January 18, 2013

Whirlwind tour of Irkutsk

Irkutsk – Weddings, churches, honey show, markets, wooden buildings, sculptures, interesting locals and oh yeah, weddings!

Pig Pastries at the market, Irkutsk

Pig Pastries at the market, Irkutsk

Wooden houses, Irkutsk

Wooden houses, Irkutsk

We had an afternoon to look around Irkutsk, and no agenda, no idea what to see and no idea where to go! As we had been “dumped” at the museum, that’s where we decided to start. So, we headed into the Volkonsky’s house at the Irkutsk Region Historical and Memorial Museum of Decembrists. We met some lovely (cough cough) locals here. I’m sure the museum staff were lovely, they just haven’t quite mastered the art of charades yet. So consequently we had absolutely no idea what they were trying to tell us or get us to do. Despite being shooed from one room into another (the best we could figure out was that there was an order to the rooms and we’d gone the wrong way), we eventually managed to find an english version of the life story of the Volkonsky’s. Great fun was had reading that out loud as I assumed the role of Narrator on the museum tour, I’m sure if the other visitors had any idea what we were saying they would have got quite a laugh out of it as well, instead of just laughing at us…

Irkutsk Region Historical and Memorial Museum of Decembrists – SG Volkonsky’s manor house, Irkutsk

Irkutsk Region Historical and Memorial Museum of Decembrists – SG Volkonsky’s manor house, Irkutsk

The Volkonsky’s were exiled to Siberia – and we were under the impression that they had lived a hard life. We figured that surely the house had been done up later on by somebody else. But no, the Volkonsky’s had turned their life around and turned out to be quite the aristocrats of Irkutsk, holding many social functions with the well to do in their house. And by the way, the house had been moved from another location, not now, but in the 1800’s! Who’d have thought they had that kind of technology back then! The house even had it’s own indoor greenhouse, growing quite exotic plants for Siberia. Some of the plants were rather originals I think, but even after a few weeks in Russia I still hadn’t quite picked up enough Russian gardening words to figure out what one of the staff was trying to explain to us. In the end, she actually entered the greenhouse and pointed out the pineapple. A pineapple growing deep in Sibera. Who’d have guessed hey?

Pineapple, Volkonsky's Manor House, Irkutsk

Pineapple, Volkonsky’s Manor House, Irkutsk

Wandering around the streets of Irkutsk we stumbled on markets, with all the fresh berries, food, fruit, nuts, baked goods and pets you could want. Yes that’s right. Right on one of the footpaths there were all kinds of pets for sale, all kept in conditions that would nearly make even the most hardened animal hater cringe. This area of town had many old wooden buildings from a by gone era lining the streets. I’m not sure how some of them were still standing given the angle they were at, but they were.

Berries at the market, Irkutsk

Berries at the market, Irkutsk

We dropped in to the Exaltation of the Holy Cross Church, where we met some more wonderful locals. As I remember the incident, I just sit here and say Oh dear… I can’t remember if we had to pay or not, I’d be guessing not otherwise we’d probably have left. There were 3 of us, but for some reason Ev was singled out to wear a pretty head scarf. None of us had hats on, so I’m not sure how come she had to wear one and not the rest of us… We had a good chuckle at Ev anyway. This church was being done up on the inside when we were there (about July 2012) so there was plenty of scaffolding and work going on. We found one of the ladies to ask whether we could take a photo and when she didn’t speak english, we decided to get one of the younger ladies there to ask for us. I’m not sure she spoke english, but she understood enough of what we said to figure out what we wanted. She went up and asked one of the old ladies for us. I feel a bit sorry for the young lady coz she got a 30 second (no kidding it was that long) lecture in Russian before coming back to us looking totally confused, shrugged her shoulders and left us with the old lady. After a lot more of an exchange (ok, no exchange, just long long sentences from the Russian lady at us), we figured out that we could take photos but she arranged us in the place we could take them. Maybe it was the better angle, who knows. We sat on the steps outside for a bit and just as we were heading off, one of the old ladies comes running outside after us. We’re wondering now whether you weren’t allowed to sit on the steps, but this lady actually knew a few words of english! She didn’t know much except hello and goodbye, but we did learn she was from Holland and perhaps it was their best attempt at trying to help us leave with a more positive memory of them.

Inside the Exaltation of the Holy Cross Church

Inside the Exaltation of the Holy Cross Church

After that experience, we decided no more Irkutsk churches, so we steered clear of them. Around in the square near the theatre we stumbled upon some flower stalls, КвАс (kvass drink) and a honey show. Ev, the only brave one to try it, reported that the kvass drink was very very ordinary, and thanks to google, we found out that it is a fermented drink made from rye bread with a low alcoholic content. The flowers though were excellent and the honey show was even better! Free samples of honey, entertainment from singing bears and bees and songs in Russian promoting the honey market blasting out from the platform! Quite a find and I got some Russian honey as a souvenir!

Honey with nuts!

Honey with nuts! A great souvenir.

We headed toward the Angara river, stumbled upon another exhibition in Kirov square – the sculpture exhibition, admired the buildings and then we got to attend the Russian weddings. A gangster theme, quite a few traditional ones and the most stunning pair of wedding “dress” pants I’ve ever seen – only because I’ve never seen a bride in pants before. Only problem with these pants was it left NOTHING to the imagination. It was just like looking through a window.

Wedding pants - not the best angle to highlight the "window" effect of the pants...

Wedding pants – not the best angle to highlight the “window” effect of the pants…

While there was plenty happening around the banks of the river, there’s nowhere to eat at all down there. We thought there’d be heaps of cafes – ok, even just one cafe or something like that around there to eat at – but nothing. Should’ve learnt that lesson from other Russian cities, I guess. Maybe three months of summer is not enough to sustain a business year round, but every other place I’ve been to that has a river has places to eat alongside it.

Angara River, with Moscow Triumphal Arch on the left (big cream rectangular arch)

Angara River, with Moscow Triumphal Arch on the left (big cream rectangular arch)

We ended up eating at a place opposite Kirov square, can’t remember the name of it, but something english and it had good food, a good bathroom and was showing the tour de france!

Lovely lasagne!

Lovely lasagne!

The railway station was next on our timetable and the Irkutsk locals hadn’t finished with me yet – but more of that later!

Some highlights of Irkutsk.



  1. Very nice pictures, thanks for sharing! I’m planning to travel to Irkustk and Lake Baikal but I’m sure my pictures will be very different cause I’m going in March

    Comment by lauretabcn — January 19, 2013 @ 6:52 am | Reply

  2. Yes, March will be very different, you should see it with some snow I’d imagine at that time of year!

    Comment by pearsey — January 19, 2013 @ 6:59 am | Reply

  3. […] last blog update was here where I spent the arvo hanging around in […]

    Pingback by Departing Irkutsk for Ulan Ude « Thumper… — January 20, 2013 @ 7:23 pm | Reply

  4. Gangster weddings have been all the rage in Irkutsk for the last several years. I don’t know if they do them in other parts of Russia, but I have seen they are common on the Angara!

    Comment by — February 5, 2013 @ 7:20 pm | Reply

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