Arrived in Irkutsk and staying at the Trans-Sib Hostel, more an apartment with a room for travelers. Nice, warm and safe it has 2 iron doors before you get to the front door. The hosts are very nice giving advice on places to see and have a nice black dog called Myxa (pronounced Mu-Kha meaning fly).
Arrived at 8:00 am it was still dark, it does not get light here until 9:00 am and dark at 7:00 pm at the moment. Part of the problem is that they have decided to stay in Summer time all year round.
Had a guide take us around the city, who explained the history of the town and architecture including pre and post Stalin design. Basically anything that looks like a box is post Stalin design. The town is pretty with old wooden churches that are being restored after the Soviet period. These had been used as storage places during that time and the icons and paintings inside were painted over with white paint. Only 8 of the original 35 churches survived post revolution with the rest being destroyed.
The timber houses are badly in need of work, but council rules on renovations are very strict so the owners let them get run down until most catch fire. The town has a history of fires and after the last big one in 1890, a law was passed requiring all the main street shops to be built of brick. The people here are very positive about life post Soviet rule and the crime rate is down significantly from all the turmoil of a number of years ago.
Michael got his dive into Lake Baikal, the water temperature was 5C and the air temp was minus 2 and snowing. As you can see from the photos he had his thermals on, plus a blue Tellytubby suit and then the dry suit. I went to the Natural museum, which included live Nerpa (seals) of Lake Baikal, the only fresh water seals in the world. The pair they had looked like they were over inflated and need some exercise. Usual communications of pointing and all signs were in Russian.
Went for a trip to the markets, a bit like the Queen Vic. A visit to the market shows lots of food with no queuing and people actually having the money to purchase what is on offer. Found out where all the camel socks and jackets ended up from our last blog, all there in pristine condition for sale. Russia has certainly changed since last time I was here nearly 30 years ago.
I kept telling Michael about the coffee shortage and how expensive it was when you did actually find some to purchase and insisted that we come prepared with bags and bags of coffee for our trip. When we got here we have found abundant supplies and even cheaper than home.
The meals have been good and communications overall has not been to bad although the locals still shake their heads when Michael starts speaking.
Have been catching trams around the city, which still have conductors on. The stops are pre defined so getting around is pretty easy.
Went to one of the local parks to feed the squirrels. They were not timid at all and were enjoying the biscuits, although Michael believes they would have preferred honey coated macadamia nuts.
Now travelling to Ekaterinburg with 2 nights on the train to get there. We have gone from -16 outside as we crossed Siberia to a pleasant 0c. This has been the best train yet “Rossija” number 1. First class cabin has been excellent and compared to the Russian train out of Mongolia, the food and facilities have been way better. We can take as long as we want over our meal and can dine whenever we want too!