Defender of the Fatherland Day (and Olkhon Island)

Today is a Russian national holiday: Defender of the Fatherland Day. Sometimes I've seen it referred to as Defender of the Motherland Day. Basically it celebrates those who have served in the Russian military, which is pretty much every Russian guy, so it is really a de facto Men's Day. I even had two young women wish me a happy "Man Day," and they said it doesn't even matter than I am not Russian.

The streets here in Irkutsk were mostly empty as a result of the holiday, and the city itself is somewhat less interesting in comparison to Ulan-Ude, where you can find more ethnic diversity; however, Irkutsk has the major advantage of being closer to Lake Baikal. It is also along Angara River, which is quite nice, and also quite frozen.

Today I walked out on the Angara River: not too far, maybe a kilometer or so. There were many cross-country skiers, one or two drinkers, and plenty of ice and snow. This evening I tried to visit a photography exhibit featuring underwater photography of Lake Baikal, but the gallery closed early because of the holiday. I will try again tomorrow, and then the day after that I'll leave via bus for Olkhon Island, which is four times the size of San Francisco but has only 1,500 residents, nearly all of them tribal Buryat.

There is no bridge to the Olkhon Island, which exists entirely inside of Lake Baikal, the third-largest lake-bound island in the world, but Lake Baikal is frozen solid so we will reach the island via bus, simply drive across the lake until we reach land. My best guess is that the bus trip from Irkutsk to Olkhon will take somewhere between three and five hours.