OR, NOT THE PARIS OF SIBERIA. LET’S GET BACK ON THE TRAIN AGAIN DAMMIT!
I wanted to love Irkutsk, so many times labelled the Paris of Siberia. However I ended up feeling apathetic about it. The cab had been late picking me up from Listvyanka so I was all of a tizz and had made my plans in a shoddy anxious way having expected to have the full day there and seeing it slip away from me.
When I finally arrived at my hotel, (Historic Hotel Central) I saw it was lovely and very new and smart but I had no time to waste and just threw my stuff in the room and nipped round the corner for a coffee and map check to update my plans for the day. Cross and disappointed I settled for the art museum nearby and wooden house village beyond, thus cutting out the Decembrist houses that I had been looking forward to.
There I sorted my route to the National Art Gallery and literally ran all the way there, aware of time slipping away. The gallery is of a very high standard and I only saw three people as I walked around so it was heaven. No shouty tourists with their shouty guides! Indeed the cloakroom had no cloaks!! I was seen, after the initial ubiquitous suspicion, as a funny alien creature as I wandered around completely solo!
TOP TIP ! I always smile and can break any grim faced cloakroom attendant (indeed anyone!) I gaze into their eyes and smile without stopping, maybe miming a bit, and they give in. After that you’re a pal and all is well with the world. You have to remember, tourists can be rude and show no respect for a fellow human being so people working in the tourist industry across the world are usually cynical. Give a little time for empathy!
The main museum contains the largest collection of ikons in Siberia!
Many of small wooden houses or cabins with one or two floors that are decorated with “wooden laces” (hand-made carvings) are now in the centre, in a bizarre Disney style commercial village. I never made it to the Decembrists house which was a real shame but I simply didn’t have the time. Concentrate on the museum if you go there but also visit Decembrists Museum. In retrospect I should have stayed an extra day but my train ticket was booked and I had been told that Irkutsk was disappointing, I kinda blame the cab driver coming so late to pick me up.
Top Tip: Always get the phone number of any service you use. If anything goes wrong or you need to change arrangements it’s vital you can call up. It was very stressful waiting for my taxi to Irkutsk and I could do nothing about it. It meant I lost that vital half day there!:(
I can’t say Irkutsk leaves me with a warm and fuzzy feeling ,but I’m sure people will jump on my back for this, after all I was only really there for half a day. Well there were quite a few rude Chinese tourists and that has rather coloured the experience for me, along with the long cold walks up and down bleak streets that are the norm there now. Also it was bitingly cold for long museum walks, not like in Moscow and St. Petersburg that were positively balmy in comparison.
In fact the best bit was going to the supermarket to pick up goodies for the train the next day. I had a lovely time at the deli there and after snorting like a pig got some lovely ham much to the hilarity of the staff! I picked up some very fine cheeses too and rye bread and little tasty morsels for the train. I should have got some wine as they didn’t have on train last time but, after getting a cracking hangover on the last train for my leaving party, I decided that I shouldn’t be naughty. (did have two cocktails with my meaty dinner that night tho!)
NEW TRAIN NEW DAY. CHOO CHOO! OFF TO MONGOLIA!
Getting up at stupid o’clock was now the norm. However many times I travel I just can’t be calm about travelling the next day. I am a baby and a wimp and don’t get people who can be so casual! Trust me, with the Trans Siberian they keep you on your toes. This leg of the trip would also involve leaving Russia and entering Mongolia, so two passport and customs checks. Also this train wouldn’t be Russian but Mongolian. I had travelled over five time zones from St. Petersburg so was glad I was going to stay in the same time zone going to Ulaanbataar.
Hooray! Back to new train and this one is different! I’ve lost my buddies and there’s a new lot of new “stay on the train” people, and guess what? I was right it’s more like a lunatic asylum now and the passengers look like they’ve been sedated and detached from reality.
I wasn’t even thinking about that at dawn the next day just getting to the station. Boarding a different train with different staff should have felt weird but it didn’t. I slipped back in to train life like a comfy old pair of slippers. Only one night this time but I wasn’t to know what a long night!
I’ll give you a little peep at the train to show it was more or less the same just slightly changed colours and a brand new American diner style restaurant car!!!
And another peek at the coal on this train for the heating!! My feet would get black!
Alert: NEXT POST THE HORROR THAT IS CUSTOMS ON THE TRAIN AN EXPERIENCE THAT TAKES YOU TO YOUR LIMITS AND HOW TO ENDURE IT!
OVER AND OUT! FROM A NAIVE REBECCA!