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Published: March 7th 2017
Firstly, Irkutsk (Иpкyтcк) is not to be confused with Yakutsk (Якyтcк).
Irkutsk (south of Yakutsk), a vibrant, artsy city dotted with beautiful and fun sculptures was where we spent a lot of our time wandering along the waterfront admiring the Angara River.
The city told a story of shiny, golden-domed cathedrals, glittering marble buildings and collapsing wooden houses that were being consumed by permafrost deterioration. Fishermen lined the river banks, while young cadets marched by the war memorial. Vibrant outdoor markets pulsed in the city centre.
As we prepared to order food in Russian at the fashionable Irish Pub in the flashy, yet unimaginatively named, 130-Kvartal Neighbourhood, we were pleasantly surprised as to the waiter’s English-speaking ability, and the English menu that he presented to us after he heard us struggling with what to say in Russian. It was always a welcomed event when we could speak English to someone. Or French, German, or Spanish, for that matter… (Russian = big learning curve).
The one hour bus ride down a densely, forested road took us to Listvyanka (Лиcтвянкa), a pretty village on the shore of the frozen Lake Baikal.
The price was right for our hotel,
Fishing on the Angara River. Irkutsk.
Open water on the river, due to the fast current coming out of Lake Baikal.
a charming, Stalinist, Soviet-era gem, set upon a hill in the forest. You could say it was a little run-down. Crumbling ceilings, cracked tiles, worn carpets, creaky doors, faded wallpaper, flaking paint, broken cupboards, drafty windows, wobbly chairs, and lop-sided tables. Nevertheless, the concrete monstrosity will likely outlive the Great Pyramids of Giza, and would make a great bomb shelter...
“You’ve added too much concrete, the building looks ugly.” Said no Soviet engineer - ever!
The entire village of Listvyanka was electric with hordes of people who came to enjoy the festivities of the Defender of the Fatherland, a Russian national holiday. And we found ourselves in the midst of hordes of Russian families in our charming and cheap hotel. It made our breakfast experience more of a race to get food at the buffet table, which was an exciting start to the day.
Each day we started with a hike on the majestic, frozen, freshwater lake, surrounded by mountains. Patches of clear ice stunned and amazed us as we gazed down the deep dark blue…Hovercrafts were abuzz, ice sculptures glistened in the sun, and skiers slid away from the crowds to enjoy the quiet spaces of the vast playground of ice and snow.
On day 2, the sticky
snow fell… and so began the proliferation of the snowman… humankind can never resist the temptation of building these odd beings of snow when the snow gets sticky…
Smoked omul, an endemic fish found only in Lake Baikal, was the tastiest treat ever! We made sure we tried some from the local markets and enjoyed every bite. The temps made our picnic that much more enjoyable. We will miss the silent beauty of this ancient place.
Baikal facts. Lake Baikal is the largest freshwater lake in the world by volume, the world’s oldest lake, and also the worlds deepest lake with parts more than 1600 metres deep (more than a mile), and it holds roughly a fifth of all the unfrozen fresh water in the world. Most of the species that live in the lake are endemic, including the nerpa seals, the world’s only true freshwater seals.
Happenstance smiled upon us yet again as we rocked up in Ulan-Ude (Улaн-Удэ) in the Buryatiya Region in Siberia. Two very important Buryat holidays were occurring as we wandered around the city. In the downtown on our first day, the Festival of the New Year (Sagaalgan, which stands for ‘White Month’) left us speechless as the colourful costumes, traditional songs, theatre, and dance entertained us. It was a welcomed sight having spent the previous day on an over-heated, third-class, commuter train with sealed windows. We were definitely well done after 10 hours. No flipping required. Dripping with sweat.
White Month is an entire month of people greeting all family and kin, exchanging gifts, and having reunions. This
Looking at the micro details in the ice.
year, 2017, is the year of the horse in Buryatiya.
The aroma of local foods and buuza (meat dumplings) filled the sub-zero temperature air and a half-dozen tables sold cheesy little trinkets from China.
The following day was the other Buryat holiday, where masses of people made it to the hilltop, and spend time at the Buddhist temple, praying, giving thanks, and putting up a special flag as it flaps and blows in the wind, like a horse tail, bringing good health and wellness for the year to come.
Of particular interest was the Churchill (the name of the town where we reside) Restaurant in Ulan Ude. A local eatery in the shadow of the giant Lenin head. There was an image of Winston Churchill and a cardboard cut-out of one of the Queen’s guards. It was fun to see Churchill written in Cyrillic (Чэpчилль). It certainly warranted an investigation so we enjoyed our last meal in Ulan Ude whilst waiting for our next train ride.
Just when you think the day will be without incident…
In reference to our theme from a few years ago - where to get the best hot chocolate (which
started in Argentina), we stumbled upon a cafe in Ulan-Ude called Travellers Coffee. We learned that if you order the hot chocolate, you get a lukewarm cup of thick, oily, chocolate syrup with marshmallows. As much as we just wanted a hot chocolate, the warmed globulous, sickly-sweetened, brown sludge was growing on us. We for sure got our sugar fix. And if ever we wanted to drink a chocolate bar, we will return for another “hot chocolate”. We also pondered if someone behind the counter was just starting their job that day and got the recipe wrong. We suppose we will never know, unless we come back another day to see if we get the same thing. Our pancreases told us not to return due to the abnormally large amounts of insulin required to deal with such a sugary extravaganza…
This cafe, however, gets merit for the most unexpected and surprising cup of lumpy, dark brown goo.
Such are the challenges with not having a very good grasp on a difficult language. But the lost-in-translation stories can be kind of fun, as long as nobody loses a vital internal organ.
On that note, does anyone want to
Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil. Irkutsk.
donate a pancreas?
Дэвид и Тереса (David and Theresa)
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