Breathtaking Lake Baikal

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Arriving at a bustling Irkutsk station at 10.45am we were ready for a decent breakfast (which did not consist of noodles), a healthy dose of fresh air and a good wash! Met at the platform by an enthusiastic “Costa”, who was to be our guide for the next few days, we marched across the crowded entrance hall and onto a waiting mini bus.

After stopping for 10 minutes or so to register our passports (something you have to do in each Russian destination you visit and subsequently have to carry your papers with you at all times. The cost of this varies from 150 Rubels in St Petersburg up to 600 Rubels in Moscow and can be done mainly at hostels and hotels), we departed on the hour or so trip to Listvyanka, a village at the side of Lake Baikal.

The sky was brilliant blue and the sun shone on the bumpy road which took us away from civilisation and into the snowy hillsides of Siberia. Following the 3am wake up call from the transsexual, Trans Siberian train attendant and losing three hours to the time difference, we were all exhausted and content to sit dosing with iPods in, not paying attention to anyone or anything… so the approach to Lake Baikal took us all a bit by surprise.

As we rounded a steep bend, the huge expanse of frozen water opened up before us, framed by enormous, snow-capped mountains. The road took us into a village by the side of the lake with a sprinkling of wooden chalet style buildings; some grand and imposing and others which looked nothing more than shacks, struggling to bear the weight of the snow on their roof tops.

The minibus travelled along the straight tarmac road through the village, out of the window to our right was the most incredible, breathtaking vista I had ever seen. Almost blinded by the reflection of the sun shining off the frozen lake, we were in awe of its natural beauty. A sharp left hand turn up a treacherous hill and the minibus tried to park up at our new home. A few slippery hand brake manoeuvres later, we were safe to get our packs on and climb the steep steps to the guest house.

Like little kids we ran around each other’s goldilocks-esque, en suite rooms taking in the space, the scenery and the smell of fresh, pure alpine air. Despite being desperate for showers it didn’t matter that the water was frozen solid and the loos wouldn’t flush – the clean, crisp all-encompassing Lake Baikal and a real home cooked breakfast of bread, cheese and omelette, washed away our four days on the train and made it all the more worthwhile.

After a hot shower (eventually) and a moment or two to take it all in we reconvened for an action packed adventure…

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