here, there, everywhere

Irkutsk

In Mystery Trip, Russia on September 26, 2012 at 1:19 am

We are now in Siberia and the trip has gotten even better.  Our Azerbaijani best friends also became our angels once we arrived in Irkutsk.  We had mistakenly thought we could exchange our Mongolian currency for rubles at the border but there was no bank, so we basically did the trip with 100 rubles in change that my dad had given me just before we left for the trip.  This was enough to get us into the border toilets but not much else.  The Azerbaijanis had already disembarked from the train by the time we got our bags together, but they were waiting for us at the top of the escalators with hugs and help.  They hustled us outside into the cold Siberian air where they promptly pushed us onto a tram, paid our fare, and took us to the center of town.  Then they hassled the locals until they found a bank that would open at 9am.  It was only 8:30 at this point so we stood inside the bank building away from the cold and made each laugh until the bank tellers finally let us in.  Then mama spoke to the teller and made sure she didn’t rip us off in the exchange, and on the way out the door flipped the sign from “Open” to “Closed” as a joke, laughing all the way.  They took us back to the square, negotiated the fare with the driver, and sent us off with full bellies, hugs and kisses.  Our entire adventure with them was conducted mostly with hand gestures as we didn’t speak the others language, but when you become friends with people I guess the language doesn’t matter so much.

We arrived at our hostel too early to check in so we ditched our bags and went to find breakfast.  Just down the road we landed at the Lenin Cafe and had $20 worth of breakfast, which is exactly what you would pay for the same thing at Starbucks back home which means we are now out of cheap territory and back into the expensive, at least on the road.  The coffees chippered us up enough though, and we headed out for more sightseeing.

Beautiful Orthodox churches (I wonder how many we’ll be excited to look at before we are made exhausted by all the iconography), an autumn morning stroll along the river, and then back to the hostel where we finally showered the train trip out of our hair.  We booked in for a 5 hour hike around Lake Baikal tomorrow morning and then went to find the local market.  You can tell the foreigners by the way they walk around stores:  we all have cameras, we all look slightly stunned when trying to negotiate prices in Russian, and we all stare at common things like soap, toothpaste, pigs heads, cheese, and tea like they’ve just dropped in from outer space.  Everything is fascinating because it’s so different.  Now I know why babies always look so freaked out.

Afterwards we went to try and find a restaurant recommended by the traveler’s bible and on the way encountered a building with the faces of the former ‘heroes’ of the Soviet Union carved into the top moldings.  We found Stalin and Trotsky but couldn’t see Lenin. I did find Santa Claus though.  We ended up missing the restaurant completely and landed by the river again.  In attempts to find our way back to the center we stumbled on a rather Parisienne looking cafe with the most wonderfully low-lit ambient lighting and decided to break the bank there.  I ended up with a grilled salmon salad and Doris had one of the best pasta dishes she’s ever had.  A lovely mistake and one that has made the books as one of my favourite evenings in 2012.  We managed to find our way successfully back to the hostel and are hitting the sack shortly in anticipation of the upcoming hike.

This my ancestral land – my grandparents lived in the Ukraine and Siberia until they fled to Canada in the 1920s, and it’s the biggest reason for coming here.  I left about 50% of my heart in Amsterdam after working there more than a year in the 90s, and I’m fairly certain my soul has been acquired from the Arab Middle East.  But getting off the train and standing in the fallen autumn leaves and sniffing the clear Siberian air… I felt like my electrical cord had finally been plugged into the right power source.  I’m back where I started in a sense, and I am so excited to see what’s in store.  We won’t be anywhere near my grandparents towns, but at least I’m in the country and for now, that is enough.

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  1. Oh now I REALLY wish I was with you.

  2. 🙂

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