Stop living in the past: Irkutsk now (Part 7)
There’s something that I haven’t touched upon, that’ll no doubt be of interest to sports fans. And that’s Bandy. Something that hasn’t caught-on here in the UK to the same degree as in Russia and other Northern European nations (and more…) Without delving into the Bandy rulebook (which I don’t own incidentally…), it presents as something of a hybrid between ice-hockey and football… and leans more towards the former. UK readers may have never heard of it!
Seeing as both of those sports are popular here anyway, I’ll speculate that this could be why Bandy is somewhat absent from our national sports-pantheon. We’re already “covered”, perhaps? It was played here in the past though, peaking with the 1913 European Bandy Championships… in which England won! That was something of a swan-song, although it’s creeping back… a bit. Prior to it’s decline… it was popular in “the fens”, just down the road from me. The Fens are an East-Anglian region of flat, reclaimed coastal marsh, historically prone to flooding and freezing over, incidentally. Great for skating.
Anyway, back to the plot. I’m mentioning Russian Bandy here because as a national sport, it’s a big deal over there, generally… and a bigger deal still in Itkutsk. Baykal-Energiya, for instance, one of the Irkutsk Bandy clubs, is in the premier Bandy League… where Titans of the sport may clash in front of 30,000 spectators, a small UK town’s worth. Look, it’s not my thing, but who cares? …it could be yours. Going to a Bandy match whilst visiting Irkutsk on your Trans-Siberian experience may just be right up your street. Something to consider for sports enthusiasts keen to sample something with a little local flavour.
Apparently, Bandy meets with the approval of the Russian Orthodox Church too… so, there’s some kind of recommendation for you. As I type this I’m getting images of ageing, bearded holy-men in full sweeping black regalia scooting up and down a frozen ice-field, enthusiastically lobbing bandy-balls into goals off the backs of hockey-sticks. …And the adepts cheers from the benches… OK, perhaps not.
For interests that are more cerebral than visceral, there are a whole clutch of museums: the Volkonsky House-Museum is the preserved home of Decembrist Count Sergei Volkonsky and wife Maria Volkonskaya …who interestingly features as the main character in the book: The Princess of Siberia by Christine Sutherland. Hopefully self-explanatory are: The City History Museum, The Geology Museum, The Irkutsk Regional Museum and (with some explanation) the Sukachev Art Museum. This has grown from the private art collection of Vladimir Sukachev, a city head and art patron. It now contains over 14,000 art works… and additionally, texts by Siberian authors.
The spiritual, Christian or just architecturally-minded may enjoy Znamensky Monastery [which we mentioned in a previous blog], whose brilliant blank-white exterior belies the ostentatious ornamentation and iconography within. The Raising of the Cross Church is worth a mention and features elaborate exterior form and décor, more icons and a navigable ( just about) central bell tower… perhaps by prior arrangement? I read a blog entry where a family on a special tour-deal were granted accompanied access and promptly serenaded on hanging bells (resembling over-sized hand bells) whilst they were treated to impressive views of the city. Sounds great if you can pull some strings (no pun intended).
More ornamental still and with striking sky-blue domes atop a cluster of convoluted, multi-windowed towers is Kazansky Church. Bogoyavlensky Cathedral (of the Apparition) is also worthy of note, with a history of deconstruction and reconstruction, Soviet misuse and, finally, restoration. There’s your culture fix…
More points of interests, next time.
Next time: Trips and Tales (Part 68) ‘A’ and ‘L’ and Irkutsk
[Photo by Oskarström Bandy]