How I didn't Spend My Summer in Russia
By Linda Lippner
Lately, I have been feeling a lot of pressure to “get up and go” out of Moscow to see the rest of the country. Ok, so I have taken some trips around the local countryside and St. Petersburg is my 2nd Russian home, but what about that vast area east of the Urals? The unknown territory called Siberia and then on to the Pacific Coast of Russia. And of course, the more tropical regions down in the Ukrainian Crimea and the Russian Black Sea resort area which I just have to see one of these days. Vladivostok calls to me since I hear that it has a wonderful setting along the Pacific Coast and just the thought of traveling 8 time zones across one country would be a trippy thing to do.
And Lake Baikal; that watery gem of great geological and ecological value - and I haven’t seen it! Does this matter? Perhaps because the more energetic of my friends have now hiked the edges of the lake, and the idea of going there is beckoning to me. A lake that may be 5 miles deep if you count the sediment that has been piling up for millions of years at the bottom, one of the largest repositories of water in the world, and strange and unusual flora and fauna in an ecosystem all of its own. There is only one big city, Irkutsk, to remind you that 20th century cities in Russia can be a little grim for a holiday. My friends hardly saw Irkutsk, though, as they spent their vacation in the wild. But not too wild since they saw no bears, deer, seals or otherwise exotic wildlife. In fact, they reported they saw little wildlife at all; even birds, which they thought was very unusual for such an isolated place.
But traveling to Lake Baikal or parts further east or south can be a challenge. The Trans Siberian railway or Aeroflot can get me to Irkutsk, but can I rent a car so that I can travel around the lake? I think not, since no roads go around the lake. And down to the Crimea? I can take a train but be sure to have your papers in order to get across the border since Ukraine now owns the Crimea. I might fly down to Sochi, but try to get a room at a hotel down there – the summer season has been booked for weeks. If Russia is lucky, Sochi will win the location for the Winter Olympics and any trip to Sochi will have you dodging construction cranes, installation of snow blowers on the mountain slopes, and higher prices in the restaurants. But perhaps there will be a few more hotel rooms to choose from in the summer once the Olympic hoopla is over.
So once again, I will travel up to St. Petersburg for a quick weekend away from Moscow to look at the beautiful buildings, walk along the Neva River and visit a few museums. Familiar, easy to get to, and lots of shopping.