Woke up at 7 feeling refreshed. Over breakfast read the Central Asian Lonely Planet and got intrigued about Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.
Today we had no trains or organised trips so we were going to follow the “Green Tourist line” painted on the floor around the city with information boards at historical sites in English. The weather was predicting an overcast day with a max of 0° so I was very pleased to finally dig out my big jumper that I’d been lugging around for the last month. We finally headed out at 10.50.
10.50????? Where the hell had the morning gone? Train lag and time confusion is setting in. We should be five hours ahead of Moscow but our phones refuse to make the jump after behaving so well up to now.
We headed through the “Paris of the East” past the Gorky statue, the main square, government buildings and an eysore of a 50s hotel. We saw an army cadet ceremony at the eternal flame for the war dead and the fast flowing, wide Angara river. We passed churches, cathedrals and the historic gateway into the city where everyone entering would be registered. Eventually we went off piste as we wanted to go to a museum about the Decembrists. Not the american band (who I like a lot) but the failed Russian coup. The museum was set in the reconstructed house where folklore suggests Trubetskoy, one of the Decembrists lived. On the way we walked through an area of old wooden ramshackle houses some of which had definitely seen better days.
At a set of traffic lights I noticed a minibus with a machine gun barrel poking out the window. We cautiously walked past using our peripheral vision and definitely not staring and realised it was a group of teenage army cadets. The lights changed and they drove past us waving.
The museum was good and had info in English too. The mandate of the Decembrists was very progressive and would put many governments to shame now. Stomachs rumbling we checked our guide book and the oldest cafe in Irkutsk was nearby. On the way we saw the main market where a lot of fruit was on offer. The watermelons were huge and roasted pinenuts still in their shells seemed to be the local snack.
The oldest cafe in Irkutsk wasn’t located where our map said so into a local caff where we sampled flavoured minced meat in a variety of casings. Steamed buns called buuzy, baked pastry and deep fried dumpling. Mmmmm
Back on the green line we saw the Circus house and finished by strolling down Karl Marx street to the river front. It was definitely cold now and Al was suffering and luckily we stumbled across Harts Irish Pub, a Russian chain which had started here in Irkutsk. Two dark beers and a seat next to a radiator in the window for some people watching.
Back at the hostel we chatted to a European traveller, the first we’d met since Moscow. Before we left the UK, people had said to us we were brave to do the trip we had planned but in our hearts we both knew it was nothing special and we were following a well worn route. This Italian guy though was either brave or crazy or both. He’d travelled through Iran, Afghanistan, many other “Stans” and the Hindu Kush to get to Russia. He said the people were super friendly and very hospitable. Wow.