I woke up on my last day in Irkutsk to pouring rain. My plan to do some sightseeing was up in the air, because I’d been fighting a cold and didn’t want to board the train soaking wet that afternoon.
I was also having trouble communicating with the hostel owner about trying to check out, leave my bags while sightseeing, then coming back. She didn’t seem to like the idea, so I wound up coughing up my final sightseeing to cook lunch with the last of my food & stretch out the time at the hostel before heading to the train station for my 4:30pm train. She also gave me a nice card when leaving, which says “May all your dreams come true.” Given that she speaks 0 English, I have no idea who wrote this for her, but it was really sweet.
After stretching my time as long as possible, I waited for the bus in the pouring rain and took it to the train station, arriving after 2:30pm – close to 2 hours before my train, but it was the best I could do. After waiting around until 3:30pm (I tried to wait in this “comfortable sitting area” but was promptly asked to leave), I noticed that there was no info on the boards for my train and tried asking at the information booth (FYI: “Do you speak English?” shouldn’t be answered with “yes” when the only words you speak are yes/no). I was reminded of something crucial I’d forgotten: trains in Russia are all posted in Moscow time—5 hours behind Irkutsk time. I was SUPER early!
I found the bag check office, paid 145 Rubles (about $2.15 US) to store my stuff, and set out to complete the sidelined sightseeing agenda, now that the rain had ended. I took the trolley back into downtown and got off at a spot that looked interesting. I started walking toward the north end of town, along the river, and discovered a green line painted on the sidewalk that leads to various historical/significant/interesting places around town, so that was a great way to fill my afternoon.
It was cold and windy, but I was really glad to see the rest of the city with my extra time; I no longer felt like I hadn’t really taken advantage of my time in Irkutsk. I saw some great WW2 memorials, churches (didn’t get kicked out of any this time!), street art, abandoned buildings, parks, monuments (including Lenin, of course), and all kinds of interesting Soviet architecture while walking down “Karl Marx Street.”
I stopped at a coffee shop to warm up and get a coffee, but then I resumed sightseeing, feeling like I had a 2nd lease on Irkutsk and needed to soak it up. I didn’t return to the train station until after 8:30pm for my 9:30 train, and I really felt like my time had been maximized in Siberia. Irkutsk is a cool little city, but I’m not sure I’d want to live there or visit during winter (it must be brutal). However, it was great for a short visit, and I was heading on to Mongolia for a new country and the continuation of my Trans-Mongolian dream.
Next post: awesome times on the train to Mongolia.
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