After a bit of confusion about where the ferry from Port Baikal was dropping us, we checked into the super cheap Guest House Devyaty Val, which for only 900r ($22) a night, including breakfast, was an absolute steal. Sure, the walls were paper thin, it was a little frayed around the edges and the entire decoration was comedic, but it was clean enough and suited us just fine. I should write reviews.
Like most places we visit, I read about it months before we visit, it sounds interesting, and then I forget the details. So, we arrived without much of a plan, other than to stroll around the waterfront boulevard and just enjoy the views. I knew that it was a bit of a tourist town, but I didn’t realise just how much of a theme park the place was going to feel. Look at the main hotel in town. Just look at it! Bask in the splendour of its technicolour glory and kitsch charm. I think this sets a very good idea of what to expect from Listvyanka.
But, the main attraction of Listvyanka, like all Baikal resort towns, is Lake Baikal itself. At least it should be. There is a long stretch of pebble beach, which sadly was missing a connection to the beautiful nature that it should have. Even if you can ignore the garish hotels, the speedboats, hovercrafts and jetskis, the picnic shacks, and the food and alcohol vendors with your eyes (which is possible if you look straight out to the water), you would also have to ignore the music blasting from docked cruise ships with your ears, too. It’s still beautiful, but it’s not serene. It’s commercial and it’s hollow. And we were there in the off-season – I can only imagine what it would be like during the peak of summer…
Still, rather than bemoaning the state of things, we embraced it (well, as much as we could). We decided to feast on all the food that was on offer, and to wash it down with cheap booze. And to do it while relaxing on the pebbly shores of the World’s Largest Freshwater Lake.
We ate omul (smoked Baikal salmon) fresh from a babushka’s smoking oven (not sure if the giant log mansion was funded from the sale of these fish, and if so, maybe a stall would be a wise investment). Walking through the backstreets at the far end of town, every other house had a smoker cooking omul, as well as several varieties of dried fish for sale. Even in town there was a marketplace selling all sorts of souvenirs, as well as several alleys of babushkas selling omul and dried fish – you couldn’t escape it. But, Risa loved it, and at 100r ($2.50) it didn’t cost much to keep her happy and fed.
That’s the food covered. Risa bought a cheap bottle of Russian vodka (to drink on the train, actually, but we never got around to it) that was infused with strawberry and chilli (at least that’s my interpretation of the illustration on the bottle). She had four or five respectable swigs on it, and decided it wasn’t worth finishing. I had but a fraction of a cap and came to the same conclusion. I did however find quite a nice beer, the Baltika 7 (not sure what the difference between the 3, the 5 and the 7, as it’s not the alcohol content).
And you know what, we had a really, really good day. Sure, the sunshine and the food and alcohol probably played a large part, but it was just nice to relax together, in the sunshine – even if my pale white skin didn’t enjoy it quite so much.
For all the warmth of the sunshine, it wasn’t close to being warm enough to venture much further than ankle deep into those icy waters. People may have been sunbathing in their swim wear, but I promise you I didn’t see a single brave soul actually swimming!
All the sun, food and alcohol contributed to an early night, which is hard when the sun isn’t setting until close to 9PM. And, you would think with an early night would come an early start – nope. We finally left the hotel around 10AM, walked to the bus station (if you can call where the minibuses park a bus station), paid the extremely rotund driver 120r ($3) each for a ticket, plus a questionable further 30r ($0.75) each for our baggage, and hopped aboard the surprisingly new and clean minibus for the one-hour journey to Irkutsk.