Irkutsk was the most anticipated stop on the whole journey for us because of the much celebrated Russian lake Baikal – the world’s largest reserve of fresh water, as well as, the deepest lake in the world. We traveled 6 hours from Irkutsk to reach the island of Olkhon and to spend time on Baikal. That will be covered in a separate post.
Perhaps because Olkhon came before Irkutsk, or maybe it was just the city itself – but we weren’t that impressed. There is a section of downtown that’s quite nice (and which we didn’t discover until evening), but a large part is grimy and rundown. Granted, we only spent half a day in the city, so we may well be wrong.
Old merchant house in downtown and a newly built reproduction house as part of a shopping complex in downtown Irkutsk, Russia.
The one really cool bit about Irkutsk is how many old wooden houses have survived in entire blocks – we haven’t seen that anywhere else along our route.
The other bit about Irkutsk that I really enjoyed was going to see the two house museums of the Decembrists. More than 100 Russian nobility were involved in an organization to bring democratic reform to Russia and end serfdom – but their attempted coup proved unsuccessful; some were executed, but most were stripped of their titles, sentenced to decade of hard labor and to life in exile in Siberia. Two houses – of the Volkonsky and Trubetskoy families – have been preserved and restored, offering a fascinating glimpse of the Russian imperial history.
Luggage: At the train station – 90-150 rubles per bag depending on the size.
Tourist Office on 21 Fredrick Engels Street is quite helpful – information in English, free Wifi, and open until 8 pm!