Surprising Irkutsk

Trip Start Dec 14, 2007
Trip End Mar 16, 2009

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Flag of Russian Federation  , Siberia,
Monday, June 16, 2008

The first few days in Russia were certainly very different from what we had been experiencing throughout Asia and even though the Russians are considered European there was still something uniquely strange about the Russian people that I couldn't quite put my finger on. After a few days I slowly began seeing the similarities and the differences.
The first thing I started noticing about the men is that a large majority of the men all have similar hair cuts. Dead straight fringes, typically short around the ears and back, very similar to the haircuts I was used to when in primary school when hair was an annoyance and you didn't even know what a hair style was. This might have been as a result of the compulsory two year military service that all men still have to go through.

The other strange similarity I noticed were the shoes the men wore. Its hard to describe as some do wear branded sport shoes but by far the majority seem to wear perforated or weaved leather shoes often in white, something I hadn't seen since the eighties. Besides the shoes black leather jackets and matching two piece tracksuits were also very popular and often gave them that gangster look. If anyone was ever seen the movie Smoking Aces you will know exactly what I mean.
The woman on the other hand, and its difficult to say this without sounding rude, seem to spend way too much time on their hair and many have either bleached white with 1 inch of re-growth, bright red or streaks of blue and green. The common trend we picked up when it came to clothing was anything shiny or bling, tight pants especially stone washed jeans and every now and then the two piece matching tracksuits worn as a smart outfit. Often these outfits made otherwise pretty woman look a little tacky. It was almost as if we were in a past era of old western fashions all rolled into one.
The city of Irkutsk however had a lot of little hidden treasures as we discovered during our two day stay. The city was built around a river and has a population of 3 million and is the biggest city in Siberia. Armed with our one page map with the Russian street names translated from Cyralic to Roman letters we set off. We quickly realised the map was going to be very difficult to use as we could not compare the maps street name to the actual Russian street names. So once we established where we were on the map we simply counted streets and intersections and in so doing were able to navigate ourselves around the city, fortunately the cathedrals were clearly marked.
The cathedrals we visited were all Russian Orthodox differed from other churches or cathedrals in that they had no pews so the congregation would stand during the service rather than sit. This was seen as a small amount of suffering as apposed to the suffering Christ went through on the cross. One of the cathedrals we visited, The Cathedral of the Apparition of Our Lord, was beautifully decorated inside with frescos covering all the walls and ceilings.
For our home stay in Irkutsk we were put up in a typical city styled apartment building. Our host coincidently was also named Olga and she lived in the tiny 2 bed roomed apartment with her husband. We used her daughter's room as she had has since moved out after she got married. Even though we slept on a fold-out bed we know we had to make the most of it as tomorrow night it will be a moving bed.
During our home stays and also during the two days in Irkutsk we sampled a few local Russian dishes and generally enjoyed the food. We especially liked the Russian beetroot soup, borsch and the local fish from Lake Biakal called Omul. The beer was also great and obviously very popular and many men would openly walk down the street clutch a massive 2 litre bottle of beer. I found more than 12 different beer brands in the supermarket and will try my best to sample as many as possible on the train to be able to give a real objective review.
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