If you had one week to spend somewhere away from the cold winter in Paris, where would you go? Probably, most of you, wouldjetting off to a tropical island, drowning in margaritas, burying your feet in the sand and basking in the sun. But NOT my friend Veronica and her husband. They went someplace where most of us (yes, including me) won’t dare go in wintertime.
Here, as a guest blogger, she shares her experiences in one of the coldest places on earth—Baikal Lake in Siberia, Russia.
My husband and I decided to escape the routine and visit Siberia during a week for New Year ’s Eve. For us, it was one of the most intriguing land to visit in the world. Being in Listvyanka, Siberia was an experience full of stunning landscapes, amazing people and delightful food.
The Baikal has been inhabited by the Mongols, Buryats and then the Russians. It’s here where the presence of three religions: Christianity (Orthodox churches) Buddhism (temples and prayer flags) and Shamanism (Shaman Rock and Olkhon Island) are practiced freely and harmoniously until today. While there’s religious diversity, we didn’t find multicultural families living there.
Lake Baikal is a well-known spot for Russians during winter. It has enough beauty to offer to all visitors year round, no matter what season it is. Since foreign tourists are rare here, we had a blast immersing with the local culture by using our non-verbal communication skills. We had fun ordering and eating all the local food that was recommended to us in various restaurants. Contrary to what we heard, locals are very nice and helpful–we never felt lost.
In Listvyanka, the most popular place in Baikal Lake, we gawked at Siberian architecture. We spent trekking across the beautiful Siberian Taiga Forest where we had dog-sledding. We loved eating Omul, a traditional smoked fish, and we climbed Mt. Chersky.
In the evening, we dipped ourselves into Banya, a Russian sauna, before we had a delicious dinner. Feel like jumping into the freezing Baikal Lake? Go ahead, it’s your choice!
Surrounded by snowcapped mountains, Lake Baikal offers a sightseeing of unmatched beauty. It is the world’s oldest and deepest freshwater lake and has the highest level of biodiversity, including the Nerpa seal. When it freezes completely (end of January), you can cross it by car and visit its inhabited islands. You will feel overwhelmed by the greatness of this lake while staring at the gold sky in sunset, sharing a glass of vodka with the locals, saving the best for last.
Visiting Baikal also means taking at least one part of the famous Trans Siberian railway. We took the Circumbaikal railway — and that one-day experience on the train was worthwile. Circumbaikal railway starts in Kultuk village and ends in Port Baikal.
The railroad was named “the Golden Buckle of the Great Siberian Trail“ because it connected the Trans Siberian railway and because it was expensive at that time. It was closed for several years and recently opened for local transport and tourism. Taking this route allowed us to have a glance of the striking geography of the region.
Do not think Baikal region is a cold place all year round. Owing to the influence of its water mass, winter at Lake Baikal is milder and the summers are cooler than the rest of Siberia. In winter, on the coast and in the surrounding mountains, there is more snow and low winter temperatures are easily survived because of the dry air.
For all this, Lake Baikal is worth seeing at least once in a life time.
Merci, Veronica for sharing your photos and memories.