иркутск - листвянка

A few hours after having my bank card stolen, I boarded the train to Irkutsk - the end of my stay in Mongolia and the first step in exploring Siberia. I shared a cabin with a Buryat lady, pregnant, and a Russian man, drunk. Neither spoke English, but we tried to have a conversation anyway. The Russian man assured the Buryat lady she had nothing to fear from him, and that he would protect our cabin from any other drunken Russians that may try to bother her. Through signs and smiles, he offered his vodka and food to me (I accepted, of course), but at times he became quite frustrated that I could not speak Russian and I could see he regarded me as an idiot of some sort. He was well built and boisterous. One of his hands was all patched up and one of the fingers was useless, clear sign of fistfights, I imagined. I got drunk and fell asleep when the night came. We spent the whole day travelling again, and arrived in the middle of the following night in Irkutsk. There, an older relative of the Buryat lady came to our cabin to help her grab her bags and boxes and leave the train. He took the Russian man's bag and moved it to another bench. The Russian man grunted a challenge, grabbing his bag and moving to put it back where it was. The Buryat man just grabbed the bag from his hands and set it aside again, proceeding with his work. I was surprised to see how quickly the Russian accepted the situation, without further challenges. Not so rough after all.

We arrived at around 4am. I waited until around 9am for business to open up (dark, cold cities, as I learned, go to bed early and rise quite late). I had no money, no place to go and no friends to turn to. I found a coffeeshop which offered wifi and started tackling the problems one by one - good old internet is always there for us! I quickly found a Couchsurfing host for the first few days, borrowed money from my parents and checked out the city layout. I left my heavy bags at the bar and explored the city throughout the rest of the day, disappointed with the fact that I was in Siberia, in November, and I didn't need to wear a coat. The city itself is not as bad as many people make it sound. I struck conversation with a Buryat girl who was drinking in a square, and she showed me around the landmarks of the city, before night came and I went to a neighbouring town to Couchsurf for a few days, after which I returned to Irkutsk. I rather enjoyed my stay there, though it was longer than it should. From host to host, courtesy of Couchsurfing.org, I had a great time exploring the city and local food (which was not that impressive, I must admit). I really like it when cities have interesting statues, and Irkutsk had a lot of them.

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After a few days there, snow finally started to fall and the cold weather made an appearance, bringing up my hopes, just to go back to being the warmest November everyone had ever lived through. Sadly, even though as a place it surprised me positively, and the weather was far from being harsh, I learned that the Russian stereotype is not so far off the mark - the buses smelled of vodka, and drunken people (of all ages and genders - even old couples!) shouted at each other or started impossible conversations with me. At 15.00. On a Wednesday.

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After a few days in Shelikhov (a neighbouring town) and Irkutsk, I was hosted by a Russian couple who took me on a trip to Listvyanka, which is nothing special on its own, but all one needs is a good bakery and a walk around the Baikal lake to be happy, and both things are easy to have there.

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As I was quite short on money, I spent most of the time working or taking walks around the city. After a while, I was hosted by a Ukranian lady who helped me with what I needed the most: an address to have my new bank card sent to. The bank in the Netherlands had already sent it to my dutch address, all I needed now was to have it mailed to me in Siberia. After I had arranged it all with my dutch friends, she recommended me a great place to stay in Olkhon island, on the Baikal Lake, which was an amazing place if I was to believe all the people who urged me to go there. And there I went, to a beautiful place to wait for my card. 

As I mentioned before, my camera was stolen in Mongolia, which means I was left with my phone camera, which sucks. In Listvyanka I was lucky to be able to borrow a decent camera from one of my hosts. Unfortunately I was not so lucky in Olkhon, and the pictures of that trip (which I'll post next time) will be of a lower quality (as some in this post).

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