The marshrutka from Listvyanka wasn’t as comfortable as I thought it was going to be when we first sat down. Like most public transport, I end up with my knees crushed into the seat in front. There were only five passengers when we left, giving us space to recline our seats and to stretch out a little. That lasted less than five minutes before the driver picked up what were the first of many groups of passengers en-route. I complain, but at least I didn’t have to stand.
The bus trip also gave us a chance to experience some Russian driving, which is exactly like the dash cam videos you see on YouTube. I also noticed that we were the only ones wearing a seat belt, though I’m not sure how much I needed it, with my legs firmly jammed into the seat in front.
There was some confusion with the minibus (there always is, doesn’t matter the country), and rather than being dropped at the station (like we understood, after showing him on the map, and saying Irkutsk Pass vokzal), we were dropped in the centre of town. At least he was kind enough to explain how to catch a tram to the train station, which was 12r (30c) each, and essentially fool proof/painless.
We dropped our bags at the baggage room (120r per item), and then caught the very same tram back to the centre of town.
Which happened to be a large market, with all of the usual stuff you find at markets – clothing, fake clothing, produce, sunglasses etc. We’ve seen little stands selling a drink called kvas a few times, but have been put off because it looks like a glass of flat beer. I remember too well the random drinks in Bishkek. Turns out that it’s more like a root beer, and is entirely palatable, and we actually went back for a second, and much larger, glass. Unlike the drink in Bishkek.
We were hunting sashlyk for lunch, but had no luck and settled for a cheap, no-frills canteen. Risa wanted some borscht and I wanted some more plov. The shop keeper managed to sell us on another noodle soup dish (though, come to think of it I wanted dumplings) as well as this bizarre milky drink, which I can only really describe as a cold white soup, loaded with dill, rice and chick peas. It grew on me. Ordering that third dish was a mistake, and we didn’t come close to finishing all of the food that we’d ordered. At least it was only 480r ($12).
Alright. Irkutsk, the ‘Paris of the East’, which having never been to Paris was entirely lost on me. I took it to mean pretty buildings and tree lined streets, which Irkutsk certainly was. You just had to look past the soviet cars and the beautifully intricate log houses for the illusion I guess.
Regardless of supposed resemblances to other famous cities, Irkutsk was a pretty town to walk around – and we certainly did a lot of walking around. We walked from the markets, to the Irkutsk City History Museum, which was frustratingly closed. We then walked to the Bogoyavlensky Cathedral, which a rather ‘interesting’ white/salmon/green colour outside and an astonishingly decorated interior, featuring an enormous gold gilded wall. The religious symbolism of the artwork was lost on me, however as artwork it was impressive and worth the sweaty walk to get here.
The sun was shining and we didn’t expect the heat. Some of the temperature displays in town showed over 30˚C, which is a huge difference from the temperatures so far in Russia! It wasn’t just us that was feeling the heat, in one of the fountains in town, a pair of cheeky kids were swimming and collecting the small change that had been tossed in there.
We decided to have diner before boarding our train to Novosibirsk, and the restaurant that took Risa’s fancy was a Chinese restaurant, Botanica. I have to say, it was the most bizarre Chinese restaurant I have ever been to. After walking up the feature staircase, we were surrounded by a tropical theme, including cages with cockatoos and cockatiels. Taking a seat in the restaurant, the tropical theme continued, and between each booth were small bird cages with budgies, canaries and other small colourful birds. By reception there were some cages with different rodents, too (rabbits, hamsters and something that looked like a bilby). Apart from the baffling decoration, the food was OK. The menu was expansive, but we didn’t bring an appetite.
We stocked up on some juice, and water, to add to the fruit/vegetables from the markets, collected our baggage and boarded our train to Novosibirsk.