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During my semester in Russia my friend and I embarked on a journey not for the faint hearted: a
return train trip from Yaroslavl to Lake Baikal. Due to booking all of our tickets last minute we ended
up with a less than ideal 4.40am train from Yaroslavl, but, after getting up at an unearthly hour and
reassuring my host multiple times that we would phone her as soon as we got on the train, we were
on our way. Try to imagine sharing a rather cramped, stuffy carriage with around 50 other people, most of whom
will snore incredibly loudly for the vast majority of the day, and you get an idea as to what we
experienced during our journeys. That isn’t to say it’s all bad, though. After spending a few nights
travelling we missed the rocking of the train, the conversations in broken Russian with fellow
travellers, and enviously eyeing up everyone else’s incredible packed dinners whilst eating biscuits
and a squashed banana, for every single meal.
The first stop of our trip was Tyumen, and, after accidently getting into a ‘taxi’, which turned out to
not actually be a taxi, but rather a random car, and trying to find a hostel which nobody had
heard of, we enjoyed a nice and relaxing break. Next it was on to Krasnoyarsk, and a hike to Stolby
Nature Reserve . Although we’d already been injected against Tick Borne Encephalitis our tour guide
still made us tuck our trousers into our socks to stop ticks getting inside our clothes, which made for
some amusement. We were also lucky enough to visit the dacha of our guide and collect and then
drink birch sap.
Then it was on to Lake Baikal. By now we were so used to trains that the fact our journey from
Krasnoyarsk to Irkutsk would (only) take 18 hours came as a pleasant surprise! Almost immediately
after arriving in Irkutsk we were presented with the problem that we hadn’t reserved seats on the
bus which would take us from Irkutsk to Olkhon Island, the largest island on Lake Baikal. However,
after some rather frantic phone calls, not helped by the fact that we had crossed 5 time zones in as
many days, we were very fortunate in that two people who had reserved seats didn’t turn up. After
another 5 hours of travelling, and a trip across Lake Baikal, (which was still frozen), on a hovercraft,
we made it to our destination!
We were extremely lucky with the weather at Lake Baikal, and enjoyed a very pleasant Orthodox
Easter spent exploring Olkhon Island and Listvyanka (a village at a different area of the lake). On the
Easter Saturday we partook in an organised excursion and managed to learn a bit about the area
from our guide. Unfortunately the ‘roads’ on Olkhon Island left much to be desired, and I managed
to fall off my seat in the minibus, into the lap of an unsuspecting fellow tourist. We also experienced
an unseasonably cold night (it was now the second week of May) in Listvyanka, meaning that Lake
Baikal was noticeably more frozen than the previous day!
Before we knew it the time had come to head back to Yaroslavl. After a rather wet stay in
Novosibirsk, the highlight of which was the firework display for Victory Day, we enjoyed a nice and
sunny final 2 days in Yekaterinburg, visiting the Romanov death site, biking around the city, and
relaxing in its numerous parks, before finally boarding our last train.
For anyone considering such a trip I can say definitely go for it. You will almost certainly not regret
it. In addition, by the end of it, you will either love or hate trains!
By Naomi Betteley
The UoB Linguist Magazine
Guild of Students,
University of Birmingham