Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Third Time Lucky

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.
Listvyanka foreshore


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 back.
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 grand.

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