Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Lake Baikal – 50 miles wide, 400 miles long and a mile deep!

The Aspens are turning in Siberia!
Irkutsk was our first railroad stop in Russia, and we had the good sense to book a hotel in Listvyanka, a small picturesque village on Lake Baikal, where the lake’s water flows out the Angara River, the only outbound river on the lake.  The rainy, moody day of our arrival broke to overcast with grey humid clouds hanging in the valleys with spots of blue sky.  In the distance, we could see the snow-capped peaks of the Khamar-Daban Mountains on the southwest side of the lake.  A long, long ridge.  And this wasn’t new snow from the rains, but snow that keeps winter to winter.  
Monster Cabbage in Nicola
We hiked to the village center we saw in the distance up the river – only to discover that I (chris) was wrong.  This muddy dismal port town was Nicola.  Nonetheless, there were a few homes with fresh blue-painted shutters and windows filled from inside with flowering geraniums.  And this place of extreme temperatures knows how to garden too.  Nicola, the less-favored of the ‘charming villages’ on the lake is home to some monster cabbage plants and nearly everyone has a greenhouse to extend the growing season.  We found a tour bus leaving a restaurant (our new technique for restaurant   Our evening brought continued clearing and a brilliant sunset that made the most of the remaining clouds.  We enjoyed the show with some more local vodka (another new favored technique).
across the Angara as it enters the Lake
recommendations with some possibility of English usage) and had our first taste of Omul, a fish native only to the lake. It turns out that there are lots of animals native only to this lake including the fresh water snow seal – hunted ferociously for centuries but now protected.
The next day, we walked the opposite direction from the hotel down the main road, and found the village center we had been looking for.  Listvyanka turned out to be small, quaint, yet bustling with activity along the waterfront.  Travelers wandered up and down the main street and waited on the docks for the ferries going back and forth, between Listvyanka and ports miles away on the Lake.  We sat on a bench and had an impromptu chat with an Australian squeeze-box-playing tourist looking for a ferry with his Chinese friend. 
School's Out!  Boys in searsucker suits
(no relation to the snow seals)
We bypassed the souvenir vendors and found a highly-recommended café – Proshily’s Café – or at least we think we found it – all signs are in the Russian Cyrillic alphabet here. 
Proshily's Cafe!  (we think)
Had a delicious meal, anyway – two different kinds of local fish, Omul and Sig, a white fish, and vegetables, both grilled to perfection. Our hiking continued up to a ski area.  One (really slow) lift, five runs, a base area that reminded me of Geneva Basin in the late 70’s (except not as nice). 
an old worn out ski area
We pondered if they had a Guest Services squad and if there could possibly be any colder ski area where the average here in the winter in -25F.  In the evening, we enjoyed another spectacular sunset show over the lake.  This was a nice introduction to Siberia, in spite of the dourness of the locals (“Icy Ivans” as they are called).  Do they know something we don’ know? We keep doing drive-bys of the news to see the status of Syria to determine if our Yank passports are the problem.  Anyway, a lovely town, excellent food, gorgeous, big beautiful, epic lake surrounded by snow-capped peaks and glaciers.  What could be better?

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