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banya

Irkutsk – Near the great Lake Baikal


Presently its 6am and I’m sitting in Ulan-bataar (Chingis khaan international airport). But lets go back – back to when we arrived by train to Irkutsk near the great Lake Baikal.

DAY1 – July 31st, Arriving at Irkutsk

We arrived safely to Irkutsk in the evening and quickly found our homestay (arranged through a hostel). As it was late in the evening  all we did was grab some food and withdraw some money from a nearby atm followed by a quick shower and then straight to bed. The food was terrible.

DAY2 – August 1st, Listwyanka

In the morning we made our way to another hostel as the homestay was booked out. As the pros we have become at finding very unmarked hostels in russia (often in completely anonymous residental complexes) we found our new hostel and had checked in around noon.

This is where we met Kurt – an australian that had been spending the last 40 days camping and trekking the mountains of Mongolia. He also just arrived in Irkutsk. He decided to join up on a trip we planned going to a lake city called listwyanka near lake baikal – and eat breakfast their.

We bought 2L beer, a bottle of vodka, some cucumber, some tomatoes, some pepper fruit, salami, bread, butter, cheese and got on our way. The breakfast of kings. We then got on our way to Lake Baikal. After about 1h of driving in their marshutkas (minibusses) we walked around and quickly found a nice spot at the beaches of Lake Baikal.

View from the Marshutka (minibus)
View from the Marshutka (minibus)

<Picture pending of breakfast>

But first a few facts about lake baikal – It is the deepest lake in the world. It is 600kms long and 60kms wide. It contains 20% of the worlds combined water resources – more than the 5 great lakes combined! Also it is so clear than you can drink directly from the lake. Quite impressive.

Lake Baikal
Lake Baikal
Lake Baikal
Lake Baikal
Lake Baikal
Lake Baikal
Lake Baikal
Lake Baikal

Anyway, this day was one of those, “we don’t really have any plans but I’m sure we’ll have fun” days and so we did. Our original plan was to see the lake and take the last boat home at 18:30. That didn’t happen. After having eaten our breakfast we asked a random boater on the beach if he would take us on his boat and since lady luck is constantly behind us, he said yes.

View from the back of the boat
View from the back of the boat
Happy days while the captain did donuts on the lake
Happy days while the captain did donuts on the lake
Boating on lake Baikal
Boating on lake Baikal
Boating on lake Baikal
Boating on lake Baikal
Our Captain
Our Captain
Kurt the Australian and Nikolaj
Kurt the Australian and Nikolaj

After the short boatride of about 15minutes (and half a bottle of vodka) we just walked down the road along the lake to see what was going on. As it usually does something quickly happened: Nikolaj spotted a banya (russian bathhouse) sign with a phone number. We stopped the first stranger and asked him to call the number.

This guy was a young russian who had just bought booze to meet up with his friends. He didn’t meet up with his friend – instead he joined us for the most of the day. I’ll spare you the details but we swam in lake baikal and tried some very cheap food:

The russian
The russian
The weird food right after we got out of the water
The weird food right after we got out of the water

I high fived a bear:

Me high fiving a bear
Me high fiving a bear

met alot of new friends and of course went to the banya:

Outside the banya
Outside the banya

On a side note: Being the danes we are, we ofcourse wanted to skinny dip in the lake but our russian friend told us “no no no no”. The women will called their boyfriends, the boyfriends will call the police (and beat you up), and finally the police will beat you up again (and throw you in jail). This is not just because they don’t like nudity but more particularily because they don’t like MALE nudity (we were 3 guys that wanted to do it) as it is basically too gay’ish. Two bottles of vodka down we were this close to doing it but still opted for keeping the boxers on.

Around 8pm we took the marshutka back to irkutsk and had a crazy night… we went to bed around 2am.. or 3am.. 4am.. I don’t really remember. Honestly I don’t remember much after we got back… it rained.

DAY3 – August 3rd, Hiking around Lake Baikal

We got up at 8:30 am (YES!! after that day/night). That was probably one of the worst hangovers and most confused times on this entire trip so far. Furthermore, we had planned a 12 km trekking trip.. and we only had flipflops to wear. Getting picked up by the tour staff (and Mirko the german we met earlier in Moscow who had joined up with us again… great, huh? :)).

Mirko was fully prepared with trekking gear, bugspray, water and food… we had… uh… flipflops and a hoodie. We got the driver to stop at a market and got some food and water and after an hour of driving, best described as attempted suicide, we got to the start of our trek. We quickly got to talking with two russian girls who was going camping and they joined us for the rest of the trip

Nikolaj, Alena, me and Lucy (Luda)
Nikolaj, Alena, me and Lucy (Luda)
Mirko and Nikolaj tyring to have a serious face :)
Mirko and Nikolaj tyring to have a serious face 🙂

One of the stranger things that happened was a bikini dressed russian girl in the forrest named Nastya. She was there alone and she had a tent, some food and a whole lot of Samogon (russian home-brewed booze) that she had made herself. We did a picnic there pooling all our food and also tried some of the samogon. It was very home-brewery.

We also got to hide under the railroad tracks when the rain started pouring having a little camping there for about half an hour.

Under the tunnel: Nikolaj, me, Lucy, and Alena
Under the tunnel:
Nikolaj, me, Lucy, and Alena

We also skipped stones at the shore of Lake Baikal, tried “moutain energy tee” that the russian girls had brought from home. Talked alot about alot of things and I learned a few new words.

At the shore of lake baikal
At the shore of lake baikal

Another thing to mention are the tunnels. For some reason the russians decided that tunnels were bad karma and opted for leading the railroad tracks AROUND the tunnel instead. I have no idea why.. but on the plus side the tunnels doubles as excellent shelter for those less fortunate.

The tunnels
The tunnels
The tunnels
The tunnels
The tunnels + bed and Mirko
The tunnels + bed and Mirko

Below are some pictures of the trail

Some pictures of the trail
Some pictures of the trail
Some pictures of the trail
Some pictures of the trail
Some pictures of the trail
Some pictures of the trail
Some pictures of the trail
Some pictures of the trail
Lake Baikal
Lake Baikal
Some pictures of the trail
Some pictures of the trail
Some pictures of the trail
Some pictures of the trail

At night we just got home, ate food and went to bed.

DAY4 – August 4th, Leaving

We got up early, and took the train. How that went is for the next blog post

Banya in Yekaterinburg

Conceiving the idea

This is a short post about a banya that we went to in yekaterinburg. For those of you not fully grasping the russian language – it is a bathroom.

They take many shapes and forms but according to our hosts in yekaterinburg, the one we tried in moscow (with a shared room etc) is only something you find in big cities. A real banya is different. To prove this, the hostess, Kate, found us a banya outside the city which was a “real” banya and she even convinvced one of the other people (a russian called Dim), to take us there and show us how it was done. Both because we have no idea how things work there and also because it was a little hard to get there apparently. In either case, how nice of her!! The hostel was omnomnom hostel in yekaterinburg. Props to that place.

Getting to the Banya

Well as it indeed was hard to get there we opted for the taxi as it was apparently only 200 rub (30DKK – 4 EUR) if you are with a local and you dont mind riding in the back of an unnamed, anonymous, old lada with a psychopath behind the wheel… luckily we dont

We got in the cab but after like 10 mins we had to stop because apparently the drivers wife was about to give birth and as such – the taxi driver had to leave… like now. We got out and waited for another cab (praising us lucky to have a local with us who could explain this and get a new cab)

The rest of the trip in the cab went fine except for the fact that nobody knew where it was and we drove around for a little while speaking russian but we finally got it. again GOOD thing we had a local to help with all that.

Finally there

Inside we opted for the only room available – which was actually a two story appartment with an adjacent sauna, “cool off room”, and wc. It also included a pool table a bed, a couch, tv, dvd, music, and free roomservice. Well. Nice 🙂

From there on out we just had a good two hours. Apparently what you do is heat up the sauna, order food and beer (and women apparently was very common and only like 1000 rub – we didnt do it though) and wait. When the sauna is warm one person goes on his stomach and is repeatedly beat with a warm leaf stick thingie that burns like a thousand suns and you are sprayed with 80 degrees water and after this hell is over you jump into a cold pool of water (20 degrees is cold) and go out and relax with beer and food. I know it sounds bad but it really isnt. Afterwards you are extremely relaxed and feel great – definately worth the time (and money – including the cab rides it was about 3000 rub = 450dkk for all three of us).

We heard some russian music, dim showed us pictures and told us about himself, we ate and had a good 2 hours. Afterwards we took a cab home, saw some cool mirror / fear theme parks and went for a beer. Dim invited us to his home region if we wanted and also, he said him and his mother might be coming to copehagen next summer… by car! interesting. Looking forward to that so much.

 

Chilling in the Banya with Dim:)
Chilling in the Banya with Dim:)
Outside the banya, relaxed and smiling
Outside the banya, relaxed and smiling

 

Dim the crazy russian about to jump into the "cold-tub"
Dim the crazy russian about to jump into the “cold-tub”
The "cold-tub"
The “cold-tub”