Turning my attention to the skyline, I eventually find inspiration in the form of blue skies and the architecturally perfect walls of the Irkutsk Tourist Information Office.
Located in the gorgeous Shastin ‘lace’ house, the building is a lovely thing to behold, as is the lovely lass behind the counter. She is busy on the phone, but eventually comes to my aid, offering me tea and biscuits and pointing me in the direction of the maps and brochures.
There, I meet a fellow traveller, who has recently finished walking the Great Baikal Trail, or GBT.
During my trip planning, I’d salivated over photos of the GBT. They showed train tracks running next to an impossibly blue, sparkling lake. I’d hoped that I could ride along its banks, but everything that I’d read suggested that it was a walking track, built with volunteer labour and probably not suitable, or appropriate, for touring bikes. And so I’d contacted the local bike touring group, asked for advice, and settled on my route of the last few weeks, instead.
But now, with a second opportunity in front of me, I have to reconsider my plans. On the one hand, I’ve just ridden through a geographically similar area, seen the lake a number of times, in a number of moods, and am painfully aware that sunshine and warm sparkly vibes are in short supply at this time of year. On the other hand, I only have a one month visa, and I know that it will take some time to get to the Mongolian border at my current pace.
I know the reality of the situation, but I still want to believe that those pictures are real, and that I too can bathe in that picture-perfection, if I go there.
The man is encouraging, but is on his own mission, so I thank him, and enquire after track and lodging information from the assistant. She hands me these, bus information, and the contact number for the information centre, should I need it. Then I’m on my way.