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Two Years & Twice Around the World...  



August 5-8. IRKUTSK  After our first day in Irkutsk our weather luck began to turn sour again.  We had pockets of sun but stormy weather was forecasted for days to come and eventually thwarted our plans to do the Circumbaikal Railway along the shores of Lake Baikal.  It only ran on a couple of days a week and with such uncertain weather we didn't want to take our chances and waste time.  We had already decided that going to Tuva would be too time consuming.  We didn't know what to expect once we got there and it actually sounded too much like Mongolia.  We'd had enough of Mongolia for the time being.  

The city of Irkutsk is large by Siberian standards but still rather small.  We were able to take in most of the central sites in a couple of days.  They had the only continually running church in Siberia, even during communist times.  There were a couple of old homes that belonged to the Decembrists, a group of upper class men that rose up against the government and were exiled to Siberia.  The museum we visited showed the belongings of the wives that followed their husbands into exile.  As in other parts of Russia some churches still remain museums, having been converted under the communist government.  One museum housed and nice collection of religious items and a cute display of artwork by children from a nearby village.  The docent at the museum was darling.  She was an older woman with limited English but she worked so very hard to explain the exhibits to us.  I was really sweet.  The bell tower of the museum/church had a nice collection of church bells.  We visited several churches, mostly all refurbished or in the process thereof, and one other museum.  The local museum had a small but interesting collection reflecting the various influences in Siberia. There were Japanese, Korean, and Chinese items.  There was also a nice exhibit on the local shaman people that showed small wooden fetishes, similar to the stone fetishes made by the American Indians.  

Overall we were impressed with the number of people we met that knew some English.  In one little church a little babushka tried to tell us something in Russia. We looked at her and shrugs apologetically.  She broke out into the English to explain that she was going to help the restoration staff paint the church and if there was anything we needed to let her know.  The International Ticket Office at Irkutsk station was great.  They gave us all kinds of train info and patiently helped us buy our tickets.

We considered moving to the downtown area so we could see the city more easily but we found that the other places in LP were dramatically more expensive than the guidebook indicated.  $40 per night wasn't cheap but we felt lucky to have a good place. The breakfasts were a bit weak though.  By the third day we had five other people at the America House - an Italian and a British woman traveling together, an American guy from Lake Tahoe, and a brother and sister from New Zealand.  The guy from Lake Tahoe was hoping to meet up with an exchange group that does a back and forth between Lake Tahoe and Lake Baikal every year to discuss environmental issues.  He had also met up with a Native American Indian group that had come over to learn about the shamanist people in the Lake Baikal region.

By the second day in Irkutsk I was getting sick. Again, something was wrong with my stomach.  I took a day to rest while Rob went into town.  Unfortunately, with each day I was feeling worse and finally started to take antibiotics.  

The weather in Irkutsk had become really dreary and due to my sickness we probably overstayed a day too long.  Some of the rain storms were torrential and we had exhausted much of the sites.  Some of the negative aspects of the city were beginning to show through.  One evening while we waited for a bus back from town we watched a group of young kids (12 and under) engage in a street fight.  Two younger kids had been throwing paints on the older kids.  When one came after them they started to run.  The older kid got one bag of paint but while he wasn't looking the younger boy came up behind him with an empty beer bottle and broke it over his head.  They looked like homeless kids but I wasn't sure.  The only person who came to their aid was a drunk man who had been laying nearby.  The drunks, in fact, seemed to be everywhere and was quite depressing.

When the 8th came around we were good and ready to get on the train again. It left at 4:30 so we had the morning to go into town and get more money (this ATM distributed rubles, dollars or euros!) and to get one last visit in at our Internet cafe on the corner of Marx and Lenin Streets. (The Lenin statue in Irkutsk was his normal preaching pose, not giant head.)  Finding our track number was no easy task since Irkutsk had many platforms.  We tried asking official looking people but only got sent to the wrong place.  Finally we went back to the waiting room and noticed a number had come up on the board after our train number so we guessed that must be the track number.  We were right.

TRANS SIBERIAN RAILWAY Ulan Ude Aug 6-7 Irkutsk Aug 4 Aug 5-8 Yekaterinburg Aug 8-10 Aug 11-12 Kazan Aug 13 Nizhny Novgorod Aug 14 Golden Ring Aug 15 Aug 16-17

MOSCOW Aug 17-19 Aug 20-21 Aug 22-23