Not exactly the weather we were thinking of when we planned to camp tonight at the southern shore of Lake Baikal! We got up this morning in Irkutsk to find it had snowed overnight. Spring in Siberia!
We left the excellent Szvezda Hotel to begin the journey to Lake Baikal. Whilst I was parked outside a nearby supermarket, warming up the engine whilst Klaus was inside buying supplies, a young Russian guy approached the Defender to ask where we were going. He spoke very good English, so I explained where we had been and where we were going. He told me he had recently driven through Mongolia himself and was interested in our journey. After a chat, he left but returned a few minutes later to tell me that if we needed accommodation in Irkutsk, we could stay with him at his home! What a wonderful gesture to total strangers. I thanked him for his offer but explained that we were leaving Irkutsk in a few minutes.
As we drove along the M22 highway towards Lake Baikal, we got into the higher elevations and were surprised by how much snow was on the ground and the trees. Everywhere looked like a scene from a Christmas card. And it was cold. We agreed that we wouldn’t be camping in this weather.
After a couple of hours, we reached the shore of Lake Baikal, the deepest lake in the world. It’s so vast that it was like looking out on an ocean. Rather than try to find a camping spot, we kept driving towards the town of Ulan Ude (454km from Irkutsk). Ulan Ude will be our last Russian city before we head to Mongolia.
Once we arrived at the city, we began the process of looking for a hotel that had secure parking and wifi. We tend to use Booking.com to filter out those hotels that don’t have parking and wifi and then begin the selection process. We decided to look for something in the budget range and the first option was a ‘hostel’ for the equivalent of $32 per night for a ‘twin room with views’. Rather than book online, we wanted to see the place first, so used the Garmin to get us there. The ‘hostel’ turned out to be a small apartment occupied by a mother and two small kids plus the granny. The place had bunk beds allover the place and the ‘twin room’ was in the process of having the walls painted. We graciously retreated from the apartment and continued the search online.
Whilst sitting in the Defender, searching online, a local guy approached the vehicle and engaged us in conversation, asking where we are going (the Defender obviously makes an impression on people)! He was a nice guy who stood by the Defender, trying to help with advice on possible hotels whilst we were doing the online searching. Another example of friendly Russians who are interested in where we are travelling to.
We visited a small hotel that was in the $50 range. Nice and clean but they only had two vacant rooms, both with double beds. No twin rooms. So we kept looking.
The third hotel was the larger Buryatia Hotel where we made a reservation. What a shambles! I’ll post another entry showing pics of this terrible hotel.