After 2 nights on a plane, I went to sleep at 8am in a bed at the Victory Hotel in Irkutsk. Set the alarm for 10. Alexsey picked me up at 10:30 and we headed off to a bike shop to get my bike reassembled.
Alesey will by my driver and ‘guide’ for the next 8 day. His English is emerging, fortunately. He is 44. A hydrologist form Irkutsk who has not been able to find work in his chosen field for years, he has a wife and son. He now earns his living guiding tourists and, of all things, running a small bike shop that is, of all things, well stocked with SRAM components! Here’s the, shop, the SRAM goods, and us working on the Trek 520 – same one that went across South America with me.
Then we went off to tour Irkutsk. It was a dreary day. The regional museum was closed on Monday, so we headed to the V. P. Sukachev Art Museum – “one of the largest museums in Russia, and the most important of all those in the trans-Ural region” – according to a sign posted in museum.
Mr. Sukachev (1849-1920) devoted a good part of his life to building a collection that spans centuries (1400-1900) and cultures (Russian/Buryat/Mongol/Chinese). I paid 200 rubles for entry, and another 100 so I could take pictures. You’ll probably never make it to this museum, so take a look…
They were unique with their symbolic/early art (16-17th centuries), and good with their 18-19th century portraits and landscapes. Their attempts at Impressionism seem lifeless (to me) though… no pix of those.
Irktusk will be 350 years old in 2011. It has been a Cossack fort to control the natives; a trading post of both furs and minerals from the region and between China and Russia, and for centuries, a place to banish your enemies if you’re in charge of Russia. The czar’s Trans-Siberian Railway boosted Irkutsk’s fortunes immeasurably. It became the industrial and educational/scientific center that it is today under the Soviets.
• it is “vaguely seedy” (Rough Guide)
• contains a mix of Russians (say 70%, 20% Mongols/Bayats, and 10% Chinese.
• many cars including ours are ‘Japanese’ with the steering wheel on the left. I suspect eastern Russia is an outlet for used Japanese cars.
• big dam here on the Angara river, which flows out of Baikal (many others flow in) provides low cost, low polluting energy.
• but of course they put up a big aluminum plant next to it, maybe a couple of miles from downtown Irkutsk, which spews out black smoke from three stacks, even as I type.
Irkutsk has the strangest/most fascinating mix of architecture of anywhere I’ve been. Modern buildings right next to 150 year old wood buildings. Modern homes next to dirt road hovels.
That’s it for now. Baikal Tomorrow, Ride Thurs.
Here’s a shot of my hotel and room, fyi.