A Travellerspoint blog

Irkutsk - Paris of Siberia

Irkutsk – October 2011

If there is one city which will welcome you in their own special way and then send you back a nervous wreck then that City has got to be Irkutsk, the capital of Siberia, or according to the guidebooks, “the Paris of Siberia”. Don’t believe the guidebooks, the place is certainly friendlier than our Frog Eating Surrender Monkey European cousins, but that is hardly a compliment, I was still in Russia. Within Russia, the further east you go, the more chance you have of getting a Ruski to crack a smile. The difficulty in Siberia is that their 50 yard stare is normally frozen into their hardened craniums.

My Arrival

I had arrived on the 1st October at the pleasant time of 02:30. My task at this ungodly hour was to trek 4km to my hostel armed with only my Russian phrasebook and an almost primitive street map. I could have walked but Grandma started fretting and was worried I would be attacked and robbed. Typical grandparents ey? So my adopted grandmother jumped off the carriage onto the platform and started heckling people until she eventually got the attention of a soldier who had been travelling on the same carriage with all of his Russian Soldier comrades. These were the same soldiers that I had been trying to avoid on the journey to Irkutsk. And now Grandma had put all her faith into one of them making sure that I got home ok. Thanks Grandma. Now I had an entourage of about 20 Russian soldiers who had a new toy to play with. Was I going to be safer with the soldiers or out there with the Russian Heavy mob? I stuck with what I had, let me see where this takes me. I got pulled by the bag from one place to the next making sure I was kept in check with them and didn’t wander off anywhere I shouldn’t, I was their property now. Outside the train station they were met by more soldiers who had arrived to pick them up. My new soldier buddy was knocking on doors to legitimate taxis to try and get them to take me to my hostel, gypsy cab drivers were swooning around like vultures to try and get in on some tourist action. I was in a predicament. None of the taxis would take me, they had been booked already, or at least that’s what I interpreted from the ensuing action. The soldiers, now wondering what to do with me grabbed my bag and threw it in their army truck, like the one that you see in the films. Shit, now I was in for it, I jumped in to grab my bag and then the van pulled off. I was surrounded by 20 Russian soldiers who now had me to themselves, and this is when the interrogation started, in broken English.

“Where are you from?”

“Are you a spy?”

“Are you James Bond?”

Yeah, these punks were having a right old laugh at my expense….
There was one particular soldier that I was quite wary of and it was when he said I was going to be taken back to the army barracks with them, it was at this point that I stood up and told them to stop the truck. “Drop me here” I said nervously. I figured I would be better off on the dark Siberian streets than in this mixed up, potentially politically sensitive scene. The truck stopped and I grabbed my bag and bailed out onto this disgusting damp street. I had no idea where I was. The soldiers used this stop as an impromptu fag break, so I was again surrounded by 20 soldiers. This time, they were trying to flag down a Taxi. Now, if you were a taxi driver and saw 20 soldiers, an Army truck, and some strange looking tourist at 3 in the morning, would you stop? The answer is no, of course you wouldn’t stop, and plenty just drove on by. You would want no part of this potential scene from Platoon. It was only when the group blocked the road entirely that one taxi had to stop. I jumped in it straight away. My adrenaline at this point was going through the roof….. I took off in the taxi, my guardian soldier had even negotiated the price for me….. I’d have paid anything to get out of there in one piece.

I didn’t sleep that night, I was pacing up and down the hostel until breakfast time.

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My Departure

The train leaving Irkutsk was at 22:15, I had made the journey from Listvyanka early afternoon to buy the ticket for the night, last minute as always but it has worked so far. I had to wait around Irkutsk for the day which wasn’t so bad, I found a café that was modern by Siberian standards and I parked myself there for the day.

When I got to the train station I had bumped into some English guys I had travelled about with briefly so we grouped up and hung around for the train. I have mentioned before that there is a lot of job creation in Russia, and Irkutsk of course was no different. On this night they had 4 policemen who were stood behind a giant desk as you entered the main entrance. By another entrance there was another 3 or 4 security who were keeping check on people for whatever reason. We had sat down in an area where some Russian TV was blasting out some pathetic Russian Soap Opera and we had some time to kill. Looking back now it did seem to me that we were getting a bit more attention from the security than we needed to.

I took my laptop out of my bag. As luck would have it, where I was sat there was an electric socket. Excellent, I took my power lead and plugged it in. At that I was jumped on by this boy who had clearly wanted some excuse to pounce on us and capitalise somehow. He looked like Albert Steptoe with a big padded black jacket, black baseball cap and a big badge that said something that gave him some kind of authority. He grabbed me and tried to pull me away, shouting something in Russian. I sat on my chair, there was no way that I was going to go with this scruffy jobsworth. My Crime was to plug my laptop into a socket? It was hardly grounds for any real punishment, perhaps a harsh word would do. Albert was intent on taking me some place away from the area, presumably to fleece me from my money or some possessions.

This became a bit of a scene. I was rooted to my chair, he was trying to coerce me into following him. All I could say was “Nyet, Nyet”. He towered above me in my chair, he kept on going on in his Vile Russian. He knew I was not going to go with him without a struggle, he walked off and spoke to a mob of what I can only assume to have been plain clothed security. They were skinheads, had the obligatory fat jacket on and had enough presence to scare the shit out of innocent civilians.

It was not safe to be where we were, we moved to the populated area where there were more passengers and more tourists. Of course they followed me and stood behind me, our group went totally silent. I had agreed that if they had tried to grab me or if they make some kind of move then the guys would take all of my bags onto the train with them, somehow I would make contact with them and relocate my stuff. I didn’t want my stuff in the possession of Albert the sruffy scrap merchant. We waited for what seemed like an eternity for the platform number to be announced on the board. I had heard that a common trick that the pesky Russians use is to detain you until the train is almost ready to depart when you are at your most eager to get on it, at which point you will pay almost anything to be able to board it. As soon as the platform number was displayed I made a dart for the train, leaving my bags for the others to carry. I got caught up in melee for the train. I didn’t look back to see if they followed me, I got on the train and sat in my carriage until the train rolled out of the station.

Goodbye Irkutsk, the Paris of Siberia, I will miss you I thought as I struggled to open a 1 litre can of beer…

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The Great Escape

Article By David Beattie of Rounton Coffee

Posted by beatski 22:53 Archived in Russia Tagged russia class irkutsk trans ulaan siberian kupe baator

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Comments

Fuck me mate this is sounding more like a bad spy movie with every post. Just be sure you don't end up in the film Hostel won't-cha x

by Gaz Moz

yeah well, its all cool now i think now im out of Russia, but Central Aaia has its troubles as well.... Im bound to run into these problems every now and again...... always makes an interesting story....

by beatski

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