What I learned from Russians, so far.

Here I am in the hostel room, looking at the snow falling through my window. I woke up early today to do my laundry and get prepared for the next train to Yekaterinburg. It is a 52-hour train ride, mind you. So before you start preaching on how I should at least enjoy the city before I leave, please consider the emotional preparation that needs to be done beforehand. And of course the food supply. It’d be freaking stupid to be on the train without proper food supply. Mental! Hence, I’m doing the best I can before I turn into a green bell pepper and eat the Russian women. Hats off to them for being able to walk on the icy pavement with the 5-inch heels and fully clad in fur. You guys deserve the Guinness book record just for the heels!

My plan in Irkutsk didn’t turn out well. First, there was no bus to Olkhon Island, then the road closure for Listvyanka due to bad weather. Then The road finally opened for Listyvanka, hopped on the 9a.m. bus, and voila arrived to heavy snow and strong winds there. I got to the steps of Lake Baikal for some photos and the wind was too strong and did I mention how chilly it was? My body is now used to -8ºC since Mongolia so I presumed that it might be lower than that. Even my camera went on strike and refused to work on that day. I walked into the tourism center cum bus stop and put my camera near the heater. Tadaaaa! It worked! I went out again, took a few more pictures and walked around to see if there’s any café open but to no avail. I suppose it’s the risk of travelling in winter. But that’s where the fun lies! Like a friend said to me before I started on this journey: Roll the dice! It’s rolled all right, huh?

I couldn’t resist the temptation to watch Catching Fire though I know that it’d be in Russian. Why not? It’d be a great experience, wouldn’t it? Besides, I got to sit in a well-heated room with my fellow comrades and maybe I could experience first hand what made them laugh. If you are not in the know, Russian is famous for having stiff face and some of the young women look like the cut off from an advertisement in women’s magazine. I counted how many times they laughed and it was only twice! I’d have to watch the English version then, just to confirm how many scenes deserve my hearty laugh. There are many cinemas around Irkutsk town and quite near to each other. So, fret not if you are stuck in here like me. There are many things you could experience here, besides Lake Baikal that is.

The sole reason why chose to stop in Irkutsk was Lake Baikal and in my head I’d only be in Irkutsk for 2 days maximum. So no extensive research was done for the town itself. The hostel that I stayed in is very convenient. About 15 minutes walk to City Square and another 5 minutes for the bridge. If I want coffee and cake, I just need to walk about 10 minutes and the walk back to the hostel would already burn half of the calories intake. The bus station is about 20 minutes if I brisk walk because of the bitter cold. It could easily be 40 minutes because they have a lot of log houses around the neighbourhood and it would be rude not to stop and marvel at the uniqueness. There are a lot of museums around town and they have heritage line, which you could finish off in a day or two. There are maps scattered around town and you could hardly lost your way. I was just walking around town yesterday when I stumbled upon Chinatown. No photos of course for I love my camera and life more than anything else. The original fur jacket would cost you around RM10, 000 and above, depending on quality. Wool socks and wool hats would cost you around RM15, depending on your Russian and bargain skills of course. The walking map cost me about RM9 and it was easy to navigate your way since they highlighted the landmarks and it shouldn’t cause you any problem though you don’t read Cyrillic.

But the best thing that ever happened to me while I was in Irkutsk is of course the 2014 winter Olympics torch relay on my birthday. I was frustrated to learn about the road closure to Listvyanka for two days when I got to the bus station. I ended up going around town to take pictures and went back to the hostel after having a slice of blueberry cake and coffee. When the receptionist told me about the torch relay, my eyes lit up. It’s just a 10 minutes walk and it’d be the best way to feel the excitement of Mother Russia and her children. And yes, I was there at the square in the -4ºC, cheering for the athletes though I don’t have any idea who they are. But it doesn’t matter for that very moment we celebrated the joy of sports. Uniting people in such temperature and the wtf moment when you realized the girl standing next to you was wearing thin jacket, yoga pants and a pair of trainers while you were in layers of jackets and waterproof boots. The best birthday ever!

Irkutsk people are quite laid back. They saw me with scarf, startled a bit but then moved on. I was asked whether I am a Chinese when I ordered my coffee at the café. I just laughed and politely explained that I am from Malaysia. I am not sure whether the education system in Russia is sucks or she was just an ignorant person since she thought Malaysia is next to Saudi. Alas, the coffee was good and the sweet cake was properly done. I’ve wanted to get my coffee from this shop that has some great cakes displayed on the window. But after seeing the no gun allowed signage on the door, I think it’s best not to go in though the cakes looked like they were to die for.

As usual, I have been blessed with some beautiful souls here in Irkutsk. Thanks to Polina (I hope I spelled it right) who introduced me to fish soup. After a few weeks of vegetarian diet, this definitely was a really good treat I should say. My roommate gave me a few cards with words in Russian. Guess it’ll be residing in my cards collection back home. A bubbly friend of my roommate came over the other night and we ended up talking using Google Translate. Hail Google! Guess the language barrier won’t be that extreme in a few years I suppose.

Siberian weather is definitely a pain the ass. Make sure that you have proper jacket, thick socks and gloves. Heels are definitely optional. Unless you have been practicing about in Winter Wonderland I-City in your 5-inch heels then you are welcomed to do so. Or else, learn how to balance your body when walking on the icy pavements. It’s no joke about how dangerous it is and of course the amount of embarrassment. Just walk slowly and focus on where you’re heading.

It’s an official wrap up for Irkutsk. Next, Yekaterinburg! Till then..