Saturday, December 16, 2006

A Wonderful Weekend

I had two goals for this weekend:

1. Study for my morphology exam that I’m supposed to take tomorrow (not yet achieved)

2. Do as much as possible to make this last weekend in Irkutsk a memorable one.

In retrospect, these two goals don’t really seem to work that well together. Stay home and study AND go out and play? No worries though – my plan is to spend the rest of this afternoon studying (because we all know that I ALWAYS study for tests – wink wink).

On Friday I went to the bus station and bought a ticket to Listvyanka. I needed to make one last trip to Lake Baikal before leaving here – there’s no telling when I’ll be able to make my way back. I really wish that I could have gone to Olkhon Island at least once (it’s the biggest island on the biggest lake in the world), but things conspired to make that quite impossible (namely – that stupid Saturday class that I had for a few weeks robbed me of the good weekends and made me miss all the trips that my friends made together).

Before heading out on this adventure, I went to the movies with a some friends – Karolien, Yoosi, and Bea. We saw the new Mel Gibson move about the Maya. Bloody, but I liked it. Of course, I think that’s because I took that Mayan Art class last semester at the DMA – so seeing it “live” was pretty awesome, even if that did include death, dismemberment, and decapitation. At least I didn’t get sick like I almost did in Passion of the Christ. The cool think about it was the language – because the he used to the Mayan language with subtitles, the Russian theatre actually did SUBTITLES instead of dubbing. Maybe they realized that dubbing the ancient Maya into Russian would have looked really stupid. But I’m proud of myself – I understood the plot and what was going on the whole movie – without word of English in sight :-D.

From there it was to bed – had to get some rest for Saturday’s adventure.

I tried to get a bunch of people to go with me to Listvyanka, but Adam was the only other one who actually did – he’s also leaving this week, so he wanted to say goodbye to the lake too I guess. We got there at about noon, after a few nice conversations with the old ladies on the marshrutka. Listvyanka isn’t a very big place – it’s strung out along the banks of the lake, around the point where the Angara River (which runs through Irkutsk) leaves Baikal behind. There’s a legend that says that Angara was actually the daughter of Baikal, and she decided to run away to her lover, the Yenisye River. In anger, Father Baikal threw the largest stone he could find to try to stop her – but she kept on flowing. You can still see the stone – all good little tourists must.

I was surprised at the lack of ice on the water itself. The lake freezes over completely each year – the ice is even thick enough in some parts to drive trucks across it. Before they had the technology to go through the mountains, the transsiberian railroad used to go ACROSS the lake in the winter time, with the tracks across the ice. So I’m told at least – that could be crap.

The banks in Listvyanka are frozen but the lake is not. Right next to the bus station they’ve just completed an ice fortress – complete with an ice church and a huge slide (which I couldn’t help but notice looks a lot like the one that is almost done on the main square back in Irkutsk). Did I mention that I love the ice castles? Well let me say it one more time – they’re AWESOME! And the slide was so much fun. I spent a whopping 50 rubles ($1.75) on a Sanka Legyanka – a little plastic sheet made for little kids to go sliding down hills on (kind of like going down a frozen driveway on a cardboard box, except it doesn’t get wet and fall apart – and it’s got a handle). I couldn’t resist the urge to buy a bottle of coke and do a polar bear commercial style pose on the slide – I went down on me stomach than took a big refreshing gulp. I thought it was funny – the locals thought I was crazy. But sometimes we all need to do silly little tourist things like this.

We couldn’t have asked for better weather. Listvyanka is usually quite winding (for the same reason that Chicago is), but Saturday’s winds were minimal. The sun was out and the temperature was great – only about -10˚C (at this point, I rejoice when it’s that warm). We spent most of the day walking around, going to the souvenir market and playing in the ice and snow.

Irkutsk hasn’t had fresh snow in about two weeks (at least not a noticeable amount). The snow that’s on the ground now is really getting dirty. Hopefully it will snow again before I leave – I need to get all my snow-playing energy used up before I go back to the land of winterlessness.

We also ate lunch in a little café a ways down the bank. It was seriously the nicest café I’ve been to in Russia – it almost reminded me of being in a ski lodge somewhere up in Colorado. It was nicely decorated and had decent food. Even so, it was not much more than the average Russian café as far as prices go – I had blini with jam, “beefshteaks” (not a steak, but a meat blob) with rice, soup, and a cup of tea for about $4.50. An equivalent meal in a restaurant like this in America would probably have cost about 3 or 4 times that. Food is definitely not my major expensive here.

After a late lunch (by that point it was already about 4.30, we walked back down the bank to the ice castle to watch the sunset. It’s definitely getting close to the shortest day of the year (it’s this Thursday in fact if I remember correctly – I will spend it on a plane then hang out on Red Square that night). The sun was down by about 5. What a beautiful sunset. The lake is surrounded by mountains, and you can see the ones clear on the other side. The air is almost as clean as the water. Once the sun hid behind the mountains, the clouds overhead turned orange and then bright pink – and all this was reflected on the surface of the lake. My God – it was another one of those moments when I really wish I could take a picture that would do it justice. Even if I had had my tripod, I’m not sure that I could ever recreate that – it just one of those things where you have to be there.

Once the sun went down, we had about an hour to kill before the bus back to Irkutsk. So what did I do? Slide so more of course! The ice slides are so much fun – I’m definitely going to miss them when I get back home. I could only convince Adam to go down once (I think he’s afraid of heights or something). But I went down over and over again.

It was hard to stay awake on the drive home – it’s about an hour on the road to get back. But I called one of my Belgian friends, and found out that a bunch of them were planning to go ice skating that even. Adam had never been before – ever. So we took him with us and had a great time. We stayed until the place closed. I almost got locked out of the dorm (we had to wait 20 minutes for the bus to take us back to the dorms). By the time I finally made it to my bed, muscles aching and smiling ear to ear, I was sure that I had fulfilled that second goal.

Now I just have to do something about that first one…

(I'll try to get the pictures up before I leave but no promises - I'm really busy this week and it might have to wait until I'm stuck in Moscow. My hostel has free internet anyway :-D).

No comments: