The train arrived early in Irkutsk at 7:28am. When I woke, I was overcome by the need to get off the train, to get some fresh air, strech my legs and get out of the tiny cabin. At the station the platforms were packed with people bustling to get off and get on trains. Walking out the station it was clear that Irkutsk is the most popular stop for people doing the Trans-Siberian journey. We saw the back-packers, the odd German and English speaker, the Chinese groups and the typical swarm of taxi drivers trying to make the most of tired train commuters who just woke up in a foreign place. We opted for 30 Rubles tram that took us straight from the station to our hotel.
Irkutsk is a city known for its wooden houses which are constructed with an impressive amount of detail. Despite these houses giving the city its character and showing its real personaility, the majority of these wooden houses are poorly maintained and are very dilapidated. Its clear that the city has invested a lot in tourism, with multiple language sign posts and historical information points but it almost seems the city would be content in letting the wooden houses fall apart and disapear. Walking around the city many of the wooden houses are actually burnt down. Perhaps this is what the people of the city want as well, I can’t imagine the wooden houses holding enough heat when the temperatures are dropping to -30degC in winter.
It has to be said that Irkutsk is just not what I expected. I expected an Industrial town, run down and cold, frowning people. But it’s something completely different with it’s fancy cafes, low to high end restaurants and big tourism setup. The people are very approachable, friendly and even can be seen smiling (unlike Moscow).
After a few days in Irkutsk, we head North towards Lake Baikal to spend several nights on Olkhon Island.
78 hours 48 minutes
4 Nights 3 days
6 different time zones
After months of planning it was a great feeling to finally get on board this train and start heading from Moscow further East. We were using Train 20 to get to Irkutsk in Siberia, but it continued another two days until Beijing. This is no special tourist train as people tend to think, it’s a standard long distance public Russian train used mostly by Russians. Just happens to be one of the longest train journeys in the world.
Life on board the train was enjoyable and quite relaxed. We had chosen a 2nd Class cabin and it was much nicer and comfortable than I had expected. The carraige was quiet, the cabin was cosy and the toilet was cleanish.
Staying hydrated – on each carraige there is a water boiler providing 24 hours hot water keeping us happpy with tea and filled with instant noodles.
Between looking out the window, drinking tea, reading, sleeping and playing Hornochsen the time seemed to go by pretty quickly! We didn’t have a huge amount of food though, we prepared in Moscow with instant soups, noodles, nuts, fruits etc. But the instant stuff was difficult to look at already on the second day. Our breakfast consisted of bread slides with peanut butter and banana and instant coffee. We had been told a lot about “Babushkas” on the station platforms selling food and drinks, but we never really seen any of this. Stations we arrived at were usually empty with only train conductors and station personel.
The views as we travelled through Siberia were amazing. Since we’re travelling in Autumn, it was great to see the changes in landscapes with the the Autumn colours. The landscapes were generally barron and wild. Towns we travelled past seemed incredible remote and isolated with wooden houses and dirt roads. Others towns blended into hard industrial areas and cities such as Omsk.