Day 15 on Trans-Siberian Railway: A day in Irkutsk

It is time to say good-bye. To the tiny village in the middle of nowhere going by the name Bugul’deyka, to the tranquil waters of Lake Baikal and to our kind host Volodya. And such moments can often get emotional. Especially when you get to experience special places and meet special people along the way. This one good-bye is shaping definitely out to be a pretty emotional one. Before we get to the tears welling in the eyes, waving farewell and shining the last smiles, there is still the last breakfast to be enjoyed in the company of Romanovs.

Yep you heard it right! Romanovs – the last tsarist dynasty of Russia. In this era where your every move, wish and preference can be tracked and predicted, a series about the Romanovs popped up on our Netflix radar as we were making our way through the vast Russian empire. How convenient. And so in the company of Romanovs we enjoyed a quiet morning in our Buryat home until the clock stroke 09:30 and it was time to head to Irkutsk.

The car is packed, and a sentimental walk around the house and the courtyard to bid farewell is accomplished. What is left is an emotional good-bye with Volodya. He managed to turn it into a beautiful, tear-filled ceremony as he put on his full Buryat suit and came bearing gifts.

Volodya clad in his full Buryat outfit came out to see us off

Volodya clad in his full Buryat outfit came out to see us off

Remember I told you some time ago, that you might get a chance to meet Volodya. Well here you go. A kind, kind soul that made our trip so special with his stories, kindness and humble personality.

IMG_0887

Irkutsk is calling. A dusty, yet beautiful 4 hour drive in a right-hand car takes us to our destination. Being driven in a right-hand drive vehicle in a country where the traffic is officially left-handed can easily turn to an exhilarating experience. As you move from west to east in Russia you start noticing a few wrong sided adventurers, but wait until you reach Mongolia. There right-hand seems to be more the norm than the exception.

View from our hotel room over Irkutsk

View from our hotel room over Irkutsk

Four hours later we arrive to the very heart of Irkutsk to find the central streets and squares closed off for traffic. Apparently there is this thing called Silk Way Rally and it is slated to launch the day of our departure from nowhere else but Irkutsk and take on Russia, Mongolia and China. So the whole city is filled with show-off offroad vehicles. At this point Andreas is totally ecstatic and half-contemplating a change of plans to stay a day longer in Irkutsk.

This being our last day in Russia and preceding a yet another 24 hour train ride across the border to Mongolia, we decided to treat ourselves real nice and check into the fanciest hotel that Irkutsk has to offer with a real bed and a real shower. Apparently majority of Silk Way Rally participants had the same idea and so the hotel lobby and restaurant is filled up with groups from all corners of the world.

IMG_0911
IMG_0914The sun is shining, it is a gorgeous day, the city is smiling and that all you need for smiling back. Irkutsk turns out to be such a charming city. Pity we only have a few hours to explore. We end up walking for hours and hours exploring small, cosy streets and big Soviet avenues.

Welcome to Irkutsk!

Welcome to Irkutsk!

No matter where you go, you will find Chinese tourists even in the most remote locations.

No matter where you go, you will find Chinese tourists even in the most remote locations. And one thing they never fail doing is taking selfies and posing for photos

Guess policemen also need a break

Guess policemen also need a break

IMG_3723What made me fall in love with Irkutsk are its wooden houses. We found a whole bunch of them scattered around in the city hunched over from the years of service and neglect, yet standing still proudly to tell stories of former days of glory. Even in their state of total despair, neglect and lack of loving care, they don’t fail to catch your eye.

Me wandering from one wooden house to another, admiring its architecture, colours and shapes.

Me wandering from one wooden house to another, admiring its architecture, colours and shapes.

IMG_3747

IMG_3745

L1044480

L1044491

L1044496

IMG_3757

IMG_3752

Wooden house trail leads us to the Soviet neighbourhoods

What a beauty!

What a beauty!

Circus building - an important remnant of Soviet times. For some reason having a dedicated building for circus was quite a thing in the Soviet republics.

Circus building – an important remnant of Soviet times. For some reason having a dedicated building for circus was quite a thing in the Soviet republics.

Another pretty sight of former glory

Another pretty sight of former glory

Definitely Soviet architecture - quite cool!

Definitely Soviet architecture – quite cool!

Entrance to an apartment complex - typical Soviet look and feel again

Entrance to an apartment complex – typical Soviet look and feel again

Marx Street - one of the main streets in Irkutsk

Marx Street – one of the main streets in Irkutsk

Oh hello there - of course we had to find a red star somewhere

Oh hello there – of course we had to find a red star somewhere

Lenin square. Lenin and The Internationale on the wall next to him.

Lenin square. Lenin and The Internationale on the wall next to him.

After exploring the streets of Irkutsk for hours, finding pre-Soviet, Soviet and post-Soviet traces imprinted all over, we end up at Kvartal 130. Based on the recommendation of the hotel receptionist it was an area totally worth checking out, claiming to have replicas of Siberian style wooden houses. Oh we found the houses alright – nothing charming about them. What we also found was a totally touristic, soulless pedestrian street filled with loud restaurants, encircled by shopping stalls and malls and caged animals kept for petting.

Don't ask why - this creature was the main design icon in the biggest shopping mall

Don’t ask why – this creature was the main design icon in the biggest shopping mall

This icon outside the mall was much more relatable.

I love Irkutsk - yes, I have to agree!

I love Irkutsk – yes, I have to agree!

Leaving Kvartal 130 behind we head back through the city, greeting Lenin on the way to find our home for the night.

Lenin keeping a watchful eye over the city

Lenin keeping a watchful eye over the city

IMG_3842

It is the last few hours in Russia, I cannot believe tomorrow we will bid farewell to this beautiful land and cross the border to Mongolia. I seriously do NOT want to leave the comfy bed!!! The thought of getting up at 06:00 tomorrow morning to catch a 23 hour train ride to Ulanbataar sounds absolutely brutal. This is what goes on in my mind as I lay my head on the softest pillow ever.

Good night Irkutsk!

Good night Irkutsk!

Photos © Andreas Eriksen & Ani Movsisyan

Day 14 on Trans-Siberian Railway: Driving into the taiga and abandoned villages

It has been a month since our great Russian-Mongolian adventure came to an end. I have been overly optimistic in telling myself to keep up with the travelling bug and give life to my memories. Weeks have gone by, work happened with its usual business and endless list of tasks and to dos and  projects, and my writing muse seems to have given up on me for a while.

With every noble intention in mind, I am sitting outside in the beautiful morning sun at a neighbourhood sidewalk café keen on breaking the spell and getting a new post out today. Wish me luck! So far I have managed to be a diligent student and catch up on my Italian studies. Totally not a sign of procrastination.

The prettiest ride ever!

The prettiest ride ever!

We are back in Bugul’deyka. We nevery actually left, still there for the last day. Remember our kind host Volodya. His mission of the day is to make our last day in the shores of Lake Baikal as memorable as possible. That includes creating ample opportunities for me to enjoy beautiful wild flower fields and for Andreas to take one last long ride in his oh-so-beloved UAZ dream car. A drive to the nearby taiga forest seems to be a perfect qualifier for both wishes.

A glimpse into the famous  Russian deep taiga

A glimpse into the famous Russian taiga

The UAZ rolls quietly on the dusty path making every small bump and unevenness of the surface count. It is all part of the countryside charm. So buckle up. My wish of pretty wildflower encounters doesn’t make itself wait for long. Just an hour on the bumpy ride, the path turns into an enchanted forest covered in a carpet of purple and yellow blooms. I have always had a thing for pretty flowers. Perhaps doing something about that gardening dream of mine one day wouldn’t be such a bad idea. Having grown up with a field of red tulips and blooming trees of apricots, peaches and cherries in the backyard probably has something to do with my enchantment of flowers.

L1044419

Enough about that. Taiga is calling. We are headed towards the middle of nowhere, where Volodya claims we will find a village with traditional wooden houses. As the fields of flowers slowly get swapped with even bumpier roads, the minutes slowly passing by seem endless. Volodya never disappoints, so we gotta trust that the village will appear out of nowhere anytime now.

Spotting an eagle on the  road brings good luck. Volodya must have called in big favours since this souring eagle has been following our ride as soon as we entered the taiga.

Spotting an eagle on the road brings good luck. Volodya must have called in big favours since this souring eagle has become our loyal companion on the road keeping a watchful eye for us.

An hour or so passes by. I manage to get comfortable in the dream car and doze off into the world of dreams amidst the bumpy, dusty drive. Someone (no need to call names) always gets amazed at my ability to fall asleep in the car on the most peculiar of roads and yet manage to get wide awake at home from the slightest noise.

The village in the middle of nowhere

We have finally arrived in the village Kurtun in the middle of nowhere

What greets us is a mishmash of beautiful wooden houses, some looking abandoned and in desperate need of repair standing side by side with more beautiful neighbours showing clear signs of modernity done in the not so recent past. In whatever state of repair the houses find themselves, there is one thing that still makes them look charming. The windows – with their unique look and feel on each of the houses. It feels like you have entered an enchanted village and forest fairies will burst open the windows any minute now and come flying out.

L1044450

internal.6f210fe31e0369928317d86a9e7d632b.DO01044423

internal.bb31eed600f574615d2866c871e5a161.DO01044424

internal.251a861031eec3b5fdfb52fadd71b523.DO01044425

L1044441

L1044448

L1044460

There is not much sign left in the village that once housed close to a hundred inhabitants. Many have left for the city in the search of a better life. In the end of the village you come across what once used to be the Soviet cultural centre and is today totally devoid of humans and populated by a flock of goats. Across the street from the goat gathering center you will find a prominent looking house, one of the few that has been repaired recently and shows signs of inhabitance. It belongs to the mayor of the village. He and his buddies are lounged out in the front of the house chatting away with no care in the world. Encountering a group of foreigners, the mayor is quick to jump into conversation, reminiscing about the good, old Soviet times and how glorious the life was back then.

As the village tour comes to an end, we head back home  to Bugul’deyka. Volodya needs to  make provisions for the last supper – BBQ on the shore of Lake Baikal. He tried to convince me to make an Armenian style BBQ but due to lack of necessary ingredients quickly dropped the idea and turned to the Buryat traditional style.

Lake  Baikal  in the setting sun

Lake Baikal in the setting sun

IMG_3662

IMG_3686

The waters of Baikal are very tranquil today. The sun is painting the lake in burning red. As we  wait for the chicken to grill, it is easy to get mesmerised by the view and draw into your own world of thoughts and dreams. The world seems so peaceful right at this moment.

What a beautiful way to  end our Baikal adventure!

What a beautiful way to end our Baikal adventure!

Baikal has been an absolute charm, largely due to our kindest host. As the evening draws closer, Andreas heads off for one last river swim. Tomorrow is a new day and we will bid goodbye to Volodya in the hope of returning one day.

IMG_0802

Photos © Andreas Eriksen & Ani Movsisyan