Saturday, February 6, 2010

Siberia 3th Stop : Irkutsk

One of the biggest cities in Siberia ,center of intellectual and social life for exiles (thanks to Tsar Nicholas 1 )and by far the most European looking city around.

Upon arrival at the train station , we were approached by many cab drivers hoping to make a few bucks from these tourists.Unfortunately ,they didn't manage to convince anyone to hop in,but they were so kind to give us the direction to where we wanted to go and we hopped onto a bus.When you step out of the train station , turn right and hop on the tram moving that direction.

When at the train station , do buy a map of Lake Baikal/area around lake baikal.This is something very difficult to find not only online but also in travel guides.This will give you a snapshot of the possible villages to travel to and the accessibility of these villages.Unlike Singapore,where everywhere is accessible , only certain roads lead to these villages from a certain location.This map came in extremely useful in the later parts of our trip.

Baikalers Hostel.( Lonely Planet )The hostel that we made reservations in was really comfortable.600 roubles(SGD30) a night.There was one laptop with free internet,and there was a bathroom!You had no idea how excited I was to get to shower after 4 days.The feeling was just indescriable.I guess after having the privilege of showering at least once a day being stripped away from me for a few days, I've come to appreciate this privilege very much!I don't know how the Singaporean army guys survive weeks without showering especially with humid weather..really.

We met a few travellers at the hostel who were keen on heading to Olkhon Island as well.A french couple ( Kami and ....I forgot his name )studying anthropology in France were backpacking across Russia towards Kamchatka with their Camping gear!Isn't that cool ?the girl reminded me so much of Lori,a spunky friend of mine from Columbus,USA!( Both Lori and her are about the same height , blonde hair , blue eyes )The 5 of us trooped over to the bus station to get marshutka tickets to bus station near the ferry jetty of Lake Baikal.As usual , Therese and Selma walked pretty fast,and the french couple and I were taking our time , enjoying the conversations and the streets of Irkutsk.

What struck me most is the number of loose change lying around on the street.1 rouble , 1 kopeck.They were all lying around.Streets were clean , cars were decent.It was difficult to believe that this can be Russia.But I later found out the reason.Siberia , rich in oil,diamonds and natural resources.The money just keeps rolling in!As we were walking along the river side taking photos of churches,The winds were pretty strong and the feeling of being swept away by the winds was pretty thrilling.Hello, Mary Poppins!We found a cafe serving up a business lunch at 190 roubles,SGD 9-10.Plov, soup,salad,drink and that filled up a great deal, pretty cosy decor as well.

Back at the hostel , we received some terrifying news that the transport minister of Eastern Siberia had died while travelling across the frozen lake Baikal.
Read about it here!

It shook us up a great deal , with Selma and THerese panicking about the idea of dangers while crossing the ice.I had to call Nikita Guesthouse ( accomodation on Olkhon ) to verify the situation and sought help on crossing from Mainland to Olkhon Island, which was on Lake Baikal.In summer , there are ferries that will bring tourists across to the island , but come winter , people normally go by car or by foot.We were there in April and the ice was melting and getting unstable.

The marshutka leaving Irkutsk for Lake Baikal was leaving 9am the next morning.And we found out towards the end of the day that instead of 5 people going to Olkhon Island, there was now 9 of us. 3 french, 1 canadian, 2 british,1 swedish, 1 dutch and 1 singaporean.Screw the unstable ice , we are still going.

The rest of the 6 did not have any reservations for accomodation made on Olkhon island, but as April was not the peak season ( due to the unstable ice ), there was of course plenty of rooms that Nikita Guest House on Olkhon Island could offer.There was going to be a problem.How do all 9 of us cross the ice?By foot.We planned to walk across by foot and someone from Nikita Guesthouse will be on Olkhon Island waiting for us and take us to the accomodation.

That was the plan.But as it turned out , few things go according to plan.

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