An afternoon in Irkutsk and on to Ulaanbaatar
07.07.2011 - 07.07.2011 17 °C
Olkhon Island – Irkutsk, Russia
With bags stacked on the roof and a minibus largely consisting of travelers from our guesthouse the 6-hour journey back to what we now termed ‘civilization’ would pass relatively quickly. Yet it was not without some sadness that we left the island. For whilst the weather had given us an unexpected glimpse of the difficulties of life in Siberia the acquaintances made and banya experience had more than compensated. As we left Khuzhir the rain soaked dirt roads, now turned to mud, made the drive a little slower and also ensured the color of our roof mounted bags had changed to a dark brown by the time we arrived in Irkutsk.
Departing from the train station, a few days previous, we had thought Irkutsk a generally uninspiring town, after the bright lights of Moscow. Now, after two nights on ‘the island’ the bright lights of Irkutsk held so much appeal. Grocery stores, restaurants and traffic had become almost foreign to us after our brief stay in the wilderness.
Eric, whom we had met on the island, had decided a third night alone on the island might induce a temptation to self harm. As such he was spending his last night before also departing for Mongolia at a Irkutsk hostel. This worked well for us providing not only a base to freshen up in but also an impromptu tour guide. Having stayed in the city before heading to the island he was able to provide a quick tour of the main sights before our 22:15 train to Ulaanbaatar, that evening.
With its rebuilt byzantine churches, waterfront location and warm sun (that had appeared as soon as we left the island) we could quickly see why Irkutsk is one of the most popular stops on the Trans-Siberian Railway. The eye-catching fairytale ensemble of the Bogoyavlensky Cathedral, with recently restored salmon, white and green towers adds a colorful dazzle to the otherwise dreary Angara riverfront. With Eric able to speak some Russian we were able to negotiate the purchase of two small icons from the Cathedral before wondering the riverfront, which provided for pleasant views of both the park and fast flowing river.
With early evening upon us a variety of buskers entertained the strolling locals as we said goodbye to Eric, with promises to meet up at the Naadam and headed for our rendezvous with the Trans-Mongolian Express.
Ensconced in a slightly newer carriage than we had become accustomed to it was clear by the number of English voices in the carriage that few locals would be making the trip to Ulaanbaatar.
Of the twelve carriages that left Irkutsk only two passenger carriages, the dining car and a guards van would actually cross the border. Yet, for now we were happy to watch the sun setting over this southern corner of Siberia and retire to another comfortable night on the train.