Around town there is a nice mix of older European style buildings and locally made log and cut wood houses. The history of Irkutsk is remarkable, serving as a lone outpost of Eastern expansion, it was even considered the "staging point" for Russian expiditions to Alaska in the period when Russia had a fairly large toe-hold in North America. That Irkutsk served this purpose demonstrates how little existed (and still exists) in the thousands of kilometres between its location and the Russian Pacific coast.
To ease the culture shock and take stock of our arrival in Russia, we decided to move to a better value hotel – better value but not cheaper. In fact it was more expensive but perhaps the best hotel we had stayed in since leaving home so we figured it deserved the title of “good value”. When we got shown the room the lady mentioned the automatic toilet – we looked at it and realized we had to stay here just to try it! We have seen a Japanese toilet with lots of buttons before but it wasn’t working – this one was although for me one trial run was enough to remind me certain things should remain one way streets……….In addition to the “hip” cleaner there were buttons just for women, deoderisers, a dryer function – actually it was a lot like an automatic car wash and it did come complete with remote control! As did the curtains, lights and wardrobe.
So Molly got to play to her hearts content for a day and night whilst Julia and I sat down stairs and chatted, drank some wine and planned Russia (well, sort of, mostly we just drank!).
Of course afternoons drinking can lead to all sorts of things so I went night-clubbing – until 4am! I discovered many things, the most relevant being that I should not go night clubbing until 4am. I also discovered that Russians are very similar to Australians in that they like a drink, they like to dance and they like the 80’s – a LOT! Fashion – check. Music – check. Dance style – CHECK! The only thing missing was the handbags on the dance floor. It didn’t matter, most Russian girls seemed to dance around in circles in the same style anyway, sans handbags!
So with hangover in need of fixing, the next morning we found a Subway, mostly like in Australia less the English menu, and we were in the middle of enjoying a very nice sandwich when the main street of Irkutsk erupted – it was the City Birthday Parade! A proud, 350 year old city was putting on a show so we joined them. We had intended to go back to Lake Baikal which we had passed on the train from UB but it was not to be – the street parade was far to…..um, bizarre!
It was freezing cold, yet somehow most floats, marching groups and cars seemed to somehow include some bikini clad dancers. There were lots of pirates, quite a few furry cartoon characters and our favourite – a car wash with lots of soapy splashing around being had by all girls involved, again, in bikinis (did “we” like that one or was it just me?).
Irkutsk was fun, quiet compared to East Asia and people follow traffic signals, don’t stare and despite their rather cool summer temperatures, are generally quite cheery.