Monday, October 21, 2013

An Outdated and Disorganised Account of my 2010 Trip to Irkutsk and the Baikal

The approach to Irkutsk

10 July 2010: Flying In

0100 - 0700: Flight SQ800 from Singapore to Beijing (Singapore Airlines)
1100 - 1500: Flight HU7967 from Beijing to Irkutsk (Hainan Airlines)
1500 - 1700: Russian customs hell
1700 - 1900: Long taxi ride to Listvyanka
2000 - 2200: Random new friends dragged us onto boat, force-fed us local cuisine and tequila.

Let's just say that the plane passes through a lot of China before it reaches Irkutsk... The first flight brought us to Beijing, which means I huiguo'd again for a little while, and again enjoyed the assortedness of the country... nevertheless, Beijing (at least where the airport is at) seems like one of the less messy places in China.

Flight SQ800 landed in Beijing Capital Airport, in the new terminal featuring extravagant archirecture for inspiring awe in foreigners.
Terminal 3 has a skytrain from the gates to luggage collection, which is good. It is also a 20 minutes' drive from the other terminals, which is not.
Flight HU7967 took off from Terminal 2, through gate no. f-ckall and a ferry bus whose driver was asleep for a good half-hour while we waited.
The flight was delayed. I regrettably did not take note for how long, but I fell asleep and the plane was still on the ground when I woke up. It was speculated that an official might have been making a visit to the airport. The service on board this flight was good though, better than any other flight I've been on this year.

The airport was pretty small; only 4 counters served the incoming flight, and each person in the queue took ~5-10 minutes getting their pages stamped. People are taxed by the organic produce they bring into this part of the country, and some travellers from China (who are wont to carry all sorts of random produce like fruits, peanuts, cucumbers etc. around) become especially vulnerable at this juncture.

11 July 2010: The Town of Listvyanka

Listvyanka town is a smallish town on the coast of Baikal, ~70km southeast of Irkutsk city. It sits near the lake's southwestern end, and occupies 6 inflowing streams out of the 3000+ that flow into it.

The town consists of one main axis (Ulitsa Gor'kogo), along the shore, and 6 valleys that reach inland.
They don't seem to have names, and so I name them according to street name, from east to west:
1. Partisanskaya Valley, at the eastern edge of town. The place is full of folks who look asian, and I'm just going to assume that they're all Buryats, them being the indigenous race of that part of Russia. A Buryat sacred place (oba) also happens to be there, as does the Solar Observatory.
2. Gudina Valley, next to the fish market.
3. Chakayeva Valley, with the war monuments. My hotel is situated on the shoreline between (2) and (3).
4. "Big Valley", the widest valley in town, with Saint Nicholas' Church, bad roads, heaps of horse manure, etc.
5, 6. 2 small, random valleys, beyond which the Baikal museum sits. The town ends here, giving way to another entity called Nikola, where nothing much ever seems to be happening.

12 July 2010: The Folk of Listvyanka

I am only in Russia for a week, and so have to curb my urges to traverse vast expanses of Siberia on rail (and then try to impress my friends on the "Cities I've Been" map). But never mind. If we stay in this village for a week, at this rate we'll get to know the whole village, and that is not a bad idea too.

Met the Doctor from Irkutsk and his wife, plus a friend from Angarsk (or was the Doctor from Angarsk?), plus a family from Moscow on the balcony of Hotel Mayak. They were in a super good mood. The mood was so good that they dragged us onto the boat and rammed local cuisine and hard liquor down our throats. I must remember to note this funny little ritual the Doctor used as a seal of friendship.
1. Lick the back of your hand and sprinkle salt over it, then lick it again
2. Take a swig of tequila (or whatever beverage)
3. Eat a slice of lemon
It didn't make anyone any more drunk, but it's very interesting.
We were still sane enough to stagger back into the correct room, thanks be to God, thinking what a fortune it is for us to be experiencing Russia in such a short while after touching down in the country.

These were only the visitors, though. The locals are more persistent, and keep coming back after we first get to see them, like recurring characters in a story.

With the Boatman Dude on the Baikal

13 July 2010: Baikal

Expenses for 13 July:
150 rub. Map of Irkutsk and Lake Baikal on the flip-side
100 rub. Map of Listvyanka
300 rub. Bicycle rental (2 hours from 1210h to 1410h) from Big Valley
240 rub. Entrance fee for the Baikal Museum
10 rub. Pack of napkins

 A bike trip.

14 July 2010:
Preparations for the conference banquet, where we snuck home a bottle of free vodka


16 July 2010:

Ad hoc Irkutsk City Skirmish:
Start: Hotel Delta, Ul. Karla Libknekhta; from exit turn right
1: Turn right into Ul. Sof'i Perovskoi (direction is SW) (1330 hours)
1a: Lunch at Shanghai Cafe at junction with Ul. Partizanskaya, run by a family from Yanbian (the Korean prefecture in Jilin).
2: Ul. Sof'i Perovskoi leads into Ul. Podgornaya, a very run-down part of town
3: Ul. Podgornaya leads imperceptably into Ul. Timiryazeva.
4: Turn right into Ul. Lenina, a main road of town.
4a: Lenin statue at junction with Ul. Karla Marksa
5: Turn left into Ul. Karla Marksa
5a: Tsar Alexander III statue at end of street, beside the river, and also the Regional Museum.
6: Turn right into park area alongside Gagarina Boulevard. (direction is NNW)
7: Gagarina Boulevard becomes Ul. Tsesovskaya Nabyerezhnaya after the bridge across Angara.
8: Turn right at the first small alley
9: Turn left at alley's exit into Ul. Surikova (direction is ENE)
9a: Past the city's Coal Plant(?), a small park can be seen, plagued with newlyweds. 2 cathedrals and 1 church adorn the far side.
10: Across the park, go south down the far side. This is Ul. Sukhe-Batora
11: Turn left into Ul. Rabochaya.
12: Turn right into Ul. Proletarskaya (direction is SE)
12a: This street is interrupted with a pedestrian mall, where the circus sits.
13: Street ends at Ul. Karla Marksa, cross road and enter Ul. Fur'ye (slightly to left)
14: Street ends at Ul. Dzerzhinskogo, cross road and enter Ul. Chekhova (slightly to left also)
15: Street ends at Ul. Timiryazeva, turn left.
16: Turn right into Ul. Karla Libknekhta, back to hotel. (1915 hours)