We've embraced the 'Slow' philosophy as a way of life - what's the hurry?. Taking time to smell the roses (usually on a glass of Viognier) is more our style. Having spent more then 3 years on the road, slow travel has become a way of life. We have revised our plans completely and now focus on quality, not quantity, slowly.
We finally got our Mongolian visa – but only after some hard
work. We left Barnaul early on Tuesday morning, realising that the Embassy in
Irkutsk may close for a few days over the Naadam festival and we’d better get
there Thursday morning.
And we were right. We arrived at 11.30am Thursday after 28
hours of hard, miserable driving across Siberia (and bad food) to find that the
Embassy would close at 1pm on Friday for more than a week. We had to pay 70US
dollars each for fast processing and then return on Friday to collect visas. No
same day processing here. One hour later and we wouldn’t have made it.
We were exhausted and made our way to Lake Baikal and a
quirky, rustic campsite at Listvyanka for a lazy weekend.
The concept of customer service hasn’t reached rural Siberia
yet. Fat, surly waitresses, sporting bad haircuts and ill-chosen outfits glower
at you if you order something unusual like tea without sugar. They all look as though they’ve just lost a
favourite family pet and you were partly responsible for its demise.
I’ve been slowly learning to read Cyrillic script and have
learnt all the essentials such as Bar, Café, Beer, Wine etc. The alphabet has
an extravagant excess of letters and a ridiculous amount of unpronounceable
vowels. So many of the words are ridiculously long and I imagine what size
their Scrabble boards must be. I struggle to pronounce a town name and find it
on the map only to find we’ve left that town and are approaching another, and
the process starts again.
Lawrence’s Russian is coming along quite well, so mostly I
just smile and nod.
We spent about a week around Lake Baikal, starting with
Listvyanka. We liked our rustic campsite (got all our washing done) but the town
can best be described as ‘low-rent tacky tourist resort’. Not our cup of tea,
but the weather was fine.
We headed to the southern shore but the weather turned and
it was cold and windy. Heading north up the eastern side of the lake, we had
cold, fog, drizzle, grey. We camped in an area that is meant to be one of the
most spectacular, but we couldn’t see a thing. Next day we went a bit further
south and got half an hour of sunshine, then the cloud and mist came rolling
Mostly what Lake Baikal looked like
A moment of sunshine
We gave up and are now in Ulan-Ude for showers and
hair-washing before heading to Mongolia first thing.
We’ve just met an Aussie couple who have been travelling for
EIGHT years on a motorbike – makes us look like wannabees.
Tips for Travellers
No same-day visas for Mongolia in Irkutsk, but there is in
Ulan-Ude. We had to pay 70 Us dollars for 24 hour processing (30 US dollars for
3 day processing). You need to go the bank to pay the fee but they don’t take
US dollars. Use the exchange rate of the day in roubles.
The road from Barnaul to Irkutsk is variable but a lot is
terrible. However the road is being rebuilt, so in about 2 years time, it’ll be