“Kudablin”: Irkutsk

"Kudablin": Irkutsk

Hi, I’m Eduard Merker (@e.merker), a resident of Sochi with twelve years of experience, and within the framework of the Kudablin project, the city of Irkutsk was chosen as my destination. In February! Here I deliberately emphasize what climatic conditions are natural for me and what environment I had to immerse myself in. Well, one more spoiler for those who, like some of my friends, considered Irkutsk not the most obvious place to vacation – Baikal is nearby.

"Kudablin": Irkutsk

"Kudablin": Irkutsk


As soon as the direction became known, I began to mentally prepare. It’s no joke, I consider the temperature +10℃ in winter Sochi to be extremely low, but there it is -20-30℃. I don’t even remember how it feels. Needless to say, I haven’t had warm clothes for a long time. Or rather, there is one, but Siberians call my winter jacket a summer jacket: in June evenings they throw these over their shoulders to make walking more comfortable. Of course, I’m exaggerating a little, but it’s not far from the truth. Of course, doubts began to creep in. I was afraid of getting sick on the first day of arrival and spending my vacation in a room with a fever and hot tea. But the coin is tossed, winter Baikal beckons – we must prepare.

Adventurous journey

Friends recommended ordering self-heating shoe insoles from an online store, and I took out my ski clothes: hat, buff, gloves, snowboard pants. That’s all the preparation. Looking ahead, I want to say separately about the insoles – they were invented by a genius, no less. You throw on your shoes, and, despite the frost, your feet seem to be standing on a radiator.

In general, the suitcase is half packed (I usually pack it completely just before leaving for the airport), departure is at 9:35 the next morning, everything is booked (thanks, OneTwoTrip!). What could go wrong? When it became known that I had won the vote for the participant of the “Cudablin” project, my imminent “adventurous trip” was announced, so I decided to add a little adventurism – I overslept.

I open my eyes and it’s 8:10. I jump up. I run to brush my teeth, calling a taxi at the same time: “The car will arrive in 6 minutes, the road to Sochi airport will be 50 minutes.” Cork. I throw the rest of my things into my suitcase, stuff myself into clothes, and run out of the house. I tell the taxi driver: “I’m late!” and going to the airport. At the same time, I’m looking for the nearest flights in the OneTwoTrip application, since I clearly understand that I won’t be able to catch my plane in time. The gate closes at 9:15, the taxi arrived at the airport at 9:10. I ran through all the controls, like a kind of Flash. I don’t know what happened, a miracle, nothing less, but when I ran up to the gate, the last passenger had just gone through the “sleeve” onto the plane. Made it!

Already sitting on board, I realized that I forgot to put all the warm clothes that I had prepared the day before in my suitcase. Just take your insoles with you. Well, I’ll think of something! The spirit of adventurism is still alive in us, it turns out. Meet Irkutsk!


Irkutsk greeted me with a frost of -16℃ or, as the taxi driver said, very warm weather, because “a week ago, it was -30℃, but now it’s even hot.” I didn’t share his opinion. Six minutes on the street in thin jeans, sneakers and a “summer” jacket seemed like an eternity to me. But here is a warm hotel, a delicious dinner and sleep.

"Kudablin": Irkutsk

To be honest, I didn’t have any big plans for Irkutsk itself, I was only in the mood for Lake Baikal. Therefore, the first thing in the morning I went to visit my colleagues at the MCM radio station. They greeted me warmly, put them on the air (I complained about their weather and my inability to cope with it), but, most importantly, they provided us with a warm jacket and gloves.  I bought a hat and thermal underwear at a local store. The frost has become a little less merciless.

In Irkutsk, I managed to see quite a bit of how rapidly the Angara flows, without freezing even in such cold weather, and to visit the historical 130th quarter with monuments of wooden architecture and the famous Irkutsk Babr. This is a mythical beast that ended up on the coat of arms of Irkutsk as a result of a simple misunderstanding. Babr in Siberia was the name given to a tiger, and it was decided to depict it with a sable in its teeth on the city’s coat of arms in 1878. We sent a description to the heraldry of St. Petersburg, and there, of course, they had never heard of any babr. They decided it was a typo, depicting a beaver with a sable in its teeth. Now this predatory beaver (I mean, beaver!) is the symbol of Irkutsk. I also managed to watch the sunset on the roof overlooking the city. Beautiful, cozy, very cold. But ahead is Baikal.

"Kudablin": Irkutsk

"Kudablin": Irkutsk


I was offered two specific destinations: Listvyanka, a city that is an hour and a half away from Irkutsk by bus, and Khuzhir, located on Olkhon Island (it takes about five hours to get there in winter via an icy crossing). Since a festival of ice sculptures was taking place on Olkhon, and, as I was told, there were more beauties there, the choice fell on the second option. Bus tickets, by the way, are easy to book through the OneTwoTrip app. I advise you to book in advance, as there are not very many places.

Morning again, suitcase, taxi, train station – and now I’m on my way to my dream, admiring the rather nice landscape outside the window. The icy crossing evoked some emotions. You simply drive a bus onto the ice and move along it like you would on a road. Even road signs have been installed.

"Kudablin": Irkutsk

I arrived already in the late afternoon, checked in and only had time to admire the ice sculptures, meet Grandfather Baikal, as the locals call it, and eat the much-praised poses or buuzas. I left visiting all the main beauties and completing the task from subscribers (skating on the ice of Baikal) the next day, booked a car excursion on the ice to the village of Buguldeika, which is a couple of hours drive from Khuzhir. Locals said that there were areas with pure ice (most of Baikal was covered with snow and looked like a white field with rocky mountains of bizarre shapes sticking out here and there).

Khuzhir itself is a small village with a large number of souvenir shops and cafes. By the way, don’t expect Michelin-level catering. Most establishments are village taverns, but they are warm and tasty. At least the ones I visited were delicious. Experienced tourists told how to identify places that deserve attention. The life hack is extremely simple – choose cafes where there are a lot of people, if the establishment is empty, it is better not to enter it.

In addition to people, cows and shaggy beggar dogs of varying degrees of mongrel nature roam the frozen streets of Khuzhir. All dogs, without exception, are very friendly (well, there’s no point in being angry if you might be left without food in winter), so feel free to scratch them behind the ear. 

I dined on poses, or buuzes (they taste like manti, no matter what anyone says). On the way home, I rented skates for 500 rubles (there are a lot of rental places) and got ready for the main day.


In the morning the driver of a UAZ-loaf truck picked me up, and we set off to look for clean ice, stopping along the way near various rocky islands to admire the beauty.

"Kudablin": Irkutsk

Let me just briefly describe what I saw and experienced, and also attach some photographs. I don’t see any point in the details: firstly, you need to be at least Paustovsky in order to accurately describe the nature of Baikal; and secondly, no description or photographs will convey the most important thing – emotions. For me it was the quintessence of happiness, I can’t say it any other way. It’s as if the world stood still, time stopped, all worries remained in another life, and here there is only you, “merged with the infinite eternal” and yourself have already become a part of this nature. You see? Yes, and it’s not necessary now. You have to be there to understand.

"Kudablin": Irkutsk

I went into frozen grottoes with ice stalagmites, stalactites and stalactones, admired Cape Dragon on Ogoy Island (the most recognizable landmark of Lake Baikal), listened to the ice cracking underfoot (space sounds, like the Enterprise’s blasters firing), I skated on clear ice and tasted the “kiss of Baikal” (this is when you drill small holes, pour a drink into it and drink through a straw). Be sure to ask your driver to take you to see the hummocks at sunset. This is a visual ecstasy – as if an icebreaker passed and scattered huge pieces of ice on the surface of a frozen lake, and they shimmer like diamonds in the rays of the setting sun. I was on another planet.

"Kudablin": Irkutsk


You could write endlessly and, frankly speaking, uselessly about the place of power, the spirit of Baikal, the beauty of its nature. No words can convey everything accurately enough, so you better feel it for yourself.

It’s also worth saying that I spent this day on Baikal absolutely without communication, and after that I thanked my operator for the lack of coverage in these places. The next day I went to Irkutsk by bus, spent the night there and on the morning of February 26 I was already sitting on the plane and greatly regretting that I had not stayed in the beauty of Baikal forever, but was returning to the familiar world, which had already become completely unusual.

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