Wednesday, February 2, 2011
August 20 Arrival in Irkutsk
I had a better night than the one before. We awoke and made ready to
leave the train, sharing tea, an apple, and an orange for breakfast. We also
ate the last two of our Quaker brand granola and chocolate chip bars. The
train was running late, and this caused more problems. Once a train is late,
it can get bumped back even more because the railway management doesn’t
want it to make others late. So we were a couple of hours late getting into
Irkutsk. We bid farewell to Jeff and Shirley. They are an Australian couple
who are returning home from years of living in England. They are the ones
who were traveling with The Russian Experience. Our group was than met
by Demyan, our local guide, who is a professor of linguistics at a local
university when he is not guiding people around the city. We went to the
Intourist Irkutsk hotel for an ATM and pit stop. The other Sundowners
group was also there. Irkutsk seemed a bit disheveled or disorganized, but
with lots of traffic. Like any number of places in Mexico. Because we were
behind schedule, we got a quick lunch at a fast food pizza place called
Domino’s, but it is not part of the international chain.
We headed toward Lake Baikal along a nice, two-lane paved road.
Demyan said they call it “Nikita’s Road” because it was built for a summit
meeting between Eisenhower and Khrushchev. That meeting was called off
because of the U-2 incident. Demyan said that at least the region got the
road, whereas otherwise it might never have been built.
Along Nikita’s Road is an extensive wooden architecture museum that
has a Buryat section and a Russian Siberian village section. The wooden log
yurts of the Buryats were an interesting contrast. This open air museum is
more extensive than the one in Suzdal. The Russian village consisted of
structures and yards adjacent to each other, and on one side of the only
street—the high side. Of course, the street would have been unpaved. The
continuous structure provided a sort of defense against wolves, bears, and
humans. There was also a Kremlin that looked like a log fort stockade.
We then came to Listvyanka, the lakeside town where our guest house
is. The hills are steep and so the town strings along the shore and with short
fingers into some of the valleys. Alaine tells us that Tatiana, the proprietress,
prides herself on her cooking and so we all dined there. We had omul, a
local delicacy. It is a freshwater cod species from Lake Baikal. Tatiana
stuffed it with vegetables and sauce, and also made potatoes and a carrot
dish with garlic. Good stuff! I wasn’t too fond of the taste of the actual fish
itself, but Tatiana did a great job of preparing it.
The guest house is nice enough. The whole thing reminds me very
much of Big Bear Lake. It is a fairly new log cabin style building. There
are some water leaks. And they are cutting corners by only putting one low
wattage bulb into fixtures meant for two light bulbs. The bathroom is dark.
Only hand towels were provided. The shower units are quite modern. The
bedsheet on Penny’s very uncomfortable mattress was outright filthy and she
had to go have it replaced. The other Sundowners group that we met on the
train is also staying here. One of them told Penny about problems that they
have had with Sundowners. Those difficulties are not unlike those that we
have had, and that Butch and Del have had. Changing the terms of the