Trans-Siberian Part 2: From the Deserts of Mongolia to Post-Communist Irkutsk, Russia
After Chinggis Kahn, horse riding in the desert, and hanging out with shamans in Mongolia it was time to get back on the train and head into the great beyond of the Eastern Russian frontier. And thus the Trans-Mongolian train line ended and the true Trans-Siberian officially began.
The two days journey on the train was spent with a certain anticipation of the super power of Russia. It was a similar feeling to the first time I entered China. I was excited, curious, and most of all ready to run out into the cold of Siberia.
Our arrival in Irkutsk, Russia was the same as any train station and the reality that pretty much nobody spoke English soon became apparent. So with the little Russian we knew, (yes, no, good, and stupid boy), we worked out our path to our hostel using all our new lingo aside from “stupid boy.”
As we made our way into the city center a certain awesome feeling of cold war nostalgia crept in as we took our trolley car down Karl Marx Street and passed a giant bronze statue of Lenin. We arrived at our hostel, dumped our bags, got a quick cheap schnitzel and mashed potato lunch, and headed out to explore the city.
The first sights of towers of old Russian Orthodox churches peeked out over the industrial landscape of the mostly gray rainy city. The Russian people have a certain tough cold demeanor, but like all people when pressed a little with a smile, and usually some vodka too, they warm up and become very friendly.
I won’t have you believe though the city was some sort of post apocalyptic Russian industrial dump that looks 100 years old, even though tattered collapsing buildings do appear sporadically; there are signs of a young hip counter culture and life in this city.
Adjacent to the main park that shoots down the center of the city is a skate park surrounded by over 200 yards of giant spray painted graffiti murals.
If I had to choose one thing not to miss in Irkutsk it would have to be the The Church of Our Lady of Kazan, who is the patroness of Russia. Aside from other Russian Orthodox churches that gave us a tasty preview of perhaps St. Petersburg to come, Our Lady of Kazan was a beautiful masterpiece all in it’s own right. Beautifully painted in and out, the desert red, royal blue, and sky blue cathedral is an impressive sight, especially when complimented by impeccable weather.
As we made our may back to our hostel we looped pass the monument of Alexander III. It only seemed appropriate to finish our day with this monument, as it was Alexander III who pressed for and began the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railways.
We spent our last day in Irkutsk relaxing, consuming traditional Russian dishes, and planning out trip to Lake Biakal, which is the largest fresh water and deepest lake in the world and only happens to be an hour away.
Alas, once again we packed our things, said goodbye to Irkutsk, and hopped back on the Trans-Siberian to make our way across the world’s biggest country. Next stop, Omsk….