The first route. The extreme
If your goal is Lake Baikal itself, and you wish to see Russia from a car window, then you need only five days, a lot of coffee and a good car.
In Russia, there are two roads connecting the east and west – the so-called “southern” and “northern” branches. The southern road runs from Kazan to Ufa and then to Chelyabinsk. On the northern road, you leave Kazan and head to Perm and Yekaterinburg.
The second route. The perceptual
You can reach Lake Baikal from Moscow in about two weeks, with some short stops for walks around the towns along the route. You will be eating breakfast, lunch and dinner at roadside cafes.
Moscow – Vladimir
This is the most tense and “congested” leg of the journey. It is best to leave at 5-6 a.m. to avoid the traffic jams in the capital city and travel 180 km in 3–4 hours. We can write about Vladimir endlessly, seeing as the city is included in the Golden Ring Route, and it is possible to spend an entire day alone, simply admiring St. Demetrius Cathedral.
The 231 km journey takes three hours to drive. While in Nizhny Novgorod, a definite must is a stroll along the walking Bolshaya Pokrovskaya Street towards the Kremlin.
Nizhny Novgorod – Kazan
This leg of the trip is 350 kilometers with a detour around Cheboksary. Leave early, in order to spend as much time as possible in Kazan. The city of Kazan is beautiful and can easily compete with the beauty and purity of many European capitals. Hotels and hostels here are abundant, suitable for every taste and pocketbook. Kazan is known for having many traffic police posts, hidden traffic cameras, crazy local drivers, shortage of parking in the city center and new one-way traffic lanes, which are still not known to satellite navigators.
In Kazan, you can spend another free day or take a side trip to Izhevsk. Here you will find 400 km of off-road routes. This is a 6 to 8-hour trip, depending on how much you care for your car. In Izhevsk, you can visit the Kalashnikov Museum and search for memorials to dumplings, crocodiles and the space dog Zvyozdochka. There is a beautiful promenade here, but there are no roads.
Izhevsk – Perm
300 kilometers on roads through the Ural Mountains, all with spectacular views. For a more extreme traveling experience, you can go to Izhevsk not on the bypass road, but right through the city, then the satellite navigator will bring you onto the road leading to the city of Votkinsk. The road will appear only when you get closer to Perm. The Permians are good-natured and very hospitable people. Try to find someone to let you spend the night through couchsurfing, and you will surely make new friends!
Perm – Yekaterinburg
This route is characterized by the complete absence of roads, 400 km over the beautiful Ural Mountains, which are very similar to the Balkans. Here food in roadside cafes is becoming more and more affordable – 50 rubles ($1.5) for a bowl of borscht, 150 rubles ($4.5) is the price of goulash with mashed potatoes. Yekaterinburg is famous for its eclectic buildings and a monument to the last Russian Tsar Nicholas II and his family, which were executed by the Bolsheviks in this city. There is a “red line” for tourists, drawn directly on the pavement, following which, you can easily explore all the city’s main attractions.
Yekaterinburg – Tyumen
400 km more and you are in Tyumen. Despite the fact that the Tyumen Oblast is one of the richest areas of Russia, there are no roads here. Be prepared to arrive in the city exhausted and you will unlikely have the energy to see the Tyumen Embankment and the small historic center, even though this is where the Siberian Cats Square, Lovers Bridge, and a museum of one house located in two houses are situated. Travel tip: do not walk on the outskirts of the city.
Tyumen – Omsk
During this day, you will need to cover 640 km. Do not stay in Ishim – here you will find the worst roads on the entire length of your route! Motels and hotels here are expensive and do not meet expectations. Everywhere the speed limit is either 50 or 70 km/h, and passing other vehicles is forbidden. However, as soon as the Omsk Oblast begins, you will find yourself in Siberia with its good roads, and the ability to drive 120–140 km/h (but beware: the official speed limit here is 90 km/h).
At this point, you really need to rest, so you can spend the day in Omsk, walking through its center, while mentally preparing yourself for the Siberian distances and the next legs of your trip. Located here is the Irtysh River, in which Yermak Timofeyevich sank, and the Tara Gates through which Fyodor Dostoevsky passed daily, while serving his six-year Siberian exile in Omsk.
Omsk – Novosibirsk
And once again – a stretch of road almost 700 km long! By the way – you will always be filling up your tank at Gazprom gas stations, for which it is recommended to obtain a discount card before leaving on your trip, as alternatives are unlikely to be found. Awaiting you here are the amazing landscapes of western Siberia, endless marshes, lakes, locals selling fish, and a horizon stretching to nowhere. You can drive at 120 km/h (but do not forget that the official speed limit is 90/km) and finally enjoy the freedom! Then have an overnight stay in Novosibirsk.
Despite the fact that Novosibirsk is less than 100 years old and is seems like it does not have a historic or walking center, you can still spend a day wandering around the city. In recent years, Novosibirsk has grown enormously and improved a lot. Here you can stumble upon a real boat in the park and sit in it, you can eat in a strange ethnic institution, the Kollektsiya Pustyakov, on Chaplygina Street or swim in the local reservoir with its clean water – the Ob Sea.
Novosibirsk – Tomsk
Then you can spend a day in the ancient city of Tomsk, a city only 260 km down the highway, and admire the wooden architecture of the city, or stop by the Tomsk Pisanitsa (ancient natural and historic sanctuary with 280 petroglyphs!).
Tomsk – Krasnoyarsk
The road from Tomsk to Krasnoyarsk takes about 7 hours and stretches almost 600 km. On the way, you will see the dirty working-class city of Achinsk. Despite its age, (here they found the oldest inhabited human residence – the Achinskaya Camp, which was dated at 28,000 years BC), Achinsk is more noted for its urban landscape of factories, a new network of Texas gas stations and shops with names like Detroit and Kansas. Further on, you will enjoy the views of the vast Siberian taiga.
You can spend one to two days in Krasnoyarsk. There is a 120-year-old historical museum with the remains of mammoths, the Stolby Nature Reserve, where you can spend the entire day, the huge Yenisei River with its long bridges, Beaver Log Ski Resort, which offers unforgettable views of the city and mountains. The downtown is planted with palms – so do not be surprised.
Ahead lies nearly 1,000 km of road to Irkutsk. Traveling this route in one day, you can enjoy some more great views of Lake Baikal, which you can read about in any guidebook of Russia. Oh, and you can also rent a car for this trip, and then return to Moscow on a plane or by train. Another option is to go back via the “southern” road, covering one thousand kilometers a day and stopping in the legendary Chelyabinsk. Despite the apparent difficulties, you will never forget this trip. You will see the real Russia (though only half of it!) and never again confuse Krasnoyarsk with Krasnodar.
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