Irkutsk – Exploring a Siberian city

Aaron/ January 14, 2016/ Russia, Singapore to Europe Overland/ 3 comments

Made the first stop of my Trans-Siberian adventure at the Siberian city of Irkutsk, an unexpectedly interesting city with lots of stories to tell. Wouldn’t have thought a Siberian city would look like that …

 

Irkutsk, one of the larger cities in Siberia, where nobles and intellectuals were exiled after the Decembrist revolt. For a while culture flourished, then blood poured as the Bolshevik Revolution broke out. Today, Irkutsk isn’t exactly beautiful or stunning, but has its own quiet charm with a hint of its colourful past.

 

3 day Irkutsk itinerary for backpackers. Siberia, Russia. Things to see and do.

Irkutsk, (once) the Paris of Siberia.

 

Day 1: First taste of Russia, in Siberia

After more than 2 days on the Trans-Siberian Railway from Beijing, I was ready to get off for some leg stretching, to explore my first city in Russia, and to go for a nice hike in the Siberian ‘wilderness’. I got off the train at Irkutsk and made my way to Baikaler, a hostel with a friendly owner, which I had booked via email prior to the trip. It was late in the afternoon then, but the longer daylight hours in summer meant that there was some exploration I could squeeze out of the day.

 

Irkutsk Railway Station. Siberia, Russia.

The Irkutsk Railway Station.

 

The Angara river features prominently, flowing from the largest freshwater lake in the world, Lake Baikal, to Irkutsk, not too far away. The railway station and the city are on opposite banks, so I had to first cross the bridge, fortunately not over troubled waters.

The Angara River, Irkutsk. Siberia, Russia.

The Angara River, between the city center and the train station. Main outflow of Lake Baikal, the largest freshwater lake in the world.

 

Trams are widely used in Irkutsk. I didn’t take any though, Irkutsk is a compact city with with most sights within walking distance.

Trams in Irkutsk. Siberia, Russia.

Trams in Irkutsk.

 

After checking in, went out for a walk around the area. Seemed very much like some European cities I had been to, except that Irkutsk is so much nearer to Asia than Europe.

Streets of Irkutsk. Siberia, Russia.

Streets of Irkutsk.

 

The 130th District, Irkutsk. Siberia, Russia.

The 130th District. Historically a residential area but now filled with cool restaurants and bars.

 

1st Public Hall (1891). Current the Youth Theatre and Philharmonic Hall. Or, yellow bus at traffic crossing. Irkutsk, Siberia, Russia.

1st Public Hall (1891). Current the Youth Theatre and Philharmonic Hall. Or, yellow bus at traffic crossing.

 

Monument to Vladimir Lenin (1952). Irkutsk, Siberia, Russia.

Monument to Vladimir Lenin (1952).

 

Streets of Irkutsk. Siberia, Russia.

Tram rails. On the left, currently a clinic, historically the Russian-Asian Bank (1912). On the right, currently the Baikal State University of Economics and Law, formerly the Alexander and Mary College (1895).

 

For my first proper meal in Russia (not counting the instant noodles I had on the train), dinner at a place recommended by hostel staff for affordable and good food. Was kinda Ikea style where you’d pick what you want along a line and pay at the end. Lots of different stuff to pick from. I later learned that this style of restaurants (stolovaya) was popular throughout Russia. A little tricky because I could not speak Russian so I wasn’t too sure what I was getting. Makes for a great adventure every meal.

Dinner in Irkutsk. Siberia, Russia.

Dinner at a stolovaya, or Russian style canteen.

 

Wasn’t enough so I went for seconds. Ordering food got easier as time went by. Having a big appetite helped too. Total for 2 rounds was ₽269 or about S$5.10 based on today’s exchange rate and ruble prices on that day. The ruble seems to have fallen significantly since my trip, was probably about S$6.60 last year.

Dinner in Irkutsk. Siberia, Russia.

Second round. I had missed freshly cooked food after 2 days on instant noodles and preserved food. Travelling on the train needn’t be that tough, but I happen to almost always make things tougher for myself. Not on purpose.

 

Russian style canteen (stolovaya) in Irkutsk. Siberia, Russia.

The place where I went for many of my meals for the next few days. There were so many dishes to pick from, I don’t think I went one round through.

 

Recurring themes in Russian cities: Karl Marx Streets (Ulitsa Karla Marksa), and Lenin Avenues (Prospekt/ Ulitsa Lenina).

Karl Marx Street. Irkutsk, Siberia, Russia.

Karl Marx Street.

 

Day 2: Irkutsk city tour, without a tour

The next morning, I set out to complete a self guided tour round the city. It’s really easy as the route is painted onto pavements (green line), and at each point of interest there are clear signboards in Russian and English explaining its significance. Most buildings in Irkutsk were built after 1880 due to a huge fire in 1879 which destroyed three quarters of the city. Here a selection of the points of interest along the way. And some random shots.

Fishing at the Angara River. Irkutsk, Siberia, Russia.

Fishing at the Angara River, and the bridge I crossed the day earlier to enter the city.

 

Monument to Emperor Alexander III. Irkutsk, Siberia, Russia.

Monument to Emperor Alexander III (1908), to commemorate his decision to build the Trans Siberian Railway.

 

Formerly the East Siberian Branch of the Russian Geographic Society (1883). Presently, the Museum of Local History. Irkutsk, Siberia, Russia.

Formerly the East Siberian Branch of the Russian Geographic Society (1883). Presently, the Museum of Local History.

 

Okhlopkov Drama Theatre (1897). Irkutsk, Siberia, Russia.

Okhlopkov Drama Theatre (1897).

 

Irkutsk, Siberia. Russia.

Classical architecture in Irkutsk.

 

Street dogs of Siberia. Irkutsk, Russia.

I was eavesdropping on their conversation.

 

Church of Mikhail Archangel (1790). Irkutsk, Siberia, Russia.

Church of Mikhail Archangel (1790).

 

Church of Mikhail Archangel (1790). Irkutsk, Siberia, Russia.

Close up.

 

Irkutsk, Siberia, Russia.

“Let me in!”

 

Complex of Bazanov's Education House with Maternity Department (1883). Today, the Hospital of Eye Illnesses. Irkutsk, Siberia, Russia.

Complex of Bazanov’s Education House with Maternity Department (1883). Today, the Hospital of Eye Illnesses.

 

Street art in Irkutsk. Siberia, Russia.

Street art in Irkutsk.

 

Street art in Irkutsk. Siberia, Russia.

Street art in Irkutsk, further down.

 

A Monument to Friendship between Russia and Japan (1994). Irkutsk, Siberia, Russia.

A Monument to Friendship between Russia and Japan (1994).

 

Near Kirov Square, Irkutsk. Siberia, Russia.

Giant calendar.

 

Kirov Square, Irkutsk. Siberia, Russia.

Kirov Square.

 

One of the traces of the Soviet Union in Irkutsk, the monolithic House of the Soviets.

House of the Soviets (Government of the Irkutsk Region), 1959. Irkutsk, Siberia, Russia.

House of the Soviets (Government of the Irkutsk Region), 1959.

 

Polish Roman Catholic Church (Organ Hall of the Irkutsk Philharmonic), Irkutsk. Siberia, Russia.

Polish Roman Catholic Church (Organ Hall of the Irkutsk Philharmonic).

 

Church of Our Savior (1706). Oldest stone building in Eastern Siberia. Irkutsk, Russia.

Church of Our Saviour (1706). Oldest stone building in Eastern Siberia.

 

Memorial Complex 'Irkutsk Residents of the Patriotic War of 1941 - 1945' (1975), with an eternal flame lit with the torch relaid from the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Moscow Kremlin Wall. Irkutsk, Siberia, Russia.

Memorial Complex ‘Irkutsk Residents of the Patriotic War of 1941 – 1945’ (1975), with an eternal flame lit with the torch relaid from the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Moscow Kremlin Wall.

 

Angara Riverside. Irkutsk, Siberia, Russia.

Angara riverside.

 

A story about a couple, miracles, and a lucky bunny. Irkutsk, Siberia, Russia.

A story about a couple, miracles, and a lucky bunny.

 

If you ever erect a statue/ sculpture and want a specific part kept shiny, add a description mentioning that touching it brings good luck.

Church of Our Saviour, Irkutsk. Siberia, Russia.

Did my polishing duties.

 

The Epiphany Cathedral (1718), Irkutsk. Siberia, Russia.

The Epiphany Cathedral (1718). Beautiful.

 

Monument to the Founders of Siberia. Irkutsk, Russia.

Monument to the Founders of Siberia.

 

The Moscow Triumphal Arch. Built in 1813, dismantled in 1925, reconstructed in 2011. Situated on the right bank of the Angara River. The Moscow Highway (I suppose a highway from Moscow) reached the left bank, and after a boat bridge (no longer present), people would be able to enter Irkutsk via the arch. From 1813 till the end of the 19th century, almost all visitors to Irkutsk had to pass through inspection and registration at the arch.

Moscow Triumphal Arch. Irkutsk, Siberia, Russia.

Moscow Triumphal Arch (1813).

 

Further from the city center, things got a little quieter, and buildings a little more quaint.

Cute wooden houses in Irkutsk. Siberia, Russia.

Cute wooden houses in Irkutsk.

 

Wooden house in Irkutsk, Siberia, Russia.

Larger wooden house.

 

I stopped for lunch at Mamochka, which served food in similar style to the stolovaya I had dinner the day before, but a little pricier.

Lunch at Mamochka. Irkutsk, Siberia, Russia.

Lunch at Mamochka. The place had an nice decor.

 

Interesting interior at Mamochka, Irkutsk. Siberia, Russia.

Interesting interior.

 

Lunch at Mamochka, Irkutsk. Siberia, Russia.

Seconds, as usual. (Total for lunch: ₽470). Doesn’t look that appealing, but tasted decent.

 

Looks like they’ve got a following.

Mamochka for Russian food, in Irkutsk. Siberia, Russia.

Cool story.

 

Mamochka for Russian food, in Irkutsk. Siberia, Russia.

Worth checking out!

 

Back exploring the city, with my stomach satisfied. Though Irkutsk city is small, there were quite a few intriguing and fascinating buildings and churches around, of many different styles.

Sinking wooden houses in Irkutsk. Siberia, Russia.

That sinking feeling.

 

The City Exhibition Center of V.S. Rogal (1999). Irkutsk, Siberia, Russia.

The City Exhibition Center of V.S. Rogal (1999).

 

Joshua Fineberg's Mansion (1901). Once wore many hats, but now the Regional Library. Irkutsk, Siberia, Russia.

Joshua Fineberg’s Mansion (1901). Once wore many hats, but now the Regional Library.

 

Alexander Vtorov's Mansion (1896). Irkutsk, Siberia, Russia.

Alexander Vtorov’s Mansion (1896).

 

Statue of man and dog, Irkutsk. SIberia, Russia.

Larger than life.

 

Tenement Building (1875). Irkutsk, Siberia, Russia.

Tenement Building (1875).

 

1st Arsernalskaya Street (Ulitsa Uritskogo). One of Irkutsk’s oldest business streets, and a nice place for people watching.

1st Arsernalskaya Street (Ulitsa Uritskogo). One of Irkutsk's oldest business streets. Siberia, Russia.

1st Arsernalskaya Street (Ulitsa Uritskogo).

 

I tried Kvass (₽11 rubles a cup). It seemed popular, with little vats like that around the city. It’s a fermented beverage with low alcoholic content (<1.2%). Classified non-alcoholic by Russian standards (by law), so I guess it’s appropriate for kids. quirky taste, a little sweet, a little funky.

Kvass, in Irkutsk. Siberia, Russia.

Kvass.

 

Statue in Irkutsk. Siberia, Russia.

Shag face.

 

One of the many European style buildings in Irkutsk. Siberia, Russia.

One of the many European style buildings in Irkutsk.

 

Buildings in Irkutsk, Siberia. Russia.

 

 

Art Decadence Cinema, Irkutsk. Siberia, Russia.

Art Decadence Cinema.

 

I took a short bus ride out of the city center to visit the ice-breaker Angara. One of the oldest steam ice-breakers in the world, built in 1900. After tonnes of ‘ice-breakers’ that nearly drove me crazy in school, finally a REAL ice-breaker.

The ice-breaker Angara. Irkutsk, Siberia, Russia.

The (real) ice-breaker Angara.

 

There was sorta a beach around the area, with people sunbathing and rowing around in the middle of summer. Definitely still not warmer than Singapore at any point of the year.

Beach at Irkutsk, along the Angara river. Siberia, Russia.

Beach in Irkutsk.

 

There’s a some admission fees involved but it looked quite run down inside, so I gave it a pass.

Ice-breaker Angara at Irkutsk. Siberia, Russia.

Looked quite run down inside.

 

Went back to the same stolovaya for dinner as the previous day, Appetite.

Dinner at a stolovaya in Irkutsk. Siberia, Russia.

Same spot for dinner as the previous day (₽170 rubles).

 

Day 3, 4, 5: Listvyanka and Bolshie Koty, Lake Baikal

On my third day in Irkutsk, I headed out to Lake Baikal, visiting Listvyanka and making a hike to the the remote village Bolshie Koty, before returning to continue exploring Irkutsk 3 days later. It was about an hour away by minibus from Irkutsk.

Mini Eiffel Tower at Ul. Uritskogo. Irkutsk, Siberia.

Back down Ul. Uritskogo. Irkutsk’s classy heritage in the early 20th century earned it its nickname, the ‘Paris of Siberia’. This monument is probably almost all that is similar between the two cities today.

 

Local markets at Irtkutsk. Siberia, Russia.

Local markets. Found the minibuses (or rather, overly enthusiastic bus attendants found me) after I made my way through the maze of tents and soon I was on the road to Listvyanka.

 

Day 5: Back from Baikal, back to civillisation

Returned to Irkutsk after an amazing hike from Listvyanka to Bolshie Koty, along the mighty Lake Baikal. Probably one of the most unforgettable hikes ever. Then again, I haven’t done many. But for now, back from the semi-wilderness to the city.

Bustling streets of Irkutsk. Siberia, Russia.

Back in the bustling (but not overcrowded) city center of Irkutsk.

 

Dinner at a dark restaurant. Pozy, or Buryat Dumplings (₽200). Steamed meat dumplings with some broth in it. Irkutsk, Siberia, Russia.

Dinner at a dark restaurant. Pozy, or Buryat Dumplings (₽200 rubles). Steamed meat dumplings with some broth in it.

 

Pozy in Irkutsk. Siberia, Russia.

Hope it isn’t a case of great-that-you-can’t-see-what-your’re-eating.

 

The Pozy place. Buryat people descended from Mongolians, probably explaining the depiction. Irkutsk, Siberia, Russia.

The Pozy place. Buryat people are distantly related to Mongolians, probably explaining the depiction.

 

Streets of Irkutsk at night. Siberia, Russia.

Streets of Irkutsk at night.

 

Day 6: Last bits of Irkutsk, last bits of Siberia

It had been a great week in Irkutsk and Lake Baikal, but before my train was due to leave that evening, I had to do a little more exploring.

Streets of Irkutsk. Siberia, Russia.

Every morning, from the back alley to the main street.

 

1st Public Hall (1891). Current the Youth Theatre and Philharmonic Hall. Irkutsk, Siberia, Russia.

1st Public Hall (1891). Current the Youth Theatre and Philharmonic Hall.

 

Kretovozdvizhenskaya Church (1760). Irkutsk, Siberia, Russia.

Kretovozdvizhenskaya Church (1760). You wouldn’t know even if I spelt it wrongly.

 

Kretovozdvizhenskaya Church, Irkutsk. Siberia, Russia.

From the other side.

 

Trams and local markets. Irkutsk, Siberia, Russia.

Trams and local markets.

 

Streets of Irkutsk, Siberia. Russia.

Local scene.

 

More wooden houses in Irkutsk. Siberia, Russia.

More wooden houses.

 

Fire station in Irkutsk, Siberia. Russia.

Old fire station with lookout tower.

 

The Monument to Decembrist’ Wives. Russian women who accompanied their exiled husbands to Siberia. Some settled permanently in Irkutsk. The area near the monument was where the Decembrists lived while on exile.

The Monument to Decembrist' Wives, Irkutsk. Siberia, Russia.

The Monument to Decembrist’ Wives.

 

Church of the Transfiguration. Irkutsk, Siberia, Russia.

Church of the Transfiguration.

 

The House of Europe. Irkutsk, Siberia, Russia.

The House of Europe.

 

Synagogue in Irkutsk. Siberia, Russia.

Synagogue in Irkutsk.

 

Meals in Irkutsk, at a stolovaya. Siberia, Russia.

Last meal at my favourite restaurant in Irkutsk (₽175 rubles).

 

It’s possible to book accommodation/ packages for nearby destinations at the hostel I stayed in (Baikaler). For example, side trips to Listvyanka, Olkhon Island, or Ulan Ude.

Other activities/ accommodation available for booking at the hostel. Baikaler, Irkutsk, Siberia, Russia.

Other stuff that can be booked at the Baikaler hostel. Friendly and clean hostel located conveniently in Irkutsk city.

 

It was time to go, to continue my overland quest from Singapore to Moscow. Next up, on board the Trans-Siberian Railway to Yekaterinburg, where Asia meets Europe.

Irkutsk Railway Station. Siberia, Russia.

Irkutsk Railway Station.

 

Irkutsk in numbers:

Actual travel dates: 12 June 2015 – 14 June 2015, 16 June 2015 – 17 June 2015 (approx 3 days Irkutsk, 3 days Lake Baikal)
Accommodation: ₽1200 (3 nights)
Food: ₽1600
Transport (within Irkutsk): ₽24 (to the Icebreaker Angara and back)
Visa registration: ₽400 (hostel helped with the procedures, just need to pay)
Total Irkutsk expenses: ₽3224 (~S$80/ US$62 at June 2015 rate) 

3G SIM card: ₽200 for 3GB (~S$5/ US$4 at June 2015 rate, not sure about validity, but was still usable till the end of my trip in Russia 2 weeks later)

 

3 days in Irkutsk, Russia. Adventures in the "Paris of Siberia".
 
3 days in Irkutsk, Russia. Adventures in the "Paris of Siberia".
 

3 Comments

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