, small cafes, a Hotel which looked like a gigantic wedding cake, and a couple of tourist attractions such as a seal sanctuary which turned out to be more like a performing seal show.
We walked along the shoreline and up by the forest with a Christmassy aroma of fresh pine. The scent changed to smoked fish, and we passed a well-built man smoking his Baikal fish, slit down the middle with cocktail sticks holding the two sides in place.
On our way back we decided to buy one of his fish; not one of our better ideas. I am sure he doubled the price for us, his customer service could do with some improvement, and the cold, raw fish was rather disappointing.
As we came back into the small town, we found the open-air market where numerous ladies were trying to entice us with their smoked fish. I am sure theirs would have been tastier and cheaper. Hey ho!
We always find it interesting when there’s row upon row of stalls all selling the same thing. How does one choose? This is an excellent example of Hotelling's Location Model. There you go, every day is a school day!
Despite the snack of the unsavoury fish, we felt hungry. Sadly our sims have stopped working, so no google map to recommend a 4-star café, we had to use our better judgement. Oh dear, after our pricey watery fish soup and bitter coffee we won’t remember Listvyanka for its lip-smacking cuisine.
As we were thinking about walking up to a Gem Museum, a Scottish guy we met when getting off the bus, walked in and joined us. Our conversation flowed, and we both love chatting with people, the museum was ditched.
William has been travelling for a few years now; we enjoyed comparing notes of places we’ve been to and cost-effective tips. It seems that we both had challenges getting visas and reaching Russia. William had a right palaver getting his Chinese permit so had to book another flight into Russia. Luckily, he didn’t miss the Scotland v Russian football game in Moscow. We laughed telling him that we met some of the Tartan Army on the train and when we showed him our photos of Gus, he recognised him.
We said goodbye and hope that we will meet up again in Beijing in early November, then we went for a short walk along the shore of the lake to be mesmerised still of this wonderfully soothing view.
Despite the tastelessness of the town, in more ways than one, we would recommend spending a few days here. There are lovely walks through pine forests and along the cliff edges, and during the summer season, you can hop onto the ferry over to Baykal and walk through one of the old train tunnels. Alternatively, in the depths of winter, there is skiing and dog sledging, stepping onto the lake or if you are crazy, you can cut out a hole in the ice and dip into the freezing water! Mad or what!