Irkutsk, the capital of eastern Siberia is unsurprisingly, cold. Unbelievably cold! It is also one of the most popular stops in the Trans-Siberian Express, a pleasant historic city where you can experience the best of Russian food and hospitality!
We stumbled bleary eyed off the train early in the morning. Temperatures had plummeted to -24 degrees and we were extremely tired!
We pretty much got to the hostel, ate KFC and chilled out. 4 days on a train will do that to you.
After a late start, we decided our time in Irkutsk was the perfect opportunity to sample some genuine Russian cuisine. After a quick research on some local eateries we decided on Baikal Love Cafe. It was nearby to our hostel and the subject of some fantastic reviews on Trip Advisor.
It was ok… Maybe I just don’t like traditional Russian dishes or I didn’t like the Cafe. But, I wouldn’t repeat eat what we ordered! We both had a taste of the below. Although James thoroughly enjoyed the mutton and potato stew, I only had a few bites. My favourite meal was the mash potato and venison with ligonberries . However, we both couldn’t finish the dumplings, containing mystery meat (and gristle, my worst nightmare!).
Still, we can’t complain – our meal plus drinks came to a grand total of just £6 for the whole lot!
After lunch we wandered around the city, bumping into one of the many Lenin statues throughout Russia. It feels like you can’t walk for more than an hour without seeing one.
The frozen Angara River
We eventually reached the shores of the Angara river, parts of which were frozen and snow covered. So much so, we were able to walk along the edges. It’s quite exciting to finally be in a cold enough place that walking on water is possible! The air was so cold that the water vapour rising from the river was condensing almost immediately giving the impression that steam was rising from boiling water. It was beautiful to see in the bright sun light.
Do not drink the water!
Sadly, our relaxing walk along the water was interrupted by mysterious illness, rendering us incapable of continuing. After a quick Google we discovered that you cannot in fact drink the water in Irkutsk. This was unfortunately, something we had been doing in earnest since arriving! Needless to say we were hostel bound for the remainder of the day…
First stop of the day was the Tourist information centre to get postcards! The info centre is really helpful! Plus they have loads of surprisingly nice souvenirs that I would have bought if I had space in my bag. Plus, the attendant was really helpful – she sold us stamps and posted the letters for us!
Outdoor Exhibition of Military Equipment
Next stop on our walking tour was the Exhibition of Military Equipment; right at the North end of Karl Marx Street. It’s just a selection of WW2 tanks, artillery guns, trucks and what appeared to be a rocket launcher! A short but interesting use of 20 minutes.
Karl Marx Street
The sun was shining giving somewhat of a respite from the cold. S,o we enjoyed a stroll down Karl Marx Street, taking in some of the more picturesque buildings and more unusual forms of public transport. The buses are decidedly old vehicles – we saw and even rode in one that resembled a minivan!
We made a point of visiting the Babr Statue; Irkutsk’s mythical symbol that came into being in a fairly humorous turn of events. Originally named using an old local word for Siberian tiger in the 1600s, the word eventually fell out of fashion. In the late 19th century, officials redrawing the symbol were confused by this long lost word. They believed it might have been the word for beaver ‘bobr’, misspelled. Therefore, the illustrator created a whole new creature complete with Siberian tiger teeth and beaver-esque flat tail and webbed feet! Very weird!
New Zealand Pies
Hungry from all our walking we made our way to another Trip Advisor suggestion – New Zealand Pies! Not exactly Russian cuisine, but delicious all the same. We loved them so much we had two each! Chicken and beef followed by slightly more unusual pie combinations of chocolate & banana and apple, cinnamon & raspberries. Again, we were bowled over by how cheap this meal was! We spent no more than £7 on some really tasty treats and two drinks each!
We continued our tour into Kirov Square, a surprisingly fun part of the city! Christmas is still very much in full swing so there was an abundance of small decorative trees and a huge crowning glory right in the centre. Ice sculptures littered the area making for some delightful photo opportunities. There was even a huge ice slide that sent small children rocketing across the square, bowling over those that had gone before them as they scrabbled to get out of the way. Sadly, the size and age of the average rider was a little smaller than our own. So, we decided against having a go in case we ended up smashing into some poor, innocent Russian child.
The area just north of Kirov Square is home to a number of beautiful churches; most notably Saviour Church and Sobor Bogoyavlensky.
Sobor Bogoyavlensky, otherwise known as the Epiphany Church, actually replaces an earlier wooden church that was burnt down in 1716. Rebuilt in 1729, it is beautiful building and apparently unique in its ornamentation.
The Saviour church is the oldest surviving stone building in Irkutsk and again replaces an earlier wooden version. Built in 1710, the church was saved from destruction but ultimately closed in 1931 until it was turned into a museum in 1982. It was finally returned to the Russian Orthodox church in 2006 and re-opened for worship.
In the brilliant sun light these churches were beautiful to look at and I’m really glad we made the trip!
Finally, we began our walk back to the hostel to prepare for our train. On our way we wandered past a few of the colourful wooden houses that appear around the city.
And so our days in Irkutsk came to an end. We hopped on the relatively short 3 hour train trip to Baykalsk, for some skiing…
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