Winter trip to Lake Baikal has been my dream since many years. Icy, pristine waters of the deepest lake in the world, ice caves and wild taiga are the kind of beauty that is hard to find anywhere else in the world. And finally, Russia - the mysterious country that quite too often evokes only severe winters, vodka and communism, while there is so much more to discover than this kind of clichés. All this was a promise of an unique adventure, as I've always wanted to explore Russia and at the same time go off the beaten track, leaving behind such destinations as Moscow or Saint Petersburg.
It is quite impossible to get to Lake Baikal, without spending at least one day in Irkutsk. Located on the Angara river (the only river that has its origin in the lake Baikal), the city is a mandatory stop before every trip to the lake. It's a perfect stopover between Sayan mountains and Baikal as well. Few travelers spend more than 2 days in Irkutsk, which is a pity, because it's definitely worth a longer stay.
Irkutsk surprises. Those who expect to see a grey and depressive Siberian city may rub their eyes in amazement. Irkutsk turns out to be very colorful and lively. Glittering snow and sunshine add an energetic vibe to it. In the evenings the city is teeming with life and it can boast with more than 200 different bars and pubs.
Accompanied by Vlad and Tolya from Visit Irkutsk tourist board Team, I was pretty lucky to discover the very best of the best places to eat and chill. There are way too many of them to mention all, but still some of those places clearly stand out from the mass. Like for example Rassolnik restaurant, quite renowned for its unique, post-soviet era vibes.
I can hardly imagine a better place to enjoy one of my favorite soups, borscht. The menu literally filled with traditional, Russian delicacies, it's pretty hard to make the choice as you might feel the sudden urge to taste everything. All this, together with exceptional decoration, made me feel like being in the house of my Russian grandma that I've never had.
However, the most of the time was definitely spent in BBB Brasserie - an ideal place to grab a delicious breakfast and go through some editing work in the morning. Whereas in the evening, a great occasion to enjoy a large variety of excellent Belgian beers and the nice company of the owner - Benoit. Not to mention a little pelmeni competition that he organized for us, yummy!
BBB was far and away my favorite place to take a little rest during the exploration of Irkutsk. And believe me, there's helluva incredible stuff to discover. Check those gingerbread-like, lovely houses:
At first glace the city may seem a bit neglected and muddy (yup, I'm pretty convinced that some of the puddles in the city center might have the depth of the Baikal lake ;). Many buildings are in poor shape, sometimes literally falling apart. Nevertheless, more you wander around Irkutsk, more you realize the quite impressive number of true architectural gems that the city is full of. Whether freshly renovated and in good condition or slightly decayed, many houses delight with their unique, wooden architecture and colors.
A few days in Irkutsk were enough for me to fall in love with all those colorful shutters and intricately cut wood. Architectural details looking like the finest, delicate lace left me speechless. Siberian baroque found in Irkutsk is a true treasure trove of architectural beads and I couldn't have been more surprised and amazed to find so many of them in the heart of Siberia.
Nice, sunny days in Irkutsk were a perfect lil' pause in the middle of our Siberian adventure. A well deserved rest in-between hiking in Sayan mountains and getting on the Baikal ice. Next week's post will be all about nature, snow and ice. Stay tuned :)