Leaving Lake Baikal and Irkutsk 

It took ages to get to sleep last night. I was praying it wasn’t the jet lag (or time-difference lag) but neither me or Tom could get to sleep. I also found out in the morning the other two couldn’t fall asleep either. Maybe it was because we all tried to go to bed at about half eight? Anyway, eventually I fell asleep and was grogily aware of my Tom getting up and about, going out for smokes – he’s not putting his rune to use until we get home apparently – until he too feel asleep just after midnight. This morning it was snowing really heavily when we went down for breakfast, this made me very happy. I just love the snow! Every year I hope for a white Christmas but this obviously never happens in England. The last time it snowed properly was about three years ago.

Tom and I had decided we were going to spend our last morning at Lake Baikal doing the dog sledding – yay! I was sad that we didn’t do it yesterday and felt we should really be making the most of the activities and stuff, I mean, how often do you come to Siberia?! We went off with Ksenia to the dog sledding place and they set the sleighs up for us. The dogs are so cute! They aren’t huskys as most people think, these dogs are bred with wolves so they are more slender and not quite as fluffy. Their fur was so soft to the touch though, they had lovely temperaments and enjoyed getting some fuss. 

They only allow one person to sit on the sleigh at a time and they have a member of their team steering the sleigh by standing on the back. I went first, of course. Ladies first and all that. I sat down and whoosh the dogs were off! There were eight of them pulling me along, they weren’t super fast but the snow was blowing into my face, so I had to pull my scarf up to my eyes. I kept signalling to he man to make them go faster which made him laugh – not sure why – but we were going uphill so maybe I was a bit heavy? Anyway, the dogs then took a sharp right around a bend and went tearing down a slope super fast! I was loving it, it was so much fun! They chilled the pace a bit as we reached the end of the route, one tried to have a poop as he was running but he was at the front so I didn’t get any back spray, thank god. It was Tom’s go after me and he loved it too, although he said they didn’t go that fast but I said it was probably because he’s a lot heavier than me. Poor doggys. 

I do genuinely think the dogs are well looked after, I know a lot of people are sceptical about this. They each have their own little house outside and although they’re chained up on about a three metre chain, I guess they’d run away or fight if they were all set loose. They feed them on Royal Canin too! A really expensive dog food. 

After a quick stop at the pastry shop on the way back for Tom to stock up for our train journey, we headed back to the hotel to pay our debts and get our minibus to Irkutsk city. We ended up paying a small fortune to the hotel! Each of us (all four of us) had to pay 3150 rubles; 600 each night for dinner (1200 – the dinners were nice but I really don’t think they were worth 600 rubles), 300 each morning for breakfast (900), 300 for laundry (which was totally worth it), 650 for the banya (which was okay, it was a good experience but a little pricey) and 100 for the internet (which we could barely get in our rooms). This definitely makes Lake Baikal the most expensive place we’ve stayed. I’m a little disappointed with some things (the rooms running out of hot water, the evening meals weren’t amazing, we could have eaten for a lot cheaper elsewhere) and feel as though we have paid over the odds. Again, maybe it is because we’re out of season that the hotels put their prices up? I’m not sure. The hotel and the staff were lovely though, I cannot fault that.

Moving on! Our taxi dropped us in Irkutsk city where Ksenia took us to a great little shashlick cafe for lunch, the food was fresh, tasty and cheap. We then did a little souvenir shopping, (after trekking across Irkutsk at 50mph, Ksenia walks so fast, I was actually sweating in -6). I bought a Russian doll, she is beautiful but I am still dreaming about the one from Moscow. WHY DIDN’T I JUST BUY IT THERE?! I also bought my grandma a Russian doll magnet and myself a little Russian doll key ring. Now I’m all Russian dolled out.

Ksenia then took us on a little walking (or power walking) tour of Irkutsk which was lovely, the sun was setting across the river and she had so much knowledge about the history of the city, it was really interesting to hear about it. She then took us to ‘The London Pub’ for dinner which made me LOL. To be fair, they’d got the decor pretty accurate for a British pub but it was far too clean and posh. There wasn’t any beer-soaked-carpet smell. I had pizza, I have been craving pizza for a week! It was delicious and I have left overs with me for our train journey. We then went to the supermarket to buy food for the train, we love doing this. Ksenia then waved us off on our two night train journey to Ulaanbaatar.

Our train carriage is so posh. It’s bigger and so much more hi-tech than the last one. We have cupboards above our beds and a window that opens. It actually opens! No more forty degree stifling heat at night! We can open a window and breathe the fresh air! All of us were so happy about this. So happy. We have enjoyed a bottle of prosecco and some salted pretzels and now await the border crossing into Mongolia tomorrow. I’m hoping we don’t go around the edge of Lake Baikal tonight as we won’t get to see the stunning scenery but I have a sneaky suspicion this will be the case. We’ll see. My Tom is happy because the beds are longer on this train, the cabin in general is bigger. We’re travelling in style.