With only two nights to spend at Lake Baikal we chose Listvyanka [листвянка], as it isn’t far from Irkutsk and looked like a nice place to visit. It’s quite a small town, and it’s spread out along about a 2-3km stretch of the lake. We’d booked a room at Dauria Hotel, and although no one there spoke any English we managed to check in and settle into our room – basically an apartment above the main building, which suited us just fine.
In summer, Listvyanka is alive and happening and while we were there a little late there were still a lot of day-trippers coming from Irkutsk on the weekend. The road went right up to the lake with only a footpath separating them; in some parts the footpath formed a wall about four feet above the water and in others there was a narrow strip of ‘beach’ – usually pebbly and not too inviting. However, at the very north part of town the strip widened to maybe two metres and we saw families playing on the sand and a few couples relaxing on beach towels in their bathers. I thought they were insane to be honest. There’s no way it was warm enough for sunbathing!
Our hotel was hidden down a street about 400 metres from the main road, and it was a rather pleasant fifteen minute walk into the main part of town from there. In the small centre of town is the port, and a bunch of fishing boats were moored there. It was quite picturesque. The land beside the road most of the way along abruptly broke into rather steep hills, and little wooden houses – many undergoing renovations or repainting – squeeze into the narrow band of flat land between the road and the hills. At the northern end of the town is a market with some great little eateries, and if you can ignore the unpleasant stink of dried fish and focus on the delicious fragrance of charcoal-grilled lamb and peppers, it’s rather nice.
I’d love to go back to Lake Baikal, as it’s quite a unique lake and we hardly had any time to explore it. It’s the deepest freshwater lake in the world and is estimated to hold 20% of the world’s liquid fresh water. A number of fish and bird species are endemic to the area, and in the winter the lake freezes over. We saw pictures of people dog-sledding across the lake in the wintertime and this definitely appealed to us both!
We considered swimming in the lake, however it was just too cold for us and the water around Listvyanka didn’t look too appealing. However, Irkutsk and Listvyanka were the only places in Russia we were able to drink the tapwater without getting sick, and that’s because it’s drawn directly from the lake. It’s clean enough to drink. Maybe it was just that the water around any port is never too enticing for swimming!
There are a few things to do in Listvyanka and we didn’t do any of them. We walked almost all the way to the museum, but when faced with a hill and no real desire to see the museum aside from ‘it’s something to do’, we decided that the other direction looked more enjoyable. We didn’t make to the seal show, although we passed it – neither of us were overly interested. Listvyanka was one of those places where we just enjoyed wandering around the little dirt roads and along the lake and watched people over cups of tea. And it was lovely.