Stop living in the past: Irkutsk now (Part 6)
I hope that you enjoyed the “Taltsy” wooden-museum piece last time. That was right up my alley at any rate… perhaps from an English perspective its appeal is enhanced by the construction material itself… Here, there aren’t many standing historical structures constructed completely in wood… OK, I can’t think of any off the top of my head… There must be some… Even our surviving windmills have conical stone bases, and generally-speaking wood constitutes only the skeletal frameworks of say… Tudor buildings for instance. Unless you know otherwise…
On the surface of it… that seems odd for a country once largely covered by forest. We’ve lost about 90% to clearing, burning, civil and military construction (e.g. ancient maritime vessels), agriculture, disease, fuel use, et al. Now, we are left with around 15% of standing woodland that is classified as “ancient” in origin. Of course, climate is a major factor. The traditional British “dampness” and timber have not sat well together throughout a history largely lacking our effective modern preservatives. Whereas the heat and cold in Siberia is reportedly much drier… It’s all about the same forces that (anecdotally at least) dried and warped crusader longbows in the holyland, caused their composite Turk counterparts to fall apart unglued when brought home and still makes upper Northern Hemisphere dwellers from Scandinavia or Russia feel the cold here… Even though their wintertime homeland mercury regularly steals a downward march on us to the tune of negative ten degrees at the very least, … and often multiples more.
Yeah, it’s all about our famously “inclement” climate compared to the winter-peaking Russo-Siberian anticyclone. The dwellings you inhabit speak volumes about the nature of the country that you call home.
Anyway, I digress (it’s a way of life). What was the question…? Something about Irkutsk … while on your Trans-Siberian experience? Things to do, fun to be had…
A great counterpoint to “Taltsy” must surely be the “Botanic Garden of the Irkutsk State University”, all 27 hectares of it… and this time located inside Irkutsk too. Apparently, it’s the only one of it’s kind within the “Irkutsk region” … though I’m not exactly sure where the “region” technically starts and ends. I’m being pedantic. The species count starts at 1400+ by section: ornamental/tropical, herbacious, dendrology and a “Biotechnology of Plant Propagation” area which alone features over 200 species/varieties of fruiting plants. Then there are another three sections, or “living collections” comprising: “systematicum, medicinal herbs, and rare and endangered plants of Central Siberia”.
Look, I don’t know what a systematicum actually is…, but I’m sure it’s very nice. If one of you would like to bring one over, we’ll take it out for a spin, see if we can make it fly…whatever.
Now, there is one important proviso: being a University facility, it’s not “generally” open to the public, but (importantly) guided tours are available… it says here… So with a little courtesy and forethought you may be granted access to something serene, informative and a little “off” the main tourist drag too. Bullseye.
Something else that has to be better than cruising the tourist shops for Matrioshka dolls is surely Husky sledding. Especially if you have a thing for Siberian Huskies (I’m probably more of an Alaskan Malamute guy, but Huskies are great…) Anyway, picture yourself white-knuckling-it up and down Taiga-forested hills between Irkutsk and Lake Baikal, with the mid-day winter sun glancing off a frozen expanse of crystal-ice. What an absolute scream that would be… Of course, with their largely meat-based diet, an occupational hazard is being in the direct line of fire, downwind of a collective Husky exhaust-stream! Oh well, every Eden has it’s serpent… I’m sure that gas masks aren’t provided. C’est la vie. Websites for companies offering this service (the sledding, not the gas masks) are readily available, but it would no doubt be a boon to go down that oft-referred too: “trusted” route. Especially seeing as these are often “proper” excursions, not fairground rides; you might be out for 8 hours or more. Hopefully “trusted” is via your tour operator… (if not: why not?) You may have to rely on your smarts if travelling “free-fall”, so to speak… ‘Better be covered in case that takes a turn for the literal.
Next time: Trips and Tales (Part 67) Stop living in the past: Irkutsk now (Part 6)
[Photo by Jim Linwood]