Friday, July 11, 2014

City History Museum

While others decided to go off to Ulan-Ude for the weekend, my pocketbook and I decided to stay here and explore. I went off to explore a museum I had wanted to see: the City History Museum. They created it/renovated it for the 350th Anniversary Celebration and it was very tastefully done.

When you walk in you have to put these little bootie things on your shoes, but these ones are reusable and they wash them! However, they make your feet even hotter in the summer! Like many museums this one charges different prices for Russians and foreigners, but the foreign student price was only 100 RUB/ 3.10 USD.

The museum was totally in Russian, so I suggest a guide or an understanding to not understand. However, if you speak Russian, it was a good museum. It had 5 exhibit halls, dedicated to different time periods, plus a random hall I’ll tell you about later!
A layout of the original fortress at Irkutsk

It started off in the pre-Russian time, with Mongols and yurts, introducing the Irkutsk Archeology Club. What was cool in this room, was that they had spear tips and other random things, but they also had drawings next to them, showing you how they were actually used!

Slowly, you move through the years as you walk through the museum. Part of reminding myself that this is Asia and not Europe comes when you run into Buddhist stuff in museums. Or Japanese stuff. Apparently Russia was the first country you could study Japanese as a foreign language in. The next room was totally dedicated to the 25 or so churches around Irkutsk. Lots of beautiful churches, most of which survived the USSR.  

The final normal hall was dedicated to the Soviet time period. I wish I had understood Russian a bit better, because it described what happened in Irkutsk at the time of the 1917 revolutions. The more modern times often have early Aatari or tape players, and I want to know in 50 years, what will they pick from the early 2000s? A ipod? Jeggins? Uggs?

Then there was one last hall to see, off to the side of the others. I walk in and it is dedicated to Kim Il-sung, from North Korea. I almost laughed out loud. I mean it was like the were revering him and his works. It was a little odd to say the least!

After the museum I wanted towards a honey festival, because they have “women’s honey” here. No, it is literally called “Women Honey” and I wanted to get some. I didn’t find it, but I did find another one that was super delicious. Now if only I had a working oven to make some biscuits.

See you around the globe!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Olkhon Island (AKA 4th of July Party!)

We wanted to do something special for 4th of July (my first ever outside of the US). So we decided to go to Olkholn Island, the largest (only?) island in Lake Baikal. It is considered onf of the 5 world poles of shamanic energy by the Buryat people.

This is the place to go if you are in Irkutsk for any length of time. However, it is an 8 hour bus ride there and back with limited amenities on the island. We went as a large group of 6 Americans and only got one day on the island.

We got there about 4 pm or so and wondered around the island, getting to see Shaman’s Rock. The destination on the island. It was a bit chillier than expected due to the wind, but oh so beautiful. We cooked our own dinner both nights we were there. The place we were staying wanted an arm and a leg for us to eat their prepared meals.

Shaman's Rock

Saturday dawned nice and lazy. No one told us that the tours all left at 10 am, so when we showed up at 11, there weren’t any still going. So we rented bikes. Which was an AWESOME idea and tons of fun! I definitely recommend it. Besides you have to admire the business model. Wait for all the tours to leave, stand outside with your bikes and a sign saying 400 RUB/day.
Me, Hayley, Adam, and Steve

Hayley, Steve, Adam, and I rode together (early starters) and rode out to a little point, through a tiny village (is there something smaller than village?) where we just relaxed and took in the beauty of Lake Baikal.

Upon our return to town, we had ice cream (and hot chocolate, cuz why not) at Hedgehog Icecream (it rhymes in Russian Ёженне Мороженне). Because why not?

Then Steve and I bailed because we wanted to still have feeling in our legs. Later we all joined up and ate dinner. Then we had a бання/banya for 2 hours. It was one of the most relaxing things ever. A banya is essentially a sauna. We spent time in and out of the sauna, and Hayley showed us how you were actually supposed to bathe in there and how to do it. It did get SUPER hot at some points.
A memorial to those locals who died in the war. 

The next day started early, when we had to catch the bus back into Irkutsk at 9 am. We had expected the ice cream place to be open (because the sign said it would be) but it was not.

It was fun to go visit Olkhon Island, but unless you can spend 2-3 days here, in my opinion it isn’t worth the hassle and cost to get here. Visit Listviyanka to see the lake and beauty.

See you around the globe!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

One Month In

Usually I start these “blank months in/left” with a OMG I can’t believe that it has been this long, but not this time. This time I know it has been a month, and it has felt like it has been a month.

My professor says she sees me making progress, but I don’t feel like I am making progress. I need to spend more time doing homework and applying myself, but this whole roommate thing plus the whole “the other kids don’t find the need to study so they come bug me all the time” really detracts from my ability to study.
I miss home too.

The city I super interesting and I can’t wait to keep exploring it! The people are WAY more friendly than in Moscow or St. Pete. They smile on the street, they ask politely rather than yelling at you for different change.

The food however, is not as great as in other European countries I have been in. They have to hothouse or ship in most fresh veggies and the taste is affected (much like it is in the states!). You have wide access to rice and pasta (and pirogues style things), bread, and ice cream. Everything else is a little iffy. If you cook for yourself, it is as easy as it is in the states to eat healthy, but without the wide variety of  veggies to supplement.

Another thing I have to keep reminding myself is that while I am in Russia, I am also in Asia. I’m not in Europe, so my expectations are moot. However, I do get to check off another continent off of my bucket list! (If you are counting, this leaves Africa, Australia, and Antarctica.)

Did I mention that I have a tan in SIBERIA? I haven’t had a tan since before 2011…what is this?

See you around the globe!