A wholly underappreciated and often skipped leg of the Trans Siberian railiroad, Irkutsk really surprised me with it’s sights, atmosphere and cheap vodka.
I guess it could be said that this is actually my first leg of the Trans Siberian route with my 30 hour Beijing to Ulaan Batataar and my 36 hour Ulaan Bataar to Irkustk journeys strictly being the Trans Mongolian express, whichever you look at it it was certainly my first stop in Russia, my first experience of a country I’ve dreamed about visiting since I was a kid and my first realization that I’m not in Asia anymore.
After the luxury of my 4 bed cabin into Irkutsk, arriving at 7am, I spent an hour and a half trying to hunt down my hostel (IF hostel, great place), 20kgs on my back, -5 degrees outside and not a word of English spoken by the overwhelming majority of locals, this certainly finally felt like Siberia. And despite the uncomfortable situation I was in, I was still loving it.
After wandering around aimlessly I managed to stumble across my hostel, Dimitri the computer programming Russian hipster who owner the hostel hooked us up with maps, a great wifi connection (allowing me to write and post this, deal with advertisers etc) and some ideas on where to go. I knew I was saving Lake Baikal for tomorrow (LINK) so a day sightseeing in my first Russian city was on the cards, there are few better ways to experience a new city or country than pounding the streets for a few hours, so that’s exactly what I did. Here are 5 great things to see in Irkutsk:
Tsar Alexander the third:
Right on the waterfront promenade is Alexander III standing loud and proud complete with the most awesome Russian beard.
Seal show at Akvarium Nerpy:
Straight from Lake Baikal’s fresh water are a couple of seals, Nessie and Tito, who perform quick shows every hour or so for about $3 entrance. Believe it or not, they can sing, do maths and breakdance.
This is what a Cathedral should look like. It brighten ups the seafront with it’s golden spires and Russian architecture. The whole area around the cathedral is pretty nice with monasteries, smaller churches and government buildings but the Cathedral steals the show.
Our Lady of Kazan:
The brand new church is about a 45 minute walk from the Bogoyavlensky Cathedral but it’s absolutely the highlight of my time in Irkutsk. I’ve been dreaming about coming to Russia for year, and this orthodox Church confirmed every dream I’ve had about what Russian sights should look like, absolutely beautiful.
The architecture and Soviet statutes everywhere!
I was trying to decide which should be the fifth thing to include so I kopped out and included everything. With this being my first stop in Russia I was so excited to be seeing everything, from Lenin and Karl Marx Street, to the communist statues dotted around the city, to the oh so very Russian buildings like the train station and former parliament. Just follow the walking path suggested (there are signs everywhere) and you’ll get a chance to soak it all in.
I’m off to Omsk, and then on to Astana Kazakhstan next but I can’t speak highly enough of Irkutsk. Ignore the haters, put this on your itinerary when you’re jumping on the Trans Siberian and go easy on the vodka, a messy, messy night ensued after the sight seeing! Happy travels!