I have just spent an amazing 3 days visiting Irkusk and Lake Baikal in Siberia.
First let me start with getting there. My husband and I flew with Pobeda, Aeroflot’s low cost airline. The crew were smart and professional and the planes clean but basic. It is a 6 hour flight but the airline is seriously low cost and so there was no inflight entertainment, no seat pocket to stuff your book or bottle of water and, worst of all, no food or drinks at all! Thankfully we discovered this the day before our flight so were able to make sure we had a decent meal in the airport. Going there is an overnight flight arriving at 0700 having flown 6 hours and crossed 5 time zones with not a lot of sleep. Coming back is a morning flight that lands in Moscow an hour after it took off!
On arrival in Irkutsk we jumped into what turned out to be one of the cheapest and one of the more scary taxi rides I’ve had. The driver, who looked about 12 (but we assume was older), drove the whole way with just one hand on the wheel because he was holding his phone in the other hand to read the directions. And the 3 very large cracks across the windscreen did not fill me with confidence either! He was also, like many others in the area, driving a right hand car from Japan because they are cheaper and more reliable, but of course it makes overtaking a little more tricky because you can’t see what’s coming – even harder when you have only one hand to drive with.
On arrival at our hotel we dumped out bags and found a wonderful bakery for breakfast, Jito, and then we set off on foot to explore. Irkutsk is quite a large city, sprawling along the banks of the Angara river, but the centre is relatively small and has a nice feel to it. It is a low city without the high rise apartment blocks and with lots of the old traditional wooden houses with beautiful windows frames scattered about. We went first to the monastery and then visited the lovely old house of Prince Sergei Trubetskoy He was an aristocrat who sought to improve the lives of the peasants and abolish serfdom. The revolution failed and he, along with other ‘Decembrists‘, were exiled to hard labour in Siberia. His rich heiress wife voluntarily gave up her life of luxury in St Petersburg and left for Siberia to be with him. After nearly 20 years of penal labour the Decembrists were released to live in their own houses but were unable to leave Siberia. Finally after 35 years Sergei received an amnesty but by then his wife, and several of their children had already died. It was very moving and extremely interesting as it was a part of Russian history that I knew nothing about.
In the evening we took a walk down to the river, passed the football stadium that had a game on – somebody was winning judging by the roar. We paused to take a few photos of Lenin and then Tsar Alexander III, father of the ill fated Nicholas II. Along the river front there were quite a few people strolling along and I imagine that in the summer it is quite a buzzing place. We ended up in a pretty little area known as 130 Kvartal. It is a small area consisting of old wooden buildings that have been moved here from other places, restored and now house souvenir shops, restaurants, bars and cafés. We stopped for a beer and a light supper before returning to our hotel.
The next day we were collected by our guide (we used Baikal secrets.com though there are others) and set off for Olkhon Island in Lake Baikal. Look out for part 2 to read about the next stage of our trip.