Russia Day 6 – Into Siberia

I can never sleep on planes, and this one was no exception even though business class offered bigger seats, with more space and comfort it seemed sleep was not an option. When breakfast was served it was done so with real cutlery and ceramic pots, not the normal plastic ones I’m used to on flights. The breakfast however consisted of “posh” food that I wasn’t keen on so only ate the bread roll and drank the apple juice and tea that came with it.

It was 09:30 local time when we landed, the equivalent of having been awake until 04:30 in Moscow time. After having been tired for most of the previous day, I was starting to no longer feel tired, or hungry by the time we met our guide at the gate. What is odd about Irkutsk airport though is that you don’t go from the gate to baggage and then arrivals, you go from the gate to arrivals and then baggage collection.

The drive from the airport to the hotel was only around 15 minutes and the route was one which was new to our guide as well – but fortunately the driver knew his way around. At the hotel we were given 35 minutes to get ready and this was enough time for me to have a shower and get changed before heading back out on the first tour in the Siberian capital.

At the time we visited, Irkutsk was only about 355 years old but this young town played a part in the history of Russia as a whole. After the failed Decembrist revolution of 1825 those that were involved were exiled to the far reaches of Russia, but were eventually allowed to settle in Irkutsk where they brought new culture to the town. They were then again at the centre of Russian history during the October Revolution which saw a civil war between the “White” and “Red” armies.

After the suppression of the anti-Bolsheviks the Soviets brought industry to the town and built a hydroelectric dam to provide power. The main industry in Irkutsk is now aircraft construction, though it’s not something which is apparent when visiting.

Our tour of Irkutsk started near the Angara river and two churches. Irkutsk originally consisted of mostly wooden buildings but after a great fire in 1879 a lot of them were destroyed and resulted in a new law that new buildings in the city centre must be made from stone, such as the many Soviet-era apartment blocks that now sit between the wooden buildings that survived.

Apparently the Cathedral of the Epiphany got so hot from the fires of this time that it melted the large bell it once it had, but both of these churches were restored. When a lot of churches were being destroyed during the time of the communist government these ones survived and were repurposed. We went in the Church of Our Saviour though our guide said she had to wait outside as she wasn’t allowed inside without covering her head. This is because the Russian Orthodox church doesn’t allow women inside places of worship without head coverings – to me this just sounds like yet another way the church has treated women differently for no reason.

At this point a green line was pointed out to us and we were told how it is a route that takes tourists to all the points of interest where there are information boards about places. This led us to a monument to those lost in war, and where school children of approximately 15 years were practicing marching and standing guard. Our guide was surprised they didn’t have rifles today, but then said that their marching isn’t about showing power to the west, but remembering and honouring their ancestors.

Across a bridge from there we got down to the riverside and various memorials along the way including one dedicated to the Russian cossacks. This part of the walking tour ended with a Moscow gate – a modern rebuild of one of the old customs gate that used to sit along the route from Moscow to Irkutsk in the days when the journey was done by road and by boat.

Our next stop was yet another church, and we were told about how Russians like to know a lot of details about history and places they visit. This was a good explanation as to why our previous guide had gone into so much incredible detail when we were in Moscow. Today’s guide did go into a lot of detail, though it seems she didn’t go into as much as she could have for a Russian group. In the grounds of this one we were told about a few of the people that were buried there, including the wife and 11 year old son of one of the Decembrists.

After a short drive we were taken to Trubetskoy Manor, the home of one of the Decembrist exiles. To take photographs in this old wooden building we needed to pay 100 roubles per camera being used, though I imagine it was actually meant as being per person who is taking photos. I took several photographs around this house as we were told about the Decembrist revolution and their subsequent exile. Out of all those that were exiled, only 9 of them had their wives join them in exile as in doing so it meant they would lose their wealth, title, and status in society.

To finish the tour we were taken to a memorial of Alexander III. It seems to be the case for many things in Russia that they were destroyed by either Napoleon, the Nazis, or the communist party. In this case it was the communists that destroyed this statue and replaced it with a memorial to the workers instead. Approximately 20 years ago this was then replaced with the memorial that stands there today – an approximation of the original based on the notes that were available.

As it was now mid-afternoon we were asked if we’d like to go for a snack or be taken back to the hotel. We were then given directions to where we could find food and was dropped back at the hotel. As it was chilly in Irkutsk compared to Saint Petersburg and Moscow I grabbed my coat from the room and headed out in search of food.

Along Lenin Street there are quite a few shops, and we found a place called Double Coffee that offered a good selection to choose from. As it turned out though it was also one of the cheapest meals of the trip so far with the meal costing 750 roubles per person with the tip. I went for beef stroganoff with mashed potatoes and a large drink of coca cola.

For the remainder of the afternoon I relaxed at the hotel – it was a chance to catch up on sleep that had been missed over the previous couple of days. Due to the late lunch we decided to not have an evening meal and instead headed down to the hotel’s restaurant to just try out their dessert menu. I ordered a Russian honeycomb cake however they’d run out of this – instead I tried the chocolate truffle cake. This turned out to taste really good and was a very large slice for only 300 roubles.

At last though, I could get some proper sleep.

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