Early in the planning of this trip, a mention in my guidebook of the Great Baikal Trail caught my eye. This long distance hiking trail is a work in progress, created by volunteers and extended each summer. The plan is to eventually have a trail that circumnavigates all of Lake Baikal. As I understand it, the full trail is not yet complete, but there are sections that are and every year volunteers help maintain and extend the trail. More here.
From the start, I wanted to hike a section of the trail. There is a section of the trail that is approximately 24 kilometers long that goes between Listvyanka and Bolshie Koty. The difficulty was in figuring out the logistics: given time limitations, could we find our way back from Bolshie Koty after a hike in time to pick up our luggage and make it back to Irkutsk and our train? Read more
Irkutsk was our first stop in Russia. Although we’d seen the Siberian landscapes unfolding past the train window for the past day, I did not really feel like I was in Russia Until I was walking around Irkutsk, taking in the beautiful architecture, hearing Russian spoken by the passersby, pulling my scarf from my bag in the evening chill. Both Steve and I enjoyed Irkutsk, though we saw only a small portion of the city. My guidebook tells me that there is plenty more that we missed. Read more
One decision Steve and I made early on was to leave the second half of our trip unbooked. This would give us the flexibility to change our itinerary, stop places other travelers told us about, or spend more time in a place that we really liked. So we only pre-booked the early segments of the trip, those with fewer trains and so a greater likelihood of selling out. Read more
We arrived in Listvyanka around noon, via taxi. We’d thought to take a bus, but in the end allowed ourselves to be convinced by a taxi driver that we’d get there much faster if he took us. And we wanted to get there, drop our bags at our hotel, and explore the town. Listvyanka is on the shore of Lake Baikal, which is the largest and deepest freshwater lake in the world. According to Wikipedia, it contains “roughly 20% of the world’s unfrozen surface fresh water.”And all that water is clear, clean, and beautiful. Read more
Since we ended up flying from Beijing to Ulaanbaatar, our first experience with an official Trans-Siberian Train was leaving Mongolia for Russia. We boarded train number 3 in Ulaanbaatar, and approximately 24 hours later disembarked in Irkutsk. Read more