Stop living in the past: Irkutsk now (Part 2)
Enough history? I’ll have to accept that most of the readers here are not time travellers and perhaps put a brake on the circuitous historical excursion … a bit. But one more! … one more! Irkutsk witnessed a major event in the Red-on-White conflict of the Russian Civil War, namely the execution of the White leader: Alexander Kolchak in 1920. This would prove to be a substantial nail in the counter-revolutionary coffin, being as he was, the commander of the major White force.
Irkutsk had often been a battleground in the fall-out from the Soviet Revolution, but this was a major death-knell for the White, pro-Tsarist (or just anti-Bolshevik) cause. He is remembered though, in the form of a monument unveiled to the public eye in 2004 … let’s face it: it was never going to happen during the communist years …
It’s often hard to delineate exactly when a certain “passage-in-time” starts and ends. Officially, the Civil War ran from 1918 to 1921 but in reality staggered into ugly existence via a series of initial skirmishes in 1917, blossoming darkly into a war that similarly stumbled, kicked and twitched to final lifelessness in June 1923 with the capitulation of General Anatoly Pepelyayev.
Anyway: holidays, excursions, the Trans-Siberian experience, touristy things … remember those?
I read that Irkutsk is well served by a capable public transport system comprising of buses, trolley-buses (electric) and trams, though certain procedure is best observed to ensure smooth passage. Tickets are available in packs of ten from kiosks or from the driver and are good for all of the above conveyances … if subsequently validated by wall-mounted machine-punch as required.
During busy periods of the day you may be passed a ticket if standing in the vicinity of one of these punch-machines … Ok, you are not being given a free ticket: it’s a communal pleasantry to save wading through the crush. You are expected to punch it for the holder, or even pass it on to the person operating the machine, if not you … and then hand it back accordingly. I’ve never been there or tried anything similar, so I can imagine the surprise for the uninitiated …
Knowing such tips helps to “grease the wheel”, helping stave off those bemused, expectant looks whilst you fumble for your translator … and the queue behind you collectively rolls their eyes. Oh yeah … “no ticket!” (“без билета!”) equates to a 20,000 ruble fine at last count if caught (get a receipt). That’s around £400!… a figure that I had to double-check to believe as it tumbled casually out of the currency converter … I still wonder if it might be a misprint … Anyway: just buy the damn ticket (or ten), OK?
Although trams stop in the middle of the street, cars are (I am informed …) obliged to give way to passengers making their way on and off, from pavement to vehicle. However, don’t let that statement be your epitaph … Nothing that I have heard about Russian driving has been good… I wish that I could report otherwise, but there it is… so be careful out there.
As far as “taxis” are concerned … frankly I doubt if I’d be taking them … It seems that like other parts of Russia: although it’s possible to flag down potentially any private car, ask for a ride and negotiate a fare … you are taking your life into your hands. Perhaps it works for the street-wise locals but you’re probably a “rich Westerner” … or at least presumed to be, in other words: a clueless walking money-belt ripe for the picking.
Even on an Irkutsk tourist website it says: “TAKE ONLY OFFICIAL TAXIS” … recognised by a chequered light on top or chequered stripes on the side, often faded … and even then: don’t get into a car that already has a passenger, don’t give the exact address if going to a private residence. There’s usually no meter so settle a price in roubles before getting into the thing as this will help to avoid a higher fare and possible robbery (!) … and that “not all drivers are 100% trustworthy …”
‘Sounds like it! I’ll take the bloody bus!
Not wishing to end on a low note though, I’ve saved the best till last: hydrofoils … swooshing the 70km up and down the Angara river between Irkutsk and Lake Baikal … but only in the summertime. Now that sounds more like travelling. Surely a must-do. Oh yes.
Next time: Trips and Tales (Part 63) Stop living in the past: Irkutsk now (Part 2)
[Photo by cramnic]