Sometimes I’m having such a great day I just feel like shouting out ‘Hallelujah!’
(Good job no-one was around to hear me say that, or I’d be re-committed to the Catholic Centre Hostel in Nagasaki).
I’ve just been for a great run through the centre of Ulan-Ude and down along the river embankment. I wouldn’t say I’m a fitness fanatic, but once in a while I have to do something physical or risk going insane. And I do thank my lucky stars everyday that I’m still able to do something, particularly after several past close encounters which involved me breaking parts of me.
I love getting out for a run when I arrive somewhere new, and also use it as a great way to explore a new city or place. However, I am now much more careful than I used to be, and make sure I research (or at least ask someone) about the route I take first to make sure I’m not running into anymore gangster slum areas, as I blindly did in Guayaquil, Ecuador, which ended up with me getting robbed at gunpoint while being bitten on the ass by possibly rabid dogs. Ha! What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, hey? But that really did teach me a valuable lesson!
As I was running by the River Uda, ‘Eye of the Tiger’ by Survivor came on my iPod, and I suddenly found the keys to a new bank of energy within and sprinted up part of the embankment. It’s amazing the power (and even the instant emotional fixing) that certain types of music can give you, and there’s not much Survivor or Bonny ‘I need a Hero’ Tyler can’t sort out; and even sometimes a bit of Abba, but don’t let anyone know I said that 😉
Ulan-Ude is a beautiful town, but that might have something to do with the brilliant sunshine that shone for most of the 3 days I was there. It would also have something to do with the generous and kind people I met there.
The city didn’t seem to be very busy I enjoyed wondering around at leisure. Just outside the hostel I said “Hello” to Lenin’s head everyday, which is largest one in the World, in Lenin Square of course.
Walking through Ulan-Ude’s ‘Arc de Triomphe’ led to the Odigitrievsky Cathedral, which during the Soviet era was used as an anti-religious museum.
In old Soviet law, freedom to practice any religious was constitutionally guaranteed, although the ruling Communist Party regarded religion as incompatible with the Marxist spirit of scientific materialism, or scientism (the belief that everything was created by natural scientists). Therefore, in practice, the Soviets discouraged religion and attempted to curb the activities of religious groups.
During my stay it was ‘International Museum Day’ where museums around the world try to raise awareness by staging events and special exhibitions. I popped into a couple, but there were hardly any English translations (so not that International). However, I was lucky enough to see a Russian Cossack Band playing outside one of them.
Russian Cossack were among the first Russians to settle this area in the 1600s, expanding the Russian empire (indigenous natives before them were always nomads).
There is a nice view from the 10th floor SkyBar if you fancy a drink while downtown.
Anyone following this in ‘real time’ would have noticed a sudden spurt of blog posts catching up to this point in time. A mixture of circumstances and procrastination had seen me fall well behind again, but here in Ulan-Ude I’ve found a comfortable hostel to sit and catch up; except for the fact that 1) I am very easily distracted, 2) there is a guitar in the hostel and 3) there is a social, good bunch of other travellers & even businessmen flowing through. One interesting entrepreneur from Hong Kong has been trying for a year to get a certificate to export Russian herbs to China.
Anna (from France) is doing a fantastic trip on her bicycle from Japan back to Paris, and as it was her birthday while I was there, so I and a couple of Dutch travellers, Yann and Christian, took her out to celebrate. Things got interesting when a group of young Russians introduced themselves and joined us at the table in the local Irish Pub. Out came the Siberian Vodka, of course, and the fun began.
Considering not many Russians speak English, it’s funny that almost all the music I hear playing on radios and in shops and bars is in English; everything from The Rolling Stones to Rihanna.
The day before I was planning to leave to Lake Baikal, the sunshine disappeared and black clouds rolled into town. It was supposed to snow later, so I decided to suspend my departure for another day, when again the sun was forecast to reappear.
Ulan-Ude to Lake Baikal
The forecast was right – it did snow a lot and in the morning my bike was covered in 5 inches of the stuff.
It didn’t look like a good day to leave the warmth and comfort of ‘Ulan-Ude Travellers House’ and head out on a 550 km (340 mile) ride to Lake Baikal in the freezing cold.
I had breakfast and considered the situation. Then the sun came out and things started to look better. The forecast to the west was more sun, so I decided to go for it.
Not surprisingly, at first it was freezing. I lost all feeling in my fingers after a few miles and resorted to riding with be hand on the cylinder block in an attempt to keep it warm, while my other one froze. I wished, yet again, that my heated grips worked.
As the day went on the sun gradually melted the snow and warmed the air up.
The road twisted through some mountains on the way to Irkutsk, presenting some nice views of the lake, but I took it easy as the road looked a little slippery in the wet and possibly ice.
There were also quite a few road works & rough, unsurfaced road, so I took the opportunity to test out my new tyre and cable-tied luggage panniers. They both performed famously.
During one fuel stop a passenger in a car behind me came up to chat. I could smell alcohol on him and yes, he turned out to be pretty drunk. He couldn’t understand why I couldn’t understand him, and so spoke slower and louder in case I was just stupid (funny how some people do that!).
As I was refuelling and looking at the pump display, I turned back around to see him light up a cigarette directly over my open fuel cap! AAAAHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I almost punched him, and quickly covered the cap with my hand. Another guy ran up and shooed him away. It took a long time for my heart-rate to reduce to under 200 bpm. That could have very easily been total disaster, and endex…
I rode straight through Irkutsk without stopping as it was getting late (and I would be coming back the other way anyway to go to Mongolia) and headed straight for a town called Listvyanka one hour to the southeast on the shore of Lake Baikal.
A busy tourist town in the summer, it was still too early in the season for most tourists and there were only another handful of people there. I parked up and wondered down onto the gravelly shore and felt the water; not surprisingly, it was freezing, having been completely covered in ice a couple of months ago.
In the winter they actually drive across the lake in trucks to get to the other side, like in the video Igor had shown me, which is much quicker than following the road along the shore.
The local delicacy here is Omul, a fresh water fish living in the lake. Locals smoke it and sell it by the side of the road, so I thought I’d better at least try one.
I’m not a huge smoked fish fan, but this was really amazing. The meat was chunky white and didn’t taste too fishy. There were a variety of market stores along the front and I ended up with a delicious picnic of Omul, bread and beef pasty things impressively cooked on the sides of a traditional clay oven.
Lake Baikal itself is pretty impressive. It is the deepest and oldest lake in the world, and also the planet’s largest freshwater body of water (by volume), containing one fifth of the world’s liquid fresh water.
I looked forward to exploring some more, and thought I’d head up to Olkhon Island 350 km to the north, which was supposed to have some of the best scenery the lake could offer.