Thursday, March 17, 2011

I’ll admit the main reason we decided to stop off in Irkutsk was largely because we spent a lot of time playing Risk at Cornell. That said, it worked out for us, since apparently it’s the most popular stop on the Trans-Siberian, and it’s only an hour bus ride to Lake Baikal. We arrived shortly before the sun, at 6 am – after moving ahead one more time zone. We’re now 12 hours ahead of the US East Coast and we’ll be staying in this time zone for the rest of the trip, which makes it easy to figure out what time it is at home – just switch the am to pm or vice-versa.

Fortunately we had been so tired the day before that we couldn’t stay awake past 8, so we were actually pretty well rested by our 5:15 wake up call. We managed to find our hostel without too much difficulty – although we went one stop farther than we were supposed to on the tram so had a bit of a hike. On the way, we discovered that Papa John’s has made its way to Siberia.

Our room at the hostel was occupied from the night before, so we weren’t able to check in right away. There were a couple empty beds in the dorm room though where we could sit and hang out for a bit while we waited for the museums to open. After some breakfast and showers, it was just about time to head out for the day. Our first stop brought us to the city’s art museum which, while no Hermitage, was impressive for a local museum. We saw some really nice paintings. This one of Moscow from 1942 caught our eyes – you can see the walls of the Kremlin in the left and center of the painting, and St. Basil’s cathedral on the right.

This one was reminiscent of some of the cottages we’ve been passing on the train, and I was amazed at the abundance of paint used on it.

Here’s a close up of the giant paint globs.

Cale was really into a series of Asian-looking metal sculptures displayed in the same room, including this one of a warrior. I sure wouldn’t want to mess with this dude.

This painting from 1819 looked to me like something out of a fairy tale storybook.

The museum even had a collection of Central Asian art (including Mongolia and China). I was really impressed by the intricate ivory carvings. This whole piece was about 6” tall!

After the art museum we took a walk down to the southern edge of the city by the river to see the Trans-Siberian builders monument. It’s topped with a statue of Emperor Alexander III, who commissioned the railroad and there are carvings around the base of other people involved in bringing about the Trans-Siberian. Apparently the figure of Alexander was replaced with an obelisk for some decades during the Soviet era, but he was put back in the 1990’s.

We did a little souvenir shopping at the central market, checked out a bookstore nearby, and made our way back to the north part of the city to visit the Local Studies museum. Unfortunately, the church which our guidebook claimed housed the museum was under construction, and when we walked inside appeared very much to be just a church.

Since we were quite tired by that point, we had some dinner and went back to the hostel. We ate at the London Pub, which was a bit pricey and the food was mediocre. My French onion soup could’ve used more onions, cheese, and bread (it came with croutons instead), and Cale’s lasagna tasted a bit strange – seemed like the sauce was just straight up tomatoes with no seasoning.

Our hostel was interesting. It’s basically one family’s three-bedroom apartment, two bedrooms of which are the hostel – one dorm room with three bunk beds, and one private double, complete with pink walls, bold red curtains, and leopard print blankets.

The family consists of a couple and their son who seemed to be about 5 years old. And with all of these beds, there’s only one bathroom. Yesterday morning, the poor kid was dancing and squealing outside the bathroom door while one of the other hostel guests was taking a rather long shower. But, they do have an official “Backpacker Door Bell.”

This morning we woke up to our first fresh snowfall since we arrived. It was only a couple inches, and it was melting by the afternoon.

We attempted to go to the Trubetskoy house museum – the house of a famous Decembrist (the people involved in the failed December 1825 uprising, many of whom were exiled to Siberia). Sadly, it also was under construction. There was a sign that seemed to indicate that the restoration was expected to be completed in 2009, but the “09” was scratched out. So instead, we went to Irkutsk’s other house museum – the Maria Volkonsky House. She was a princess who followed her husband to Siberia when he was exiled for being a Decembrist.

Apparently there’s a book about her called “The Princess of Siberia,” and the Volkonsky house was the center of high society in Siberia. The house is now furnished with a lot of the family’s old belongings, as well as many portraits of the family and their friends. Some of the rooms are arranged to replicate the way they were when the Volkonsky’s lived in it. Check out the crazy “pyramid piano” on the right.

We were a bit anxious to get to the bus station and on the road to Listvyanka, a village on the edge of Lake Baikal, so we popped into the first food-serving establishment we could find, which happened to be an Irish Pub. We only realized after we were seated and looking around at the abundance of green balloons that today is St. Patrick’s Day!


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