Today’s Sunday Spotlight is shone at the adorable city of Irkutsk, in Siberia, Russia, not too far from the beautiful Lake Baikal – the world’s biggest inland lake. On the train heading to Irkutsk from Ulaan Baatar I was chatting with several people, including one guy who reckoned that Irkutsk was one of the least impressive cities he’d visited.
So heading into Irkutsk I wasn’t expecting too much. However, I think the point he missed is that Irkutsk, whilst being the biggest city/town/place we’d encountered on route since leaving China, it’s not a big city, and one shouldn’t be expecting it to be. That doesn’t mean though that it’s not a nice place, because it is even with Arctic winds blowing like crazy and near zero-degree temperatures, I enjoyed my time there.
Public Transport is a combination of trams, buses and trolley buses. It takes a bit of time to work out but the hostel I stayed in (Baikaler Hostel) was helpful with directions even if I stuffed them up a bit. It’s cheap to get around town at any rate. Walking is good too, but there are a few things that are far away from the centre and you’ll need some form of transport to get to.
There are some nice churches in the centre – there’s a Catholic Church and the large ‘Saviour’s Church’, which is in a park next to a war memorial with an eternal flame. No photos allowed in that church, opposite is the Bogoyavlensky Cathedral, which is (at least from the outside) the prettiest of the three churches.
I was there on the coldest of cold days, with the wind really adding to the chilliness. It’s a solemn walk along the Angara River with a series of memorial placards to young children who have passed away. I’m not sure of the full story, whether this was some disaster that claimed many young lives, or if they were cancer victims or exactly what. They lead up to the Moscow Gate, which was a gate to welcome those who came to Irkutsk by river from the Russian capital.
The Znamenksy Monastery was a little way away and I took a trolley bus there. It still required probably the most difficult crossing of a road I had in my whole trip to get to the quiet, mostly closed on the day I was there, monastery. The interior of the ‘Church of the High Sign Painter’ was beautiful and people came in and out making their daily prayers. I sat, watched and enjoyed the atmosphere.
The other main attraction I visited in Irkutsk was on the other side of town. With pleasant weather and time I might have walked to the monastery – but to the ’Angara Ice Breaker’ – a ferry turned into a museum, I took a bus journey that took around 30 minutes.
The museum part was not very interesting. The ship used to go from one side of Lake Baikal to the other before the roads were decent enough. There used to be a ferry that took trains as well. It would have needed to be bigger than the ‘Angara’. What was really interesting was going down into the belly of the ship and exploring. I was the only visitor at the time and there was no-one watching over me. Maybe a little dangerous, but I’m an adult. It was awfully fun to explore.
Back more central in Irkutsk, the 130 Kvartal is a small district with historic wooden houses, mostly restored (or I think in a few cases brand new!) Good for a wonder and few photos – the old wooden Russian style is really something unique and special.
Irkutsk has a few more streets worth exploring too and couple of museums, it’s a pretty nice city all said and the only criticism which I can come up with was the weather. They don’t have a big window of warmer weather, possibly June to August is nice, late May. I was there mid-May and I don’t think it got over 10 degrees. But that’s by the by – that’s Siberia for you!
Thanks for reading, and May the Journey Never End!