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vodka

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

Russian cities and trains

Well, where to begin! The last time i wrote was 4 days ago and as you might know by now. We don’t sit still!

The day in Moscow (25th july) went fast – we saw alot of monuments, took a free walking tour, ate some russian food, met some other tourists and even decided to meet up with one of them in Irkutsk as he (a german) also arrived when we did.

two of the nice people we met. Philip and Anke. There was also a german called mirko
two of the nice people we met. Philip and Anke. There was also a nice german called mirko

There is one thing i would like to mention from Moscow though – we visited the oldest banya (bath house) in Moscow and it was great!

From the outside it looks like a restaurant and it even says pectorah (restaurant) on the outside… which is kinda true. You then go in and people in towels are walking around. We were met by an english speaking russian who told us about the classes of the bath from highest to lowest and we opted for middle (1800 rubles each). When we got in, I for one was quite surprised. It actuallyt was a restaurant! We got a seat each and we were assigned a waiter. Everybody could order food and drinks and all kinds of massages and leaf treatments and whatnot. All while sitting naked in your towel. You then interrupt your food to go in the sauna to warm up and then go straight into some colder pools (20c) to cool down. Go back to the restaurant part, eat, drink, repeat.

We spent an hour there as we were in a hurry and quickly decided to try this again! Inside I believe that russian mob gangsters and rich businessmen were doing business. There were private cabins and lots of servers – even on second class. Finally we also bought a hat.. mostly as a souvenir but everyone wore one inside.

casual sightseeing
casual sightseeing
casual sightseeing
casual sightseeing

At 00:35 we boarded train 100 to Vladivostock!

in front of the sign saying "moscow staying" displaying train 100 going across the country
in front of the sign saying “moscow station” displaying train 100 going across the country to vladivostock

We were riding third class. which meant 60 people crammed in small space. We knew nothing and noone spoke English. It was great! There is loads to speak of here, even though nothing really happened. Except for the evening where we met some crazy russians that gave us food and vodka in full excess. Read more about this  on my travel companions travel diary:

http://www.mobilytrip.com/journals/92xzPJ8yK9FBhKEvjpVqpGSs9

Let me instead just show you some pictures we snapped:

russians, food and vodka
russians, food and vodka
me and the restaurant staff
me and the restaurant staff
at one of the "stations" with everybody outside and babushkas selling stuff
at one of the “stations” with everybody outside and babushkas selling stuff
train living
train living

 

the toilet
the toilet
the samovar. always containing hot water
the samovar. always containing hot water

 

view from the train
view from the train
more crazy russians. this guy on the right was in the army fighting in ukraine. I borrowed his hat
more crazy russians. this guy on the right was in the army fighting in ukraine. I borrowed his hat
sign at the station in moscow (it says 100 - vladivostock)
sign at the station in moscow (it says 100 – vladivostock)
the train in moscow
the train in moscow

Well there you have it. A picture explains more than a thousand words! 🙂

We met some russians on the train. They were all going from moscow (where they live) on the trans-siberian railroad to several russian cities and the first of them being yekaterinburg. At the same time as us 🙂

First arriving in Yekaterinburg it was a very weird feeling. Dear reader i don’t know if you’ve tried to be in a city where you understand nothing and know nothing and noone speaks your language. It’s a strange yet somehow appealing feeling. You find yourself out of your comfort zone and you succumb to basic communication. Pointing and general miming. We read from our guide book that the station is about 2km from the city centre and also that a hostel named Omnomnom was  a good place to go. We also had a map of the city centre.

We went to a tram/bus station and quickly discovered that a map or a plan of the public transportation was nowhere to be found – let alone in english and decided to go with plan b. Find a nice looking babushka and point at the map saying your best russian “lenina” (for lenina street). Luckily she understood us and helped us get on the right tram. Things went smooth from there and with the help of our map and a couple of friendly strangers we found our hostel AND it wasnt booked! Although well hidden in a residential complex. We then dropped our bags and started wandering the city.

A side note is that they where 3 women working on the tram: 1 to drive, 1 to speak in the loudspeaker system and 1 to sell you tickets… and the tickets were about half a euro a pop. I can’t believe they get paid very well with such cheap tickets and 3 people working just one tram but thats another story.

With us wandering the city of yekaterinburg (more detailed descriptions in my travel companions before  mentioned travel log) we noticed a few things. For example: they have starCUPS not bucks – although the logos look similar

stracups?
stracups?

And had some coffee at a great place called travellers coffee

funny sign
funny sign

We saw some race thing that was going on in town that day:

race show in yekaterinburg
race show in yekaterinburg

We also tried to go to something called “the amazing maze” but never managed to do so and generally looked at signs all day trying to read russian.

This all took maybe half the day (until 6 pm).

At 6pm we ran into the russians i talked about earlier that we met on the train. Two sisters and their boyfriends 🙂 They were going to see some “tent rocks” in a forrest somewhere and we decided to join. When we got there the rocks were nice and we snapped some pictures (well I didn’t as my phone was dead). We then continued deeper into the forrest by a huge lake where alot of partying were going on since it was offical navy celebration day. After that we went to a bar called Ben Halls pub which had live music and loots of pretty people – especially the girls:) All in all a very plesant evening with the russians. We enjoyed their company very much and hope it didn’t feel like we leeched in on their party 🙂

The next day i slept for like 10 hours and at the time of this writing we dont know what to do for the rest of the day – but a good bet is to go with one of the other russians staying here to another banya (bathroom) outside town. This time with local help to tell us what you’re supposed to do 🙂

4 days crammed into one post. I could easily spend 4 times as much. For example I haven’t told you about the soviet demonstration that met us in yekateringburg or the hostel and the people living there who apparently likes to sing 🙂

Tomorrow morning begins the longest leg of our journey. 54 hours on the train from Yekaterinburg to Irkutsk.

Warsaw, vodka and visas

As always. There is loads of information to be gotten by checking our travel log:
http://www.mobilytrip.com/journals/92xzPJ8yK9FBhKEvjpVqpGSs9

To sum it up so you wont have to read twice: We ended up couchsurfing at a sweet polish girl named kasia and her boyfriend and her roommate Pawel. We also met up with a friend of mine from earlier, Anna, and finally we did very little sightseeing and… drumroll: WE GOT OUR VISAS and passports back from the belarussian embassy.

kasia and her boyfriend
kasia and her boyfriend

There is so much to tell in so few days its impossible to get it all down in writing. Many vodkas were drunk and many laughs were made!

I’ll just dive into one detail that concerned us the most: our visas.

Still a little hungover from the night before we entered the belarussian embassy at 1pm . We saw from the polish track and trace that our letter is not delivered and that it had been sent out for delivery again the same morning.

Our heats pounced as we went to the teller to see if she knew anything. we didnt stay at the counter for long before she knew who we were. “are you the danish people?”.Reluctantly we answered yes to which she continued “first of all.we are not a post office!, and second of all ,visa application is between 9-12. come back tomorrow”. Well apparently they have the visas but also apparently she wasnt happy!

Afraid to hear the answer we asked if the visas could be done before tuesday evening (one day after) as we had to catch a train… Still not fully convinced we left the embasssy after a short “DA” (russian for yes). She wasnt happy but after all itwas good news.They had all the docments and we could get them in time.

That night we celebrated

Tuesday morning we got up at 7am and were at the embassy at 8:30.After 1,5 hours we got in and got in line at the “english” counter. Another guy from Slovenia was there and we asked him how hard it was to which he replied : “you have no idea!!!”.He promptly got rejected for the third time for him and now it was our turn.

We got up to the counter and didnt say a word as she just looked at us : ah,you. She recognized us from the day before and knew what to do. She got back with our applications and asked for two signatures. we gave them and she gave us our 80 euros back… we didnt know why but we soon found out. we couldnt pay cash. she gave us a note and told us to go a nearby bank and transfer the money so we did.

the note and money
the note and money

Not too thrilled to look into another 1,5 line of waiting to deliver the receipt we walked to the front of the line and i asked the guard to let us in (i didnt say anything i just waved the receipt) and luckily (!) he let us in! 5minutes later i was out and we got the magic stamp. We could pick them up at3 the same day

 

line outside embassy
line outside embassy

 

After a nice day in the park

the park
the park

we got our passports!!

9836a974-d075-4718-96a5-11953145b3ff

we couldnt believe how lucky we were.

Tonight we will celebrate

tomorrow we will continue our journey towards moscow!

 

NOTE: during this whole time we had alot of back up plans. flying to minsk as you can get instant visa there, flying to moscow, flying home to get the passports if the package was returned home, and of course bribing our way across the border .. but luckily we didnt have to!

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