Another year has passed. The time without our kids and the distance to them was again too long. So we were really looking forward to our vacation this year. We were planning just over two weeks of time with our kids.
After the flight from Berlin via Moskva to Irkutsk the two of them came to pick us up as early as 4 in the morning. Everybody was quite excited anyways. We hopped into the truck and went a few meters out of the Airport. It felt just normal coming back into the car. We took a nap at the roadside on a quiet parking lot before we headed into town to the Shiksha Hostel. From the outside it looked quite “dusty”. From the inside though it was really nice and comfy. We slept in the car anyways and just used their toilets and showers, as this is a little more comfortable in the city. We would definitely recommend this place for a visit though. So in the afternoon we took our first stroll through city center of Irkutsk – a very interesting combination of new and old. Of course we went say Lenin "Hello" while we were there. The restaurant we went to at the end of the day was quite good as well.
On the next day already we start our journey to lake Baikal. Joerg and Ann-Katrin had chosen a trip to the famous Olchon Island. We took a short stop on the basar of Irkutsk to stock on supplies.
Quite amazing this shopping experience. You can get pretty much everything between camping stuff, clothing, tools and groceries. As we left the city quite late we didn’t do the 250km on the same
The way to the lake reminded us a little of the USA. The endless woods, the endless straight roads … quite amazing. For lunch we stopped at a restaurant at the roadside - not Mc Donalds. We had delicious Schaschlik which are sold from the grill on the roadside, just like Bratwurst in Germany. After a while of driving we decided to find a spot for the night. We headed of the road a few meters to find a nice spot at the side of a small river. It’s even big enough to take a short swim. For dinner we are getting some fresh cheesecake, some Meatballs and of course a bonfire – just how it’s supposed to be.
The next day we are heading on towards Olchon Island after breakfast. We hear some strange noises from the truck and stopped on the way trying to find it. We tightened a few bolts but the noise wouldn’t stop. We headed on until we reached a viewpoint where we can see the lake for the first time. At this point we found a wheel bearing that would cause the noise most likely. After some discussions we decided to head on to Paromnaya pereorava. This was just a few km down the road and would probably have a workshop if needed. We got there and found a nice spot right next to the ferry terminal to check out our problem. On the beach, in-between some coaches and tourists we started taking apart the rear axle to check it out. Well … it was really the wheel bearing and after some digging Joerg could eventually find the correct replacement in his spares. The rest was pretty much a piece of cake. We changed the bearing, out everything, back together and were ready to go after just 3 hours.
Having that done we were actually able to enjoy our first view on Baikal. We were actually looking forward to this amazing place for quite some time. When we heard about this the first time in school many years ago this seemed to be so far away. Now we are here – with our kids. So we took a snack and hopped on the ferry as it still wasn’t too late on that day. The waiting line got shorter while we were fixing the truck. Joerg easily maneuvered the truck on the ferry. This seemed to be quite difficult even for the cars as you have to back the car off the ferry. We just went a few more kilometers to find a spot for the night. From here on there were no more paved roads, so we had to take it slow. The spot for the night is of course nice one on the lakeshore.
We have learned about Siberia and Baikal in school – Olchon we have never heard though.
Olchon is the biggest island in the lake Baikal with 72km in length and about 10km width. The Island is home of the Burjats which gave the islands its name. It’s not quite clear what this exactly means. Some translate as a small forest, some as dry. Both translations seem to fit. Nevertheless the landscape is stunning and diversified. You’ll find steppes, sand dunes and forests as well as steep cliffs and nice beaches.
The ride on the Island was just a little different from what we know. The roads are not paved and not really well prepared. These main roads are mostly washboard tracks that lead to the biggest
villages. If one lane is bad, another one is created. We did see up to 6 lanes here that sometimes even have road signs. Most of the traffic is some regular cars we are used to but a lot of the
tourist would be carried by UAZ minibuses. Most of those tourist Chinese as they can travel to Russia Visa-free since about two years. So Chinese tourism is a big deal here.
A lot new power lines along the Island were surprising us a little. The explanation quite simple. Until 2005 there was no grid here. Until then the needed electricity was generated by diesel sets. At the same time they added a mobile networking antenna. Running water is still not common though. The locals get the water from the lake as its water has a very good quality. We do so as well.
In total we spent 5 days here to enjoy the nature, the peace and the nice environment.
The last night we spent on the shore close to the ferry before we head on back to Irkutsk.
On the way there we got some blueberrys and muchrooms from the roadside. As it was nice we went back to our hostel in downtown. We made some jam from the berries and cooked some dinner with the mushrooms before we get ready for our next adventure.
The Transsiberian Railway – it’s a legend. Joerg an Ann-Katrin had planned a trip on a former track along the Baikal. From Irkutsk we take a local train to most southern point of the lake to Sludjanka. This took about 2 and half hours. There we changed the train to ride along the shore of the lake to Port Baikal. For the 70km to there the train needs about 5 and a half hours as it stops every once a while for passengers and pictures. A great experience to see the most expensive part of the track back then with it’s many tunnels and bridges.
Around 7 pm we arrive at Port Baikal where we spend a night at the old train station which has been transformed to a hotel.
After breakfast the next morning we take the ferry to Listwjanka. We spent the day there as we were waiting for the next adventure that evening. We stroll through the Baikal museum and the road where a lot of locals smoke the Omul. Omul is an endemic fish there which tastes very delicious. At around 7pm again we head on to the port to take the “Raketa” back to Irkutsk. The “Raketa” is a Hydrofoil boat which goes to Irkutsk on the Angara. The Angara river is the only river exiting the Baikal. The legend says that the old Baikal loved her daughter so much that he threw a rock at her when she left for Jenisei. That’s where the shaman rock is sticking out of the river close to Listwjanka. We passed by with the boat of course. It took about an hour to arrive in Irkutsk where the boat stops in the port before the big dam.
After all these excitement our vacation is coming to an end. The last day we spent in Irkutsk with shopping, packing and visiting an old ice breaker, enjoying the last days with our kids.
We say thank you for nice time and journey. Our view on this planet is again a little widened. Nevertheless this motivates even more to follow these little fellows. We wish you a good time, stay safe… see you soon.