Today we are on the train. Our cabin is small but comfortable. There are two seats and the bunks fold down on top of them at night.
Luggage is stored under the seats and there is a small hanging area. Showers have become a hot topic. For the first few days it was impossible to get a hot,or warm shower. Cold showers in Siberia are somewhat chilly even at the beginning of autumn. People in the up market ,more expensive cabins have less room and sleep in bunks one on top of the other.
Forests of Silver Beech and the occasional Larch flank each side of the railway line. Freight and passenger trains constantly pass us on this main electric line.
Irkutsk is the capital of East Siberia. At 5000km from Moscow,it is in it’s own little world. 640000 people live here and the government encourages people from other parts of the country to move here. The city was settled by the Kosaks (we call them Cossacks) around the Angari river in the 1600’s.
In the past, Irkutsk was called the St Petersburg of Siberia and the Paris of Russia because of the beautiful decorated buildings. As these were made from wood, many have been destroyed but enough have survived to show the city’s former grandeur.
We have heard of wrong doers being sent to Siberia. For some this would have meant working in mines or other place under poor conditions. For some noblemen who rebelled against the government, the Decemberists, being sent to Siberia meant being sent away from the comforts and society of Europe. One unique group of women followed their men into exile. This was unusual for the time. They settled in Irkutsk. One family built a house and the family lived there for 20 years after the term of punishment. Their house was occupied by ten families during the communal living period of the Communist era. They shared a bathroom and kitchen. A family of two or more children shared one room..generous for one but not more. This house has now been restored to honour the original family who organised a school for local children, a library and concerts for the people of Irkutsk.
Apartments built in the Communist period were small consisting of two bedrooms, a kitchen/living area and bathroom. These are now falling into disrepair. More modern Communist buildings are austere and generally grey, but do have a regal air. These are softened in Irkutsk by the gardens or “embankments that line the river.
When the hydro electric scheme was built on the Angari river, many small villages were to be flooded. Houses from the villages were removed , and rebuilt in Taiga forest about 30km from Irkutsk, to show people the types of houses of the time. A fortress, church, school, inn and normal types of homes were saved and rebuilt. From the outside, they are little different to traditional houses still being built. Inside they are surprisingly cosy. We thought we could cope living there with just a feeeew variations. There is a central stove that heats the house. This provided heat to the bedroom, living and cooking area. Beds were sometimes built in spaces adjoining the large stone fireplace/oven. Outside would be a washing area and steam room for the weekly bath on Sunday after church.
In both modern and traditional Russian orthodox houses, one space is called the red corner. Icons belonging to the family are placed here, often with red decorated fabric.
Apart from private houses, churches were also taken over for communal housing in the early Communist era. People removed the Icons and hid them. These have now been returned to the churches and the buildings are being restored to their former beauty.
Irkutsk has the Siberian tiger as its city emblem. When it was first discovered,these animals were common in the area but are now only found further north in the forests.
There is a romantic side to Russia that appears in their fascination with love stories…..the Decemberists wives and girlfriends, Swan lake,etc. In one park was a statue of Fionella and Peter and a hare, in another a reconciliation chair ( it slopes into the middle ) , all devoted to the display and maintenance of true love.
Well it is late afternoon. We have been rocked all day by the motion of the train. People have recovered from their shower angst especially after a few vodka tastings…..chilli and honey, and raspberry vodka..yum, forget plain. Tomorrow we will reach Novosibirsk another part of the Siberian area.
We will see a river – yes the Ob
Old buildings and streets – of course
Opera and Ballet house- well we are in Russia, a cultural area.
Nature- it goes without saying
And, and , and a RAILWAYS MUSEUM
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