- November 1, 2011
- 0 comment
- Posted by EdGraham
- Asia Travel, Destinations, Russia, Russia, Trans Siberian Railroad
Trans Siberian Railroad: Irkutsk, Russia
Oct 31-Nov 1, 2011
On Oct 31 we arrived in Irkutsk by train from Ulaanbaatar. Again the train ride was 2 nights and 1 day. Our one day on the train didn’t consist so much of “riding” the train as it did sitting on the train. We spent several hours dealing with customs and immigration while exiting Mongolia at Sükhbaatar Station (Сүхбаатар), only to spend even more time on the Russian side of the border upon entry at Naushki Station (Наушки). It’s actually not hard or stressful, just time consuming. The officials focused far more on the locals than they did tourists, and for good reason. Some locals tried to get as much merchandise across the border as possible by putting coats, jackets, boxes, etc. in each of the compartments. This was to make it seem as if they had far less merchandise than they did. Even the provodnitsas (train attendants) seemed to be in on it – helping out wherever possible. The officials asked us only about our own stuff, and thankfully they were able to speak English. The Mongolian side took about 2 hrs while the Russian side took closer to 6 hrs, although most of the time on the Russian side was spent simply waiting for our scheduled departure time.
Once in Irkutsk train station, I exchanged my Russian online ticket vouchers for the real train tickets. This was a bit of a challenge because only select windows are able to issue paper tickets, it’s not obvious which windows can do it, and the attendants are less than friendly especially if you don’t speak fluent Russian. We were tired from riding the train and the last thing we wanted to do was figure it all out, but after going to a couple incorrect windows I was finally pointed in the right direction.
I really had no idea what to expect from Irkutsk (pronounced ear-coots.) My best guess at that point was a sort of run-down, lawless, Siberian-esque version of Ulaanbaatar. But I could not have been more wrong; Irkutsk is a beautiful, cosmopolitan, modern city. It feels more European than it does Asian. It felt very safe – safe enough for me to feel comfortable walking around alone at night taking pictures (with discretion of course.) And it’s cold. Very, very cold: the record low is -57F. The mercury made it above freezing for only a few cumulative hours during our two day stay, and it snowed most of the time we were there. If the cold doesn’t remind you where you are, the classic Siberian wooden architecture will. Irkutsk is small, centered around the river, easily walkable, and it has good public transportation. I would have been happy to spend more time there, but Lake Baikal beckoned.