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The Paris of Siberia – Irkutsk


Mon 10 Jun ’13 – day 30   It was a good night’s sleep interrupted by just a single trip to the loo.

Woke at 08:30 hours and then dozed until 09:00 hours.  An omelette and two slices of sweetbread were served at breakfast rather than pancakes, it was very nice but I couldn’t finish everything as I was full.

Drank nearly a litre of water to ensure that I was rehydrated, then packed and sat outside in the sun while waiting for Ivan to pick me up; there are clear blue skies and it feels as if you could just reach out and touch the distant mountains.  Spent some time reading up on Irkutsk and Ulan Bator so that I know where to go.

Ivan arrived promptly at 12:00 hours and it took 1¼ hours to drive back to town.  The road was just a two lane blacktop cut through the wilderness with small settlements along the way.  The Angara was on the left, but I couldn’t see much of it because of the trees.

There was a steady start to the city and by the time that we had passed the dam the traffic was manic.  Ivan cut down through the back streets and we passed old wooden buildings which are  “registered buildings”; he explained that this causes the owners problems as the houses are in some case 100 + years old and so have no amenities and are in some cases insanitary.  People want to pull them down and build a new house with all mod-cons but are not allowed to.

Back at the hotel I checked in, collected my suitcase, paid for an extra night, got some more roubles from the ATM, then went up to my room.  It was on the 9th (top) floor and was not as big as the one on Friday as it was a single, but it had a ¾ bed, so plenty of room of roll around in.

Unpacked everything and sorted out the laundry, then tried to make the receptionist understand what I wanted, but no go so will try again tomorrow.

I packed my day sack and set off looking to find internet access; nyet at the post office, screens but no keyboards and the other place listed in the guidebook is now just a computer sales shop.

Blisteringly hot, 33° C + and the centre of the city was full of cars and buses chucking out fumes.  Brought some sports socks at the Adidas store as mine were getting threadbare and after wandering around for a bit headed back to the hotel.

I asked at reception about internet access and they didn’t seem to understand even when shown the Russian word, but thankfully the lady from future bookings heard what I was saying and pointed around the corner – one terminal and free.  So got on-line and answered all my e-mails; Anne had sorted out the extra night in Beijing and confirmed the early check in in Ulan-Bator.  Yuriy was on holiday but Natalia confirmed that the request for the rail ticket in Ulan-Bator delivery and the early check in at the Primorye Hotel in Vladivostok had been submitted.

I had dinner in the hotel, a local pork speciality (very good) followed by Tiramisu, something that was on the menu in most restaurants, with a couple of large glasses of good local beer (also very good).  Service was not very fast but I was not bothered as I was busy writing postcards.

The background music is now playing tunes that we would consider to be Christmas music.

When I returned to my room it was baking hot even with the windows open and as I was unable to get the air-conditioning to work, just slept on top of the sheet.

Tue 11 Jun ’13 – day 31  I woke at some time during the night feeling cold, so just pulled the quilt over me and went straight back to sleep.  Woke up again feeling very light headed so drank a litre of water and then cleaned my teeth before returning to bed.

Finally got up at 09:00 hours and had a shower, but had to hold the shower head to get wet all over and then turn off the water otherwise it would spurt out in any direction except the one you wanted.  So lather up and then rinse all over.

I had a bowl of fruit plus bread and cheese for breakfast and there were a small number of Germans in the dining room plus a few Russians.

Had a quick check on-line and had two emails, one from Natalia saying that everything was confirmed and another from one of my rugby colleagues addressed to Comrade Smithski.

Back in my room I continued to write postcards, but when the cleaner arrive to take the laundry and tidy up, I packed my rucksack and went to the park in front of the hotel and sat on a bench by the river and continued to write on the postcards.

When the bench became too hard on my posterior I set off to see the sights by following the Green Line just as I did in Perm; the signs have English translations, some of which are quite literal and there are lots of political overtones in the language used.

The route started by the river at the statue of Tsar Alexander III who is credited as being the founder of the Trans Siberian Railway.  It was interesting wandering through the city and seeing the various sights which included the “Hear no Evil, See No Evil and Speak no Evil” monkeys and the ornate small clock tower.  Outside the regional RZD offices was a large poster showing the evolution in trains.





I sat near the fountain in the Kirov Park at lunchtime and had an ice cream while watching the locals come out of their offices to get some fresh air and sun.

At the end of the park was the regional administration building and in front was a small shrine; behind the building was the “Monument to the Fallen” with its Eternal Flame.





Near the river were the Bogoyaviensky Cathedral and the Saviour’s Church and close by was the River Gate and it was here that I lost the trail when the line disappeared.  So I just strolled towards the city centre passed lots of old wooden houses in various states of repair.  I ended up at the Central Market where you can buy just about anything in the two main buildings and the number of Asian faces was very noticeable, with nearly all the cafes in the market were run by people with non-European features.  I brought some toothpaste, just point and mime – easy.  Also got two large shortbread biscuits ready for the next rail trip plus the obligatory bottle of coke.


There was a fantastic range of fruit and vegetables on display and one counter had about twenty different types of tomato for sale and nothing else.

As it is blisteringly hot again I walked on the shady side of the street as I make my way back to the hotel; having got there I sat on the veranda and drank a couple of cold beers and ate a piece of fruit pie – delicious.

When I returned to my room, the laundry was already back and I had an hour or so sleep before having a shower and going down for dinner.  Service was slow again but I am just not bothered as I sit and read the Lonely Planet Mongolian guidebook.

Back in my room I fell asleep on top of the quilt as it is still very hot.

Wed 12 Jun ’13 – day 32   Woke up again in the middle of the night feeling cold, but as before I just pulled the quilt over me and dropped off again.  As I haven’t much to do today I finally arose at 09:00 hours and after breakfast wandered down to the river and then back into town.

The Post Office was closed so I dropped the last of the postcards in the mail box before heading towards the Central Market.  Ul Leina was closed for a parade, I didn’t know what it was for or about, but lots of young people, one of whom gave me a red, white and blue cotton streamer; it’s the colours of the Russian national flag as well as the Union Jack.

At the market I bought ½ kilo of apricots and a couple of apples so that I have enough food for the journey.  Had lunch at an Italian restaurant, good pizza and beer but expensive.  Reading the guidebook it told me that today is Russian Day, so people were celebrating the 1990 declaration of Russian sovereignty.

Having strolled back to the hotel I had a lazy afternoon, slept, read and then slept again.  Then showered, packed and then checked out before checking to see if I had an e-mails; none, but I spent a little time deleting some of the old correspondence.