Irkutsk, Russian Federation
Another warm day in Irkutsk saw a slow start for me. I didn’t sleep, distracted by the cricket 8 hours behind and thoughts of what I’d do the next day. Still made it out for a run, exploring the park a little more and checking the other side of the road where more green was marked on the map, though it didn’t lead to anything. I did see the big bridge leading out into mainland Russia, at least. Big traffic jams here in rush hour, perhaps because the city has just two bridges over the river which become a pinch point.
Post run I shifted hostel, to Nerpa backpackers which actually seems nicer than the Trans-Sib, much as that was perfectly acceptable, even allowing for the precipitous descent into the basement rooms. Cosy down there. Around 1 I finally got into town, heading north rather than east when I got there and finding the city square which is pretty dramatic. The population is notably more diverse, what I assume are Mongolian faces all around, though the number of tiny waisted women in short skirts and heels is the same as elsewhere, just ethnically different. My legs didn’t want to play today, on run or walk, but I covered some ground, seeing the big mall, Fortuna, at the top of the city-just a mall, ultimately, if with slightly strangely claustrophobic corridors. And a Lonsdale shop, for that touch of luxury. Lunch was again from the supermarket in town though I found a little square to eat it in, watching children piloting cars, or parents with a remote control piloting then round the fountains.
I’d planned to see if I could walk to the hydrofoil station but it was outside my range in the end. Bus tomorrow, if I’m to make it to Listvyanka. Irkutsk has grown on me, with curiosities all around; this time when I ran past the monument to Alexander III I noticed it, and continued spotting things, the statues of players in one square, thinker and cupids in another and city pride monuments and eminent people in the main square. It’s a bit run down in places, metal guide rods showing through decayed concrete staircases and the like, but that means that where in Yekaterinburg you have to go in search of original wooden houses, here they are all over, especially around the city park.
Nerpa is good and sociable, too. I’d thought I was socialled out for now, but it only takes an American to mistake me for an Australian and piss-taking is back on. There is a Mongolian embassy here, I noticed, so perhaps I went too soon with an alternate plan. Booking all the train tickets in one go was definitely over planning, though I do have to make sure I get out of the country in time. But perhaps if I was making smaller jumps I’d have been more inclined to try the 3rd class wooden benches that if you believe the man in seat 61 (www.seat61.com) are for the adventurous traveller but if you are here, seem to be what all the hostelling travellers are doing. They are open, no compartments with closed doors, so one long carriage with 54 people in, though obviously some walls to attach the beds to, so not as open plan as all that. In 2nd class you roll a mat onto a padded bench, in 3rd the same mat goes into wood, so not dramatically less comfortable. More noisy, certainly, but you also get lots more of the Russian experience; Ciaran was told all about the man who owned a bear, the old lady over the way was trying to teach him numbers while Will had a police chief offer him vodka and an army colonel worry about his safety because of the police chief. I think I made a good compromise between cheap 3rd class and expensive tour with organised stops, but 3rd class has positives as well as the obvious negatives.
As for sights, I also came across the museum of city life. It gives a price, I realised on the way out, but I think it relies on you dropping it in the donation box. Or all the staff assumed I had paid someone else. Small and perfectly formed, but I was more interested in the ‘mini park’ out the back, which has a plaque and emblem/sculpture from all the cities with which Irkutsk is twinned. 13, at time of writing, including Eugene or ‘track town’ in the States. Yeah baby!
Summary: 1:02:15, 11.5km reading: 1636: The Saxon Uprising, Eric Flint.