August 7th: We crossed two time zones getting into Irkutsk, so now we were a whole five hours ahead of Moscow…which meant that a nice 10am arrival in Irkutsk still meant waking up pretty early…as we were still on Novosibirsk time.
We were picked up by our guide, Natalia at the station itself and were headed for a city tour…right from the train station…followed by our check-in at 2pm. I suspect our hotel couldn’t let us check in earlier so our tour planner thought this was a good idea…I did too! Hey, why wait around..might as well get the city tour done with. Good idea, right? Well, not really. After doing nothing on the train for a full day, leading to not much hunger/eating( we were eating one meal a day on the trains..interspersed with junk food) all this sudden walking around without any breakfast led very quickly to both of us being really famished. I couldn’t even concentrate on what Natalia was saying!:)
Even after we stopped to get a bite…it was too late. My energy didn’t really come back and now, I was really wanting to get back to the hotel…oh, also, we were going to be staying at the Marriott..in the middle of Siberia!!! A Marriott!!:):) Whohoo! Now I really wanted to get there!
In any case, we still finished the city tour. Irkutsk is on the confluence of 2 rivers, the Angara River and Irkut(from which the town gets its name). The Angara river is the only river that flows out of the Baikal. It’s logical of course, but just odd to see all these rivers that flow north instead of south into the Arctic Ocean. The city was founded in the late 1600s and was primarily a trading post due to its strategic location to China, Mongolia and the rest of Russia. Irkutsk was also the place that most political prisoners were exiled to.. Remember when you read in some history lesson about criminals being sent/banished to Siberia? Well, that would be Irkutsk! At least for the early part of the 20th century.
We also visited the Church of our Savior which is a beautiful cathedral built in the early 1700s and the first stone structure in all of Eastern Siberia. The church was recently restored..especially some of the frescos on the outer walls which I imagine would get pretty damaged in this kind of extreme weather.
We finally got to our hotel…which is lovely as expected! The staff speaks excellent English and its a nice respite from the last 10 days. We’re planning on venturing out a little later but right now, we’re just relaxing after an amazing 3 course lunch…what makes me even happier is that it was only 14$!:):)
We are off to see Lake Baikal tomorrow. Cannot wait!
PS: Happy Birthday Singapore! Enjoy the four day long weekend and the fireworks! I miss you.
It was an overcast day and coupled with the exhaustion, we didn’t take too many pictures today. Saving our energy for Lake Baikal tomorrow.