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Arrival in Irkutsk

We had made reservations, while on the train at a wild game themed hunting hotel in Irkutsk, a place by the name of the hotel Zvezda.

We climbed off the train and began wheeling into town. The train station in Irkutsk is actually on the other side of the river Yenesei from the city, so we had first to climb over the the rail yard and then the Yenesei, using a giant bridge. It was a glorious ride, and the morning light in Irkutsk was intoxicating. The bridge we rode over actually reminded me in no small part of the Troisky Brigde in Petersburg that I used to take each day to get to School.

We managed without too much trouble to find the city center, but try as we could, it seemed impossible to find anyone in this city who knew where the Hotel Zvesda was.  Finally, we just called the hotel, and Scott spoke with them while I chatted with a nearby kiosk owner, resisting strong temptations to buy a copy of “Snob” magazine.

And so it was armed with a better, though still an impererfect idea of where this place was that we headed back onto the road, climbing uphill now, following one of the city’s many tramways.

Three more inquisitions of the locals, and one more call to the hotel later, we finally arrived, thoroughly  awake now and plenty ready to eat breakfast.

The Zvesda turned out to be quite the place, with plenty of taxidermy and bizarre cartoons of game animals, prancing and dancing.

We quickly unpacked all our things and began to make the room our own. It had our favorite feature for any hotel room: in room Ethernet. Now many of you readers out there might be wondering why we would not prefer wifi. And I can see why you might say this, but when you’ve been rambling for this long you start to learn that wifi networks are never as trustworthy. They kick you off, the signal drops out, the data speeds are variable, sometimes they refuse to issue IP addresses, sometimes everything breaks and one needs to go restart the router… Nowadays, I see wireless at a hotel and get a little worried.

Ethernet, on the other hand, is almost always guaranteed to give you a connection, and it’s often quite fast. Chinese business hotels realize this across Asia and provide the people with good old Cat-5 jacks.  Plus, asia AsiaWheeling can use internet sharing tools to spit the connection between the two of us too, no problem.  So that’s exactly what we did.

But the day was still young, and there was plenty of Irkutsk out there to wheel. So we tore ourselves away from the inter-tron, hopped on the bikes and headed out. The wikireader had run out of batteries again, and we would be loath to wheel Irkutsk without it, so finding more batteries was the first order of business. It seemed these post soviet batteries were really not up to snuff, so we stopped at a “Rosneft” station to buy a few more, selecting the name brand this time.

From there, we pedaled not too far to a large central dam that had been built on the Yenesei river right in the middle of town. There as a little broken glass riddled trail that heads out along the dam, parallel to the road used by semis and dump trucks, so we decided to take it. Here we are about half way across.

A little farther down, we found a section of the dam had been built up to act as some kind of loading and unloading operation. It looked not unlike the devices that we had seen used to move containers around in container ports, though this one seemed to be outfitted with the kind of claw we’d seen used to dredge stones and muck out of rivers and ports more than anything else. So speculation as to what exactly they do with this device is more than welcome in the comments.

On the other side of the dam, we found ourselves in a nice park, which like any Russian park, would be not quite be complete without a giant statue of Lenin.

We continued through the park, which turned out to include some really inviting trails, which began as paved and fenced off, but soon dissolved into rougher-riding gravel roads.

We continued on, into the forest on this trail, marveling at how quickly we could move from an urban center into what felt like the middle of nowhere.

As we followed this forest path further and further, it wound its way back towards the lake, and we found ourselves stumbling upon little family lakeside picnics and tanning sessions along the way. Now we were wheeling right along the shore, along a packed dirt trail. Eventually the packed dirt began to feature giant roots and elevation changes that were just too savage for even our trusty Speed TRs, so we locked them to a birch tree and headed off on foot.

The trail quite suddenly dumped us into an opening where we the foundations of a very large building were rusting and bleaching in the sun. A young Russian couple, male member overweight, pale and greasy, female member devastatingly attractive in multi-zippered one-piece hyper short dress, sat on the river banks feeding each other grapes and eyeing us as though to say “Excuse me? Can I help you?”

In case they were curious to witness something extreme, Scott did some emergency mustache trimming.

We did our best to get out of their line of sight with all haste, continuing on along the lakeside for a bit and, when the trail seemed to have petered out there, heading back to the Speed TRs, which were waiting patiently for us back in the forest.

We wheeled our way out of the forest, using a new route which dumped us out onto a large, New Englandy road, lined with orange and red leafed trees. It was already the beginning of fall here in Siberia, and we were just thrilled to be experiencing seasons, for we had not in quite some time.

Rather than get back on the dam, we decided to take a left into the automobile repair part of town. We followed along the other side of the river, probably getting almost all the way back to the train station before taking a large modern bridge back into town.

The sun, the beautiful clear river, all made even more attractive by the polarized lenses of our Maui Jims… Siberia was just too delightful.

We called a waypoint to buy some Kvas from a Produkti on the other side of the river, and lounged around in the shade, chatting about how much we’d like to import Kvas to the US and market it as “Mustache Kiss” brand soda.

We stopped at a small microbrewery on the way back to eat a bizarre hot dog salad, before returning to the Zvezda to lean head-on into the backlog of correspondence for you, dear reader.

That evening we dined on things from a nearby grocery, more exactly fishy things from a nearby grocery. There was black caviar, tiny stinky fish, medium size stinky fish, and one giant smoked chunk of stinky Baikal fish, all accompanied by the mildly stinky, salty smoked string cheese that we were becoming so fond of and a loaf of rye bread.


  1. Monti | January 4th, 2011 | 9:20 am

    Love the off-road video.

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