I only spent four days here but I fell in love with it and it’s people. I arrived at six in the morning and got a cab using some euros I had (you can’t get currency outside) The drive to the central square was about three minutes! The cabby was a ruddy faced lovely chap and I was impressed at how helpful he tried to be with very little English! My hotel, the Khuvsgul Lake Hotel was a sheer delight. A tall building overlooking the square, a brand new no frills place that had frills!
Should have known it was all too jolly. I was welcomed by some people who had stayed on the train since Moscow and were not getting off at all until Beijing- the fools. They all had a twitchy feel to them, like people who’d had too much coffee, and there was a reason. They hadn’t had any external input since Moscow they hadn’t had anyone new come into first-class so hadn’t had any fresh blood since Moscow.
They weren’t getting off the train in the near future and they were in that strange state that I had been in when I arrived in Irkutsk… feral and somnambulant. They cross-questioned me on what Lake Baikal and Irkutsk had been like and I told them how amazing it all was and started to explain how cold, cruel and magnificent it was, then I asked them about the diner. With that, they lost interest and scurried off barely answering my questions (they probably no longer equated there was a world outside the poor lost souls) and like a group of junkies wandered glazed eyed up to the diner with cups of tea and grubby UNO cards clutched in their fists like a fix. I followed them but they were fast, when I got there, they were already hunched over their cards at a table playing what I can only presume to be their millionth game since Moscow.
OR NOT THE PARIS OF SIBERIA. LET’S GET BACK ON THE TRAIN AGAIN:(
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.
Cautiously getting off the train in the early light of a freezing Siberian morning in February, I immediately saw my name on board clasped to a mans chest. Seeing as I was the only person getting off he stepped forward to grab my little suitcase and drive me off to Listvyanka on Lake Baikal.