From Tomsk, leaving at 8:00 PM local time, it was two train rides to Krasnoyarsk, and I arrived at 8:40 am local time. Svetlana, the hostel young lady, met me at the train, and
drove me to the hostel—-how nice! It was in a good location to see things, but I was pretty tired from all the train rides. Sleeping on a train is not like sleeping in a bed! So I took it easy that day and only visited two sights.
One was the Surikov Estate-Museum. He was an artist that painted in the 19th C. and this ‘estate’ where he lived is preserved right in the middle of this city.
There is a wooden house—-all furnished with lots of pianos and samovars, a couple of sheds, a growing vegetable patch, and a bronze statue of him on the lawn. It was fun to see how a well-off person lived in the 1890s. Clearly he is a local hero.
Then I walked to the Intercession Cathedral from 1795, which was very beautiful. Russians seem pretty religious. There is lots of activity in the churches in off hours, and I notice that the majority of women and girls wear a headscarf when they enter.
There is also lots of candle burning, and the churches seem very well kept up.
The trains are getting less modern the farther from Moscow one goes. It was that way in China, too, when I went all the way west to the Pakistani border. The latest I’ve been on are so rough—-they remind one of a bucking bronco! Sleep is pretty much impossible. The toilets are also not the modern (airplane) kind, but flush directly onto the tracks. So this trip kind of ‘goes back in time.’
More sight seeing Sunday. I started with the wonderful Regional Museum, that even had some English in the explanations. It was on the river bank in a ‘20s Egyptian Temple building! I thought the stars were the full Wooly Mammoth skeleton and a mockup of a Wooly Rhinoceros that lived about the same time in these parts. There were some petroglyphs around Krasnoyarsk that I wanted to see, but not enough time and energy. But the museum had some artist’s reproductions, so I got to see these. As I was leaving the museum, a man asked me in German where I was from. I said, “America.” He said, “Obama!” and seemed to make a negative exclamation. I nodded my head in the affirmative and gave a thumbs up sign and said, “Obama Good!” He seemed to make another negative exclamation and then said “Obama-Iraq!” I nodded negatively and said, “No, Obama-Iraq—-Bush Iraq!” He said something else, and I turned to go. Then he put out his hand for me to shake, which I did. A political discussion!!
From there I moved on to the Surikov Art Museum in a beautiful little 19th C. mansion. I
saw some of his paintings as well as some by others. I looked in on one more church but that didn’t amount to much. So I grabbed a bus and asked to be put off at a particular street, which they were pronouncing the same as I was, but apparently neither the conductor or the person helping knew where that street was. When they said for me to get off off, I discovered that I was about six blocks too early! So a pretty long walk in the hot sun prepared me for several small bottles of water with my linner. I had pickled herring (nothing like you’re picturing, and VERY good), a salad, and then venison in cowberry sauce. I had seen people on the street selling
these little red berries. I think they grow wild and are a July specialty of the area. I enjoyed it all very much, after the ‘platinum’ vodka.
Back to the hostel where I met my new roommate, (except I was leaving that evening) Alena from Moscow, who could speak quite a bit of English. She was also going across Siberia, but ducking into China before Vladivostok. She thought it was strange that her longest trip
ever would be within her own country—-yes, Siberia is BIG! My domestic flight back to Moscow from Vladivostok will take
Well, the trains are getting older and the tracks bumpier, the further from Moscow I go. My overnight train on Monday night was so lurchy and jerky that I really didn’t sleep much at all. I even took a taxi to my hostel—-not really kosher if you’re a backpacker! I got a bed in a 10-bed dorm without a window! And it was very hot. After I showered and ate, I fell into bed about 7:00 and slept for a couple of hours, but woke up very hot. I asked if I could have a bed in a room that had a window. Well, I got a much nicer situation—-a very roomy 8-bed dorm with a 10 X 10 balcony, as well as an open door/window! It cost an extra $5 a night, bringing it to $16/night—-I’m a spender, all right .
On the train, as I got closer to Irkutsk, I saw crops growing, instead of just grass, and also the villages were bigger and more frequent. Clearly the population is heavier around here. Until this time, the landscape was very flat. Now it was more rolling hills, kind of like Wisconsin. There is quite a logging industry here, too, as I see logs being transported by train. Actually I was on lots of
night trains, so I didn’t see large areas of Siberia while traveling. I see many of the Russians in Siberia are very blond—-they look like Swedes!
In my Irkutsk dorm I met two lovely Russian girls from St. Petersburg, who were fluent in English. How nice! We had a nice chat before they went out and I went back to sleep!
The next morning the hostel provided coffee, tea, and cookies for breakfast. Nobody drinks coffee here—-only tea. Well, the girl made some BREWED coffee for me. Only thing was that she didn’t have the top seated properly so the coffee didn’t decend. It was also VERY weak, and by the time I drank it, not hot. I drank it anyway, but asked if I could make myself another cup, and so I did. This was hot and strong, and not bad.
Tuesday I walked quite a long way in the hot sun to see the Znamensky Monastery, apparently a nunnery. In the church they were having a little service with about four singers—-very nice. By the way, people don’t know I’m taking these pictures—-I use my
long lens and, of course, no flash.
Back at the hostel, I met Daniel and Sabina, a Danish couple, and had a very nice
conversation with them. It’s amazing how all the Europeans speak fluent English with hardly an accent. Later I went to see an art museum, which I found but which wasn’t open. Drat. Then I looked for a particular restaurant which was right nearby—-found that, too, but it wasn’t open either! So I walked toward the hostel and chose the first restaurant that I came to. I had an African waiter——first African that I’ve seen on this whole trip. He was from the Democratic Republic of Congo. One of the lost boys, perhaps? He was pretty young. He spoke some English, so they had him wait on me.
Wednesday was my day at Lake Baikal, the deepest lake on earth. It is 400 miles long and about 40 miles wide; it is 1600 meters deep; that’s almost a mile! It was formed 25 million years ago by tectonic plates pulling apart, which they still are. It gets wider by two centimeters a year. It’s the oldest lake in the world, as well! It has more water in it than all five Great Lakes combined! We’re talking BIG, here!
I took a minibus out there—-it’s 40 miles from Irkutsk. I went to Listvyanka, but this really isn’t a town, only a resort area for people from Irkutsk with some hotels, restaurants and a lot of boats. I took a boat ride with about 20 Russians—-I was the only foreigner
on board. Luckily for me the guide spoke impeccable English as she had gone to high school in New York on an exchange program, and then had worked in San Fran and Las Vegas. What a cute girl.
I had to wait about 1 1/2 hours for the boat ride, so I had a beer and dumplings with dill, at 10:30 AM!! The weather was beautiful although kind of hot. I didn’t even stick my toe in the lake—-but I could see that the water was really cold by the reaction of a few strapping young men who attempted going in. I’m told it completely freezes over in the winter.
When I got back to town, it required a nap. On the way back to my hostel, there was a
sidewalk fountain keeping the children entertained and cool. Fun for everyone.
The hostel plays (softly) endless DVDs of Joe Cocker and Sting. I am so ignorant of this music that it’s good for me to see/hear it.
My last day in Irkutsk was spent walking around to many of the churches and museums.
Raising of the Cross Church from 1758 was bizarre, but satisfying.
When I left I walked a little wrong, but I’m getting to know some of the letters in the Cyrillic alphabet so I can figure out if I’m on the right street, that is if I can find a street sign. Actually in this town some of the signs had English spellings below the Russian, which helped a lot.
Next was Volkonsky House Museum. This was a rather lavish house with spiffy furnishings that
was used in the 1850s by a Countess who followed her husband into exile. However, her exile was kind of high class.
Apparently she gave parties, balls, and soirees for this 10-year period. I think they returned to St. Petersburg when
his sentence was served.
There was the house, and several out buildings for servants and horses. The rooms had lots of piano fortes and music boxes. It was fun to see. My guidebook says there is a wonderful book about her called, “The Princess of Siberia” by Christine Sutherland.
Another bizarre church—Bogoyavlensky Cathedral, but fun to see, had every square inch of interior surface covered with murals.
There were more churches, too, but enough is enough for you. They are wondrous, though.
The weather has been beautiful, if a little hot. Sleeping without A/C is just doable, and by morning it is really comfortable with a top sheet. Fans would help, but Russians seem to be cold easily. They wear a lot of clothes—-long sleeves and light jackets in the hot weather. Not all do—-certainly not the young, pretty girls.
Siberia certainly has a lot of statues, especially relating to war. I suspect my dad would
have said not to do that as it glorifies war. Even in these small cities there are many, many. There are also beautiful parks, flowers and fountains. Today I passed a lovely flower bed with young women grooming the flowers. Quite a summer job, I think!
This town has a ‘Green Line,’ which really is a green line going down the sidewalk. It corresponds with a tourist map which takes you around to many museums and points of interest. That’s really a good idea. I don’t think it’s unique to Irkutsk, but it certainly makes sight seeing easier, especially when you have trouble reading the signs.
My last thing to see today was the Sukachev Regional
Art Museum. I had stopped there yesterday but for some reason they weren’t open as advertised. It was a
very good museum, but it’s too much work to figure out the artists’ names (let’s see—
P is R; backwards 3 is e, etc) so I didn’t so I didn’t exactly know what (or who) I was looking at.
However, then I came upon familiar stuff—-Matisse cut-outs and Salvador Dali’s far-out pieces. There were also some Marc Chagall drawings, too.
And a few paintings from the 1920s to 1960s that reminded me of the ones in the Russian Museum in Minneapolis.
Much fun just to observe the folks going about their business, though. Like anywhere I go, there seem to be communicators and non-. No matter how I carefully pronounce something, some people just turn away and shrug. Others listen carefully and then ‘get it’ and are very helpful.
It has really been nice to have four nights here in Irkutsk. Tomorrow I move on to Ulen Ude with a train ride from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM. Not bad!