September 27, 2012

Lake Baikal at Bolshoe Goloustnoe, Russia

Our arrival in Irkutsk was greeted with absolute relief. The last morning on the first stage of our Trans Siberian journey we were up early, packed, eaten, enjoying the last of looking out the window for a while and watching the clock with eager anticipation. Each tick of the clock, each passing power pole took us closer to Irkutsk, and closer to getting off the train! Not that we didn’t like it of course, but it was time for a break from the rocking, and time to get some fresh air and more space.

The first thing we did in Irkutsk was visit the bank and the toilets. Conveniently the state bank (I think) provided both, with the toilet being the cleanest, biggest, brightest and best toilet of the whole trip! It was that good!

Bolshoe Goloustnoe Village

Bolshoe Goloustnoe, or sometimes spelt Bolshoye Goloustnoye, is our destination, deep in Siberia in the south east of Russia. It’s found on the western shores of Lake Baikal, the deepest lake in the world, and slightly south east of Irkutsk, about a 2 hour drive away (see it on google maps here.

The trip out to Bolshoe Goloustnoe is really scenic. However as good as it was, unusually I slept most of the way there. Must’ve been the early rise to get off the train – figured though I could enjoy the scenery on the way back.

Small and delicate wildflowers

We arrived at our homestay, where we had a delicious home made lunch waiting for us and found out that we were the first ones to stay in the new rooms that had just been built. That afternoon our host Eugene took us on a tour of the village. The village itself is on a flat plain next to the shores of Lake Baikal, in a bay area, and surrounded by steep hills where the top half of the hills are covered in pine trees and the bottom half covered in grass and wildflowers. Climbing even part way up these hills rewards you with amazing views of the surrounding area and lake. Interrupting the view are a couple of mobile phone towers – good for the villagers because until they arrived they had no phones at all, but bad for the landscape as you have these huge towers drawing attention to themselves and interrupting the view. I arrived there on the 18th July (yeah, I’m a bit behind on my blog), the middle of summer, where temperatures are low 20’s, but the breeze (wind) off the lake makes that a lot cooler. In winter it drops well below zero, I forget exactly how far, but we’re talking around – 30 to -40. However because of the wind from the lake, there’s not much snow. I’m not quite sure what “not much snow” means in Siberia, because I’m pretty sure that their description of “not much snow” would be vastly different to my description of “not much snow”.

Bolshoe Goloustnoe Russian Orthodox Church

The village is almost like it has been frozen in a time period about 50 years ago. The houses, cars motorbikes and way of life come from an era where life was much simpler. But there are signs the village is about to change – for better or worse, with quite a few new buildings, some other new ones going up and camping grounds that can hold group camps and functions at either end of the village, all designed to bring in more tourists. There is the odd modern car barging down the old streets and a younger generation bringing with it new ways of doing things. The catholic church, on the shore of the Lake, is relatively new after the old one was destroyed in 1995 by fire, part way through being restored. Speaking of fire, I didn’t notice a fire station there, but who knows whether having a fire truck there would’ve been of any use anyway – despite being next to an abundance of water. Come to think of it, no ambulance there either, although there was a doctor, but we did see a rather old police car winding its way down the street past the geese, cattle, goats, sheep and old motorbikes and sidecars.

Cold feet! Lake Baikal

Our village tour continued past the shores of the lake, where some brave souls decided a walk in the water was a good idea. The water was roughly 10 degrees, so they didn’t stay in too long. Despite the exceptionally cold water, someone bravely declared that they were going to go swimming in the lake the next day. Stay tuned for that story…

Our tour of the village ended at the local store, two doors down from our accommodation. To our delight, prices here were much cheaper than the bigger cities, meaning of course that we got far more ice cream for our rouble than before!

The banya outer courts

Deep in the heart of Sibera, what kind of day would be complete without the traditional Russian banya? The banya is basically a sauna, so hot that you’ll struggle for breath when you first walk in and so hot that you’ll come out sweating, (but clean) and appreciating the cool lake breeze even more than before. There is some extremely hot water in one bucket heated by the boiler and cold water in another. Mix up some water to have a wash in and pour the cold water over yourself to finish. Then you have some birch leaves to whack yourself with which are supposed to do something good for you and to cap it off you’re meant to run outside half way through and tip some freezing cold water over you to help the process. All while naked. Needless to say most of us didn’t quite do it the traditional way, leaving out a few key elements! But, seeing as that was as close as we’d get to a shower for the next few days, we made the most of it! Perhaps you’ll get a more accurate description of a Russian banya here!

Oops, a little accident while milking the cow! The plan is to get it in the bucket, not over yourself!

That evening, after some of the others milked the cow and fed the animals, we sat down to another home cooked meal and another opportunity to enjoy the local hospitality. The night was finished off with some music, being entertained by some traditional Russian songs on the guitar and keyboard. Later that night, after most people had left, Ev and I were talking with Eugene and his wife. That conversation led to what was the highlight of my time away, an impromptu time of worship, where Eugene was on the guitar playing the well known song Here I am to worship, him singing in Russian and me in English. Amazing presence of God, providing a moment in time that seemed to last forever.

Lake Baikal Panorama from Bolshoe Goloustnoe hills

The cool crisp breeze off the lake, the amazing view and friendly people had made the 90 hour train journey seem like a distant memory, but yet bringing with it a greater respect for the train that manages to connect people in such a vast continent and a journey that enabled us to arrive at a place that would become one of the highlights of the trip.

September 16, 2012

The Mighty Fighting Bulls

Headed down to the State Hockey Center yesterday to watch the Baw Baw Bulls take on the Central Vic Blazers in the State League 4 grand final.

Baw Baw were all over CV in the first 15 minutes – they barely got a touch on the ball and when they did it was hurried over the sidelines in defence. With pressure like that it was inevitable that Baw Baw were going to crack the CV defence sooner rather than later. They did that soon enough with a couple of early goals.

The goalie for CV certainly kept them in the game, Baw Baw just kept firing it at them. Credit to the Blazers though, they did manage to put the Baw Baw defence under pressure a few times in the first half, with the Baw Baw goalie also being called upon to make a few good saves.

After half time the Blazers scored an early goal, before Baw Baw ran away with the match to win 5 – 1. Perhaps I’m biased, but I think the Blazers were lucky not to lose by more, Baw Baw had plenty of opportunities, but the goalie made plenty more good saves.

So, CV were outplayed on the pitch, out scored on the scoreboard and out yelled by the Baw Baw crowd. Guess we had a bit to cheer about – plus there was more of us!

Congrats to Baw Baw. To go undefeated through the season is excellent and to follow that up with a win in the grand final is the icing on the cake!

Here’s some pics of the action. Quite funny some of the looks on the faces of the players!

Blog at