Recapping for those italianly-challenged, our journey has taken us by train from tomsk to krasnoyarsk, where a small family hogged up most of our compartment, including placing a large plant on the only table in the room, forcing us to spend the vast majority of time with 4 belgian guys we met earlier, eating and drinking in their compartment. The next train on to irkutsk was the best one of the trip so far, as we made good friends with two russian buddhists who despite limited english and even more limited german, held lively conversation on a variety of subjects(including ways to pass the time while in the russian army) and shared all sorts of food and beverage with us. Their kindness was epitomized by their capability to somehow procure for us a russian-english dictionary, despite us being on a train that travelled by night. From irkutsk we took a shared taxi/minivan 5 hours or so north onto the island of Olkhon in the heart of Lake Baikal, which is only accessible by two tiny soviet-era ferries. The lake, the biggest and deepest in the world, is so huge it contains something like 70% of russia's drinking water, and has more water than all of the great lakes combined. We are here thanks to the suggestion of a friend we met in Tromso, who had previously gone on the trans-siberian railroad, although we were unable to beat her story of coming up to the island on the back of someone's motorcycle.
The island and the lake are really like nothing else on the planet; the splendor of the blue crystal surface of the water under an endless, cloudless sky, with sharp cliffs steep, but reachable hills that quickly lifted you onto vantage points that let you (almost) always have 360 degree views, either of the mountainous continent across the lake towards the east or west, the rolling hills or cliffs of the island itself, or endless water towards the north. The remoteness exudes a sense of peace and calm that unexpectedly is felt even to a further extent by the 'wild' cows that stroll along the beaches and drink from the lake, or roam the streets of the town of Kuzhir, like dogs would do anywhere else. Everything is kept as if it was a natural park, but without being explicitly so. The vast space and calm are truly unmatched and as such this is probably the perfect antithesis of our next stop(not counting the brief stopover in Irkutsk):Beijing (although had I known about the world's biggest statue of the head of Lenin in Ulan-Ude, I would have probably wanted to stop there...) Hoping norwegian blogs are not among the sites that are censored by the chinese authorities, an update from old Pekin will follow our final, 2.5 day trainride of the Trans-Siberian.