My trip from Ulan Ude to Irkutsk was only about eight hours long, all daylight, going by Lake Baikal and what is probably the most scenic section of the entire trip.
I don’t know what it was – possibly the human contact that I’d enjoyed over the prior 24 hours – but pretty much everything went smoothly and I was back to enjoying my trip thoroughly.
My compartment- mate was again an older lady, one who seemed to be moving her household and a small garden. I walked in to see a host of green cuttings and various plants (I recognized the African violets!) on the table between the beds. It was lush and welcoming. Then I realized that there were also plants up in the upper bunk luggage compartment, along with bags there and under both her and my bunk. Luckily my backpack fit in the little remaining space.
This nice lady only spoke Russian, but unlike some of the others, she didn’t let this deter her, and she continued chatting away to me in Russian, some of which I understood.
She was doing embroidery and I noticed a lovely crocheted or knitted shawl on her bunk, so I asked her (trying to sign knitting) whether she had made it. She hadn’t, but she did show me her knitting project and then showed me photos of her other impressive projects. It was entertaining to see her scroll through photos, because she had to use the side of her finger due to her long artificial nails. Apparently Russian women take their nails seriously! (I heard it said that a Russian bride will match her groom’s tie to her nail polish.)
The scenery was gorgeous as advertised, especially once we got mountain scenery and not just the lake. Without the mountains, the lake is a white expanse of frozen water as far as the eye can see, not terribly exciting. Along the edge of lake were chunks of ice, some wrapped in a blanket of snow looking like little igloos. Then we hit the area with mountains and it was almost like being in Switzerland (though the mountains aren’t as tall). It was breathtaking. Unfortunately, after half an hour of staring at gorgeous mountains, I drifted off. (Remember, no guilt on this trip, and no sleep in hostels either.)
I arrived at the Irkutsk train station and easily found the bus one of the American students had mentioned. I took it for two stops, got off, and found my hotel right across the street. Finally, a painless arrival in a Russian city! I was staying at the Courtyard Marriott, and while in some ways I feel like a spoiled American (it could have been in any US city, no Russian atmosphere at all), I reveled in it. I had American style service (helpful, in English, with a smile), a large comfy bed, no roommates, and my own bathroom! Oh yes, and a toilet I could flush. After the train and the hostel, it was amazing to get good nights’ sleep for the four nights I was there.