Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Days 69-73: Irkutsk, Russia -- and Lake Baikal (Listvyanka)

Irkutsk was a pleasant city to be in, even for an extended time. I planned on staying in the city for only a few days and then heading off to Mongolia, which wasn't too far, but the price I was quoted at the train station was some three times ($120-140) more expensive than what I planned on paying ($40), so I reconsidered. Luckily, the Russian visa, whether single- or double-entry, was the same price, so I lost only $10 for the difference of a single- or double-entry invitation (the double-entry invitation cost $10 more).

This meant that I would be in Irkutsk for a whopping 5 days. The city, which is considered the capital of Siberia, is home to some 550,000 people. I expected it to be cold when I arrived, but it was -3 Celcius (about 25 degrees) at night, and during the day it got to as high as +10 (50 degrees Farenheit). On the day before I left, though, it dropped quickly, due to a strong wind, and the next day it was from -10 to -20 degrees Celcius.

The city, home to many of the Decembrists of the past, was pleasant, but not particularly clean. It was nice to stroll around and had many wooden cottages. The people, for one reason or another, were much more friendlier and pleasant than in Vladivostok. Prices for Internet were much lower and for food, too (kefir cost as low as 15 roubles per half a liter vs. up to 32 in Vladivostok).

The culmination of Irkutsk, though, was not the city itself, but Lake Baikal, which was located in the Listvyanka village some 65-70 km away. A girl named Anya who I met on the Internet was kind enough to take her car and give me a ride there while suggesting great spots to see. Lake Baikal is not only the world's deepest fresh water lake, but it is also its biggest, containing some 20% of the world's fresh water--more than all 5 of the Great Lakes in the U.S. combined. It was quite a site, especially with the weather getting better and better the closer we approached.

I'll upload my photos of Baikal to this blog in Minsk, hopefully, where I will be for more than 2 weeks, starting from Monday (November 17). It will take too much time to format and then upload them here, but they are truly great. So be on the lookout for that.

P.S. My memory card from China was fixed for free in Vladivostok at a digital photo center. So this means that I will upload those pics, too. Apparently, there was some virus in the memory card that set it to "read only," so the guy who worked there unchecked the box and that's it. Much easier than I expected.

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