Friday 04/08

It was difficult to awaken the kids this morning.

Arrival around 6am in Irkutsk. Marina was on the platform to welcome us. We are staying 3 nights in Irkutsk, where we do ‘homestay’, i.e. we stay in an apartment of a local. We go and put our luggage in “our” apartment (where we were welcomed by Olga, the owner) but since the 2 rooms are currently occupied by tourists we go to another similar apartment to take a shower and to rest a bit.

We find the place recommended by Marina for breakfast: Travellers’ Café, a very nice place.

We then rest a bit in a park where we leave the kids for half an hour to go and visit the nearby Church of Our Saviour and the Cathedral of the Epiphany. As in most local Orthodox churches, there is an impressive iconostasis in the Cathedral (an iconostasis is a “wall” of icons and religious painting, which separates the nave from the sanctuary). We saw also the Angara River.

We can see that we are approaching China: information for tourists (on maps, in museums…) is translated in both English and Chinese. We also see a bit more Chinese tourists. But there are very few tourists in town despite the fact that Irkutsk is by far the most popular stop on the Trans-Siberian line. Irkutsk is located 70 km from Baikal Lake.

We came back in “our” apartment, around noon. It is very centrally located, in a quite environment (with a “chic” sex shop right in front).

One of the great advantages of homestays is to be able to prepare the meals we like. Today I went to the Central Market close by to buy fresh produce for lunch: ham, salami, cheese (including Russian equivalent to mozzarella), carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, cabbage, bread, and fruit for dessert (cherries, raspberries and redcurrant). It is nice to prepare what we like; the children also like such kind of lunches. Another advantage is to be able to chat with the owners (the ones selected by our agency have basic knowledge of English or French) and to learn about their living conditions. Finally, homestays enable us to be much more efficient with the home schooling for the kids (Wi-Fi is usually good).

We chilled out a bit and then did 2 hours of homework for the kids (see also separate post by Isabelle on the specific page of our website).

Around 7pm, we went to ‘130 Kvartal’ to eat. It is an entire re-created quarter of wooden buildings (some transported here from other locations, some fake); it is a pleasant place to stroll, packed with restaurants and cafes. We had a nice diner, with 8 different dishes to try some local specialties such as the Omul (smoked salmon from Lake Baikal) and frozen slices of white fish. Very enjoyable diner on the terrace, in a nice atmosphere (live music with people dancing even).

The new ‘game’ of Ludivine and Jules when we walk (or in public transportation) is to try to find coins on the floor. Nice occupation…


Saturday 05/08

We woke up around 9am, enticed by the smell of the pancakes being prepared by Olga

While chatting with Olga during breakfast, we learnt that for Irkutsk inhabitants, there is a huge difference between winter temperatures of -20C (“still ok; life as usual”) and -40C (where you avoid going outside as much as you can; and you definitely protect your face when you do have to go out).

Today we only visited 2 houses once occupied by famous (political exiled) Decembrists: the Volkonsky and the Trubetskoy House-Museums. The Decembrists are the Russian revolutionaries who led an unsuccessful coup against Tsar Nicholas I in December 1825

During our walk, we also saw some 19th-century wooden houses that remain in the city.

Like in most cities where we’ve been since leaving Moscow, there is a green line on the pavement for do-it-yourself walking tours. You just have to follow this treasure hunt-like green line to discover all the key historical buildings and sights of interest in the city centre, with detailed info in front of each sight in Russian and English; it’s like a treasure hunt. It’s an excellent initiative.

We came back in “our” apartment for lunch (after buying bread in a bakery owned by a Belgian guy) and then 2-hour schooling session for kids.

We left around 5pm to go to Znamensky Monastery, on foot. The frescoes inside are remarkable.

We then took the bus to go to ‘130 Kvartal’. There is a big shopping where Ludivine wanted to find a small “day” backpack. She couldn’t find any. We ate there, like yesterday; this time in a Chinese restaurant, which the kids liked very much. Good sign for our China trip…

We came back around 10pm.

Tomorrow we will discover the Baikal Lake! We are looking forward to it.

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