We left the crowded train station and into a small vehicle that transported us to Listvyanka. We drove into a massive oil painting portrait of the beautiful Taiga. With no speed cameras in sight, our driver sped to our final destination, “U Ozera Hotel”, 9 wooden cottages facing Lake Baikal in an hour. My heart sank as I pulled away the shower curtain to find a “hand held bidet shower” as THE shower.
The hotel is famous for its spectacular view of Lake Baikal and Russian Banya, like all sauna baths that represent cultural rituals. PASS. So we toured the tiny village for a couple of hours before we took an additional 20 minute (per way) hike to a hotel close by to use the internet. At 10 below zero on average, why not? Trade the oven for the virtual refrigerator.
We didn’t want to leave Listvyanka without unleashing our adventure spirit. Dog sledding it was. Welcomed by the wails of a bunch of non husky looking dogs, we buckled up and went on 10 minute rounds with the dogs. As we recounted our experiences to one another ecstatically, we couldn’t help but notice how we were surrounded by children. This place was for children! Precisely ages 5-13.We left immediately, more so because we couldn’t feel our hands and feet.
An hour later, we were back in the Taiga driving to Irkutsk. So we “rolled it like the locals” and had sushi for lunch. Known to be the Paris of Siberia, we walked around several ice sculptures complementing the beautiful wooden architecture and Orthodox cathedrals that gave the city its character. Not complete without the statue of Lenin in the park across Lenin and Marx Street.
Irkutsk was definitely a snapshot of what larger cities in Russia, like Moscow, would have looked like had the old landmarks not been destroyed and reconstructed under the influences of different regimes.
A cotton candy later, we were ready to board our train and head south to Ulaanbaatar.