Irkutsk and Lake Baikal
After flying into Irkutsk we went directly to Lake Baikal. It was literally a breath of fresh air. After 3 weeks of exhaust fumes and crowded cities in China and our dust-blown Mongolian afternoon, the crisp clean air and blue water of Lake Baikal was extremely welcome.
On the way to the lake we passed by a museum of wooden architecture. This type of fort was common in olden days on the Siberian frontier not so much for actual security as for peace of mind.
This restoration of a hundred-year old schoolroom showed the typical one-room school with attached living quarters that provided learning in Siberia in 1900. It was very amusing to Catherine who remembered similar wall decor at Russian school at church when she was growing up. Note the portrait of Nicholas the 2nd on the front wall.
The Museum had many buildings moved in from around Irkutsk. The church is supposed to have a boat-like shape because of the importance of Lake Baikal and the Angara River in local life.
When we arrived at Lake Baikal, we checked into the Terema Hotel in the town of Listvyanka. The hotel was quite new, had charming rooms, a banya (bathhouse) and the slowest restaurant service we have ever seen.
A view of Listvyanka (named after the Larch trees in this area) from our hotel. Along with the humans there was a substantial and very vocal dog population and that's not including the sled dog farm up the street.
The "Vega" was a local boat that we hired for a three hour tour to the other side of the Angara River...a three hour tour...
We had a wonderful lunch of smoked fish, blini and tea and enjoyed the good weather.
A photo of the kids with Lake Baikal in the background. We stopped off at a couple of places where the kids had a blast skipping rocks at the shoreline and the adults took pictures of flowers (top and bottom of this web-page) and trains.
The Trans-Siberian Railway used to run through here on its way to Irkutsk but was re-routed after the damming of the Angara River (the only outlet of Lake Baikal). Tourist trains and supply trains to Port Baikal still come through on these rails. On the left is an original steam engine from the railway. The tunnel was built shortly after 1900 and had a great echo from its cavernous depths.
As usual, Valerie and Sophie found a new pet. After determining that it was not a tick but in fact some sort of beetle, they named it JuJu bug and released it onshore. A photo of JuJu is on the right. Valerie was pleased.
Irkutsk had some nice sightseeing of its own. A number of Churches either survived Communism or are being restored. They seemed to attract tourists, artists and of course wedding parties ( this being June). We saw all three taking advantage of the fine weather. This Russian Orthodox Church houses a museum and is located on the same square as a Polish Catholic Cathedral, another Orthodox church and a World War II memorial.
Here a group of school children was sketching by the banks of the Angara. They had their choice of river or church view.
The other Orthodox church on the square had vividly restored frescos.
Within Irkutsk a few of the older wooden buildings remain, having survived a fire in the late 1800s and a revolution or two. These structures have elaborate decoration and carving giving them a gingerbread house appearance. Irkutsk was home to several important nobility who were exiled after the famously unsuccessful Decembrist uprising in 1825 and later revolts in Poland. Their influence caused Irkutsk to be dubbed the "Paris of Siberia." An amusing thought since we just came from Shanghai, the "Paris of the East."
At the opposite end of Karl Marx Street from a statue of Lenin stands a recently restored statue of Alexander III. This monument commemorates his decision to build the Trans-Siberian Railway and highlights the amusing ironies that come with living with the past. Behind the statue is a museum originally constructed in the 1870s by the Siberian Geographic Society. This gave us a good segue to our travel on the Railway.