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The Legend of Baikal

I arrived in Irkutsk last night, after another 30 odd hours on the train from Novosibirsk. The countryside is getting bigger (if you see what I mean), small forests of silver birches giving way to grand vistas of rolling pine clad hills, interspersed with some of the biggest rivers I have ever seen – the Ob and the Angara. The railway now also has to weave its way around the hills, offering a great view of the train, see the video attached to this post. Arriving in Irkutsk, I was struck how Asian the place felt, almost an Indian feel. My hotel, the Legend of Baikal, lay 60km to the south, on the banks of the Lake itself.

And what a Legend it is. My room looks to have been furnished from Red Army surplus stock, stock indeed that appears to have gone through Stalingrad. The room is barely big enough to swing a cat, and said cat would also have had to endure the siege of Stalingrad to allow it to be swung with any sort of abandon. Still, the food is fine, the coffee excellent and the views breathtaking.

The hotel is situated right at the mouth of the huge Angara river as it flows out of the Lake (how cool is that?). In the early morning (I did manage to struggle out of bed at a reasonable time – I am finding keeping up with the endlessly changing clocks a bit difficult) misty clouds cling to the water and hillsides like old dusty cobwebs, and the lake looks silky and inviting. Still, given the temperature (c.4 degrees C) I managed to contain my excitement, for fear of my danglyskii becoming even more inconsequential than usual.

I decided that I would run along the lakeside for a bit as the best way to “get” it. I decided not try to run round it, as I am not “there” with my training at the moment (as my waif-like friends from WADAC would say). Oh, and the fact that the Lake has a surface area of over 39,000 square km. Maybe a few more sessions on the treadmill. As I puff along the shore I am greeted with a mixture of astonishment and a bit of alarm by the natives in their obligatory marble wash jeans (do they wash them by beating them on the rocks at the lakeshore?), until I realise anyone usually coming up behind them breathing so heavily has either slightly dodgy intentions or is running away from a bear. Still, I am obviously foreign, so all fine as far as they are concerned (they all assume that I am German, on account of my blond (?) hair – still, there have been more of them in Russia than Brits in the past, I suppose. I keep my usual rather limp joke about ginger people being part of the master race to myself, for obvious reasons).

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