|Our first stop off the Trans-siberian. We arrived in Irkutsk 4 days ago and went straight to Listvyanka, a little town right on the southern shores of Lake Baikal. The deepest lake in the world, containing 1/5 of the world's fresh water, with its own unique (or to use the favourite word of the local museum, "endemic") fauna, this is the glittering jewel in the Siberian tourist Brochure.
Well... it's big. You can just see 27km across to the other side from Listvyanka on a clear day. And the seals are interesting. And it's bloody cold (even Ian admitted defeat after about 15 seconds of standing in the shallows). And the smoked omul (a sort of trout/salmon like fish) is actually pretty good washed down with a diet coke by the lake. But apart from that. there's not a hell of a lot to do in Listvyanka.
We had chosen the "softies trek/ siberian village" option on our itinerary (we could have done a two day camping out hike: as it was raining when we got in we were pretty glad we'd passed on that option). So on the second day our smiley but not very conversational guide picked the five of us (ourselves plus three others) up from out homestays and charged straight up the surrounding mountain through the mosquito-infested forest. About three hours later we were allowed to stop for lunch on the lake shore (and our guide finally stopped for breath). The Siberian taiga (forest) is very gree and very lush, and after a fgew days of rain, full of mushrooms (which the Russians are fanatical about collecting for the stewpot).... and mosquitoes. And one chipmunk. Apparently. At the end of five hours or so we arrived back in listvyanka a little tired, quite grubby, and hanging out for some smoked fish from the market. And a banya- the Russian vesrion of a sauna, which our homestay had in the back yard behind the vegetable patch: sort of a wooden shed with a pot bellied stove to heat water (which you washed in)and that has an ambient temperature of about 40 degrees. you are supposed to sweat while you wash. very good for the circulation and the skin we were told (and I can actually vouch for feeling VERY clean after it)/ We passed on extending the experience by whipping ourselves with birch branches though.