Irkutsk Part Two

We started our day in Irkutsk with a trip to Papa Johns again. It’d been recommended for breakfast so we took a look. We ordered a calzone each which were pretty good. There’s not many cafes and restaurants in the suburbs so finding somewhere for breakfast is difficult. Even in the main part of the city its hard finding cafes.

The four year anniversary of the website was taking place in a local biker bar which Anna was involved in organising and we’d been invited so we weren’t going too far today. Michele was helping Anna curl her hair so that was her main focus during the day.

Not far from the flat was a nice park, containing four main buildings of Decembrist style. The main building is a sprawling two storey with a few add-ons. It’s made of weatherboard but has fine lace works around the eaves and is a work of art seeing the wood craftsmanship. There’s two made of logs with lacework on the windows and eaves and another like the main building. It was a nice park just to relax and FaceTime our daughter.

Outside the park is an old T34 Tank which has been boxed up with a wooden crate and surrounded by plastic sheeting as it undergoes a renovation. About four foot of its barrel protrudes from the top so it almost looks like its urban camouflaged.

Not far away is the children’s hospital and little wooden chapel which is highly stylised with small green domes, green tiles and flying roofs. There are frescos on the outside and it looks like there is further construction work underway. The hospital and chapel were bequests from a rich local when he died.

About 4pm we left the flat and headed to the tram catching it a few stops before a short walk of a couple of streets. The biker bar was a micro brewery with three floors. There was a small bar restaurant area on the first level cloak room toilets on the second and a large bar and hall come restaurant on the third.

When we entered everybody shook our hands and we guessed they were friends of Anna’s. People started filtering in, middle aged guys in Harley T-shirts with their wives and kids, younger guys in leather race suits with Yamaha and the like on them, guys in off road protective gear, and bikers with denim and leather cuts patched with local Motorcycle club emblems. As they entered, they would all go around the different tables and shake hands with everyone not actually speaking though. It was strange with all different MC’s, all different outfits, all different bikes. Cruisers, sports bikes, dirt bikes no agro just having fun. One older guy even brought a miniature dog, which he carried everywhere under his arm. Every time anyone would get to close the little dog would bark and snap sending all and sundry into hysterics.

There was a band setting up when we entered and were playing pretty loud and with heaps of distortion causing us to think “oh great” As they were waiting to start one of them pulled out an ice hockey mask and started putting it on, along with a bamboo hat. After a short intro from the lady mc the band came on and we were surprised when one of them whipped out a trumpet, transforming what we though was going to be grungy 90’s punk into a lively ska sound. The now full hall changed the tone of their music softening it whilst keeping its lively beat. The guy in the mask really put on a show with his guitar jumping around, really playing up to the crowd. As the evening went on during the band breaks peelers (strippers) came on and we wondered what they were. The first one was dressed a little like a belly dancer with a whispy dress but she neither belly danced nor did the usual stripper moves, so the show wasn’t much of a tease. Her saving grace was she did whip out a pair of fine natural boobs at the end of the show which all the blokes had been waiting for.

They also had awards and competitions which were funny, especially seeing three blokes try and drink a 2 litre bottle of coke after they’d been drinking beer and eaten a big meal. It was pretty hard core as they served beer in either 500mls or 1 litre handles. We felt a bit out of place, not speaking Russian and although we tried to start conversations by showing bike photos it was not to be.

Anna invited a French couch surfer who was teaching in Irkutsk and I spoke to him for a while, but when the band finished we decided it was time to also leave. Although it was 930 at night it was still quite light so we decided to walk off the meal we had and walk home. The weather was quite mild and it didn’t take very long at all before we were back at the flat. Tomorrow is our last day in Irkutsk so we want to check out the local museums.

The Central Markets in Irkutsk is quite extensive. They dominate the central area where most buses and trams arrive. There are a few small local cafe’s in the area so we decided to check one out for breakfast. The menu was in Cyrillic and when we used the “can you suggest something” translation the guy just looked at us. There were a few pastries so we settled on one each and a cup of chai. The pastries were filled with potato and fish so had a savoury taste. A few local vendors were also using the cafe and it was funny when one yelled out and started running for the door making out that he was leaving without paying. Our meal only cost 120 roubles so it wasn’t much at all $4. We checked out the markets and here were lots of leather coats, boots and skirts. There were also lots of Chinese rip-off running shoes, we wondered whether they came via the train like the things we saw being smuggled in.

Not far up the road was our first destination Valonsky Mansion. Valonsky was involved in the Decembrist movement back in 1825 when a group of nobles unsuccessfully tried to overthrow the tsar. The coup failed and the ringleaders were sentenced to have their heads cut off. The tsar intervened and instead they were sentenced to hard labour and exiled to Siberia. The Decembrists were sent to a Siberian coal mine and set a quota of coal to be dug per day. Their families followed and houses were built adjoining their jail cells so they stayed together.

After 13 years the Decembrists were acquitted and they went on to build wooden mansions which is quite typical of the older housing in the Siberiian region. The Valonsky Mansion originally was in Irks before it was moved to rkutsk over a four year period. The mansion went through a few changes in its time eventually becoming a block of flats before it was cleared and restored to its former glory. The entry price of 300 roubles included entry into another of the historical houses belonging to another Decembrists. The Valonsky family descendants and others had donated all sorts of furniture and including a pyramid piano (shaped like a grand piano but vertical). There was another grand piano and a large music box which played beautiful tunes. Part of Prince Valonsky’s punishment was that he wasn’t allowed to access the city, (sort of like home detention) so he instead hosted parties at the mansion and received visits from all the celebrities of the times, including some of the most well-known musicians and poets.

The mansion told the story of the first uprisings against the Tsar by people who wanted to end serfdom, their failure, their punishment and the families who gave up everything to travel across Russia and live in Siberia. It was as much about the strength of the women as the men.

Our next visit was the Trubetskoy House not far away. This was another well restored two storey mansion. The mansion had lots of video which also added to the story of the Decembrists struggle and demise. This house belonged to the leader of the Decembrist attempted coup. One interesting display was the copy of the coup demands, effectively a bill of rights.

It was lunch time before we finished the tour so we headed to a little cafe called the Paris Cafe. It was decked out inside with a mock-up of a Paris street including a 8 foot high Eiffel Tower which gave it an authentic feel. We tried the “can you suggest something for lunch” translation and got too bowls of soup which consisted of chopped bacon, vegetables and a layer of oil. The soup was pretty salty but actually tasted pretty good despite the oil. I suppose the fat’s helpful in winter.

As the time was getting on we cut short our visit to the city and headed back to the flat where we said our goodbyes to Anna and the family, thanking her for her hospitality.

We caught the 20 bus to near the train station and walked the rest of the way to the hostel. It was only 600 meters from the station but it was hard going walking up hill, hopefully tomorrow morning it’ll be easier just rolling down the hill.

The hostel was easy enough to find using directions from trip advisor. Just go around the back of the building to the second door and press number 5 easy. There was also a small guide in Cyrillic which showed which buttons to press which made it even easier.

The lady at the hostel was so friendly and using a little bit of russlish we soon were ushered into our rooms and she was making us a coffee. Michele asked about printing train tickets and the lady rang the station who assured her that we could print them there tomorrow morning. She really couldn’t do enough for us.

We settled into the room before heading to a local bar for tea. When we arrived there was a bloke absolutely legless and a girl in a bit better shape just outside. We thought “ah victims of the Sunday sesh”. The bar was in the basement and was decked out with wooden logs resembling a log cabin. There was a third victim of the “Sunday sesh”, head tilted back snoring at one of the tables and at another table the rest of the group in various stages of leglessness.

We looked at the menu and surprisingly it was in Russian and after telling the barman that I was just a poor englishski speaker who couldn’t understand Russki, he pointed at each section and said the English word for the food groups. We pointed at something and he shook his head and then pointed at something else and said potatoes and meat. We nodded and said “Dvah payzelyesta”(two please) “adeen cofyeh, adeen cappuccino payzelyesta”

He came back out a few minutes later and said something in Russian and we picked up the word “Omsk”( the local freshwater salmon) We nodded saying “Da, adeen payzelyesta”

The potatoes were cut into small chips and shallow fried with some fillet steak and was quite delicious. Then the Omsk was delivered. It was a raw fillet which had been cut into 1 inch slices covered in red onion. The Omsk was so soft with the consistency of Fry’s Turkish Delight and so delicious. We’d now tried it in different styles including different soups, pan fried, and raw. However we didn’t try it smoked which supposedly is the way locals love it.

The meal cost bugger all and it was a pleasant experience, with the barman being so helpful. I’d been a bit anxious walking into a bar with so many legless people (good place for fights to erupt when you can’t speak the language) but once they’d started falling asleep the barman woke them and sent them on their way.

We popped into a little shop. Everywhere there are small businesses selling groceries, washing goods, mixed businesses it’s so interesting after all the big American style supermarkets everywhere else in the world. We ordered some bits and pieces for the train by pointing and saying “adeen”or “Dvah” and holding up the corresponding fingers. When we’d paid she passed me the change and said ”
thank you” at the same time I said “spaseba”. We both saw the funny side of this and burst out laughing. We were still laughing as we were headed out the door.

Bellies extended we returned to the hostel and settled down for the night. We can’t get used to these long
Siberian days as it was still twilight when we were getting into bed. Up early tomorrow for we are Moscow bound.

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