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Crossing the Tran-Siberian frontier

Day 16 Sightseeing Day in Irkutsk

sunny 20 °C

Last night was our last sleep before we embark on the final frontier of four nights on the trans-Mongolian train from Irkutsk to Russia, one of the great train rides that covers 5093 km. The other well known train is the trans-Siberian from Vladivostok to Moscow but they both connect through Irkutsk.
We have packing down to an art-form and it now only takes around 30 to 40 minutes to compress everything we'll have for 4 months into our bags. Although, we do have some days when packing just seems to not go back in the same way. Jen always seems to have the sit on top - her zip close technique is refined but our bags do get a punishment. It's refreshing that all we have to worry about is what's in our bags and nothing else.

We had plenty of time before our train leaves at 6.22 pm so we went for a walk around the streets of Irkutsk. Setting off after breakfast, we walked to the main square along the river, the main government building on Lenin Street, around the main Russian Orthodox Church and got to the War Memorial and eternal flame. There are many reminders of the Soviet era everywhere, often in stark contrast to shiny and modern developments.

Our quiet morning dawdle was interrupted the sounds of boots marching and about 30 cadets emerged goosestepping towards the Memorial and Eternal Flame.
After some apparent preparations, four peeled off and positioned themselves around the Flame with the rest of the formation marching back to the building, and at ease. Upon entering the inner square they still goosestepped but silently and respectfully.
What followed was a strangely endearing process. What appeared to be a head cadet stayed off to the side and then approached each of the cadets on guard and proceeded to straighten and adjust their attire (shoelaces, trouser cuffs, jackets etc) to ensure they were perfectly presented - even a gentle moment where he careful tucked a female cadet's hair out of her eyes, adjusted her pigtails, and seemed to brush an eyelash from her eye - all while the cadets stood stoically for their allocated time guarding the Eternal Flame.

Near to the Flame were a series of photoboards with faces of citizens of Irkutsk, honouring them for service in the Second World War - some historical and likely perished, some modern who appeared to have lived to grand old ages. Hearing Russians describe the Second World War, they don't identify any country as a foe but call it the Patriotic War in which they were victorious. Their history is absent comments about the Allied Forces. The avenue of patriots was sombre and respectful.
Continuing on past the Community Garden project, we headed down to the remarkably fast flowing Irkutsk River, the only outflow from Lake Baikal. There are many tributes to the past around Irkutsk including an impressive commemorative statue to the Cossacks.
Love locks are now a common feature of most waterside boulevards around the world.

We stopped at the obligatory Vladimir Lenin statue, standard in most towns, with his one arm out front pose.
Onto Karl Marx Road, to the statue of Irkutsk's Coat of Arms character and protector of the region, Babr, a Siberian Tiger with a sable dangling from its mouth. Rubbing its claws is said to bring success - of course we wouldn't miss an opportunity - just in case.
In Russia, bronze statutes seem to be the focus of superstition and its easy to tell what might be considered good luck by a shiny spot as Russians rub the spot as they pass.

Time for coffee as we walked though a renovated part of town, Quarter 130, with cafes and restaurants in the traditional Irkutsk old style. Irkutsk is known for its classic old wooden buildings with decorative shutters. Unfortunately, as is the case of every city wanting to preserve heritage structures, the owners are faced with more expensive renovation costs than a new build. As a result, many classic buildings are vacant and sadly becoming derelict.
It was lovely wandering the streets, enjoying this beautiful town.
We finished at the local mall and local market full of sights, sounds and smells of the culture.
Time for lunch and we found a Belgian beer cafe and devoured some traditional sausages and local beers. Beers are 500 ml and 8% alcoholic content so they they go down very well.
As this leg of the train trip was going to be for 4 nights and 3 full days, we needed a good selection of food supplies from the local supermarket (which could survive without refrigeration) - local pastries with mince meat, salami, bread, spreadable cheese, noodles and meat & potato "just add water" meals, snacks, cereal, juice and tea. It's always a fun challenge in exploring the supermarket and we sometimes get a few funny looks from the locals as Jen and I go through this saga of reading, deciphering and selecting our foods - often marvelling at the variety and diversity. We have enjoyed deciphering Cyrillic and Jen has been able to figure out many Russian words just by knowing the sounds of characters.

Time for these two travellers to hit the tracks!

No issues with getting to the station with plenty of time to spare. Once the platform was announced we made our way which involved going up and down about 20 steps with all our bags. We got caught out by a guy wearing a fluoro vest who made out to be an official, asking for our tickets but quickly grabbing our bags, despite our protestations that we could do it, trying to help, and proceeded to take them to the platform. It was one of those situations that we should have just stopped and told him firmly "NET!". At the carriage, he then demanded for 200 Rubles (about $4). Oh well that's part of travelling!

The train carriage was a further step down in quality with vinyl seats, the standard communal toilet that drops straight onto the tracks and even less padding for sleeping mats, pillows and doonas. Overall the train was tired and a little run down - but classic. Our fellow travellers are mostly Russian. We are reassured by the sight of the classic coal fired hot water boiler - a beautiful piece of engineering! - and, once the bunks are made up with crisp clean white linen, the antibacterial wipe process completed, our bags and travellers' kit arranged, our cabin is cosy and perfectly comfortable.

The Train left with the precision we have come to respect of the Russian Train Network with the entire timetable of all Russian trains on Moscow time, regardless of the local timezone.

Jen and I started to settle down with a little apprehension for what lay ahead of us. Jen was just thinking about how I am going to survive with the sun up at 3 am, not much to do, definitely no wi fi, and sit in once spot for 4 nights and 3 days. We always knew this was going to be one of the rare opportunities in life to "switch off the world". It is also a good test early in our marriage - 4 days confined to a 10'x6' cabin...TBC

Mockba here we come!

Posted by tszeitli 12:34 Archived in Russia Tagged beer train_station russia cabin toilets irkutsk antique_boiler food_supplies

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by Alan Davie

Well, those 3 monkeys, no see, no hear, no talk/repeat; as I have been informed, is of Chinese ancient wisdom, showing prudence and discretion. How come it popped up there also? I guess wisdom is without boarder...? But what was Tom trying to portray among them? :-0)))

by Angela Zheng

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