Posts Tagged ‘Столбы’

In Irkutsk, I met up with Erin at the hostel. She was my travel partner for the rest of the trip back to Moscow. Her flight got into Irkutsk before my train, so she got into the room and took a nap. Upon arrival at the hostel, I immediately went to shower after almost three days on the train. Feeling like a new human, we ventured out to get dinner at a Mongolian restaurant. We then walked around the downtown and shore of Irkutsk before calling it a night.

Downtown Irkutsk.

Our hostel was ok, and we had a private room, but there were some issues with it. The first was that there was no overnight staff. The second was that there was no insulation, so it was very noisy. Both problems combined around 1:30AM when some drunk Russians pounded on our door and shouted, “девушки” (girls) and then “hello” in English. I just angrily cried out, “что” (what) and they left us alone. They were again up at 6:00AM and making noise that woke us. When we left, they were drinking beer around 9:00AM. Good times.

From the hostel, we went to grab some breakfast at a café before heading to a literary museum for the writer Valentin Rasputin, a Siberian writer and one of the subjects of Erin’s dissertation. The museum was brand new and pretty cool. From there, we walked off to a museum of retro motorcycles and Soviet technology. The museum was especially cool because we were allowed to sit on/in a number of the motorcycles.

Newest members of the traffic police reporting for duty.

After the museum, we grabbed some lunch at a German style beer hall before hopping in a marshrutka to ride about 90 minutes to Listvyanka, the closest settlement on Lake Baikal. The village itself was beautiful, but it had the feel of a Russian Jersey Shore. All of the people there were fairly low class, which caused a few issues.

Baikal beach at Listvyanka.

We walked to our hostel and dropped our stuff off in our room before exploring the village on foot. We ended up walking about three miles down the road to try to get to a lookout point, which we later found was far too far away to get to. We then tried to go into a local scientific museum, which was closed despite the hours indicating otherwise. We then decided to go into a nature reserve, which said it would close in about 15 minutes. No one stopped us from entering, and we wandered to a lookout point in the reserve.

View from the nature reserve.

When we got back to the gate, it was closed, and we had to climb over it to exit. We then tried to get a taxi back to the center of the village. The first company told me that they were busy, and it would be better for us to take the marshrutka back as we were already at the bus stop. I called a second company, and they said they would call back with the info about the taxi. The never called back, but after about ten minutes, a red mini-van pulled up and the guy asked if I was the one who called the taxi. A little concerned, I asked if he knew where he was going. “No, you have to tell me first.” Slightly worried, we got in, but as there was only one road, we were ok and he took us to our place.

We then set off to a Georgian restaurant in a nearby hotel to have dinner. We came in and were seated. After ten minutes, someone finally wandered over and asked if we were ready to order. We said that we still hadn’t been given menus. She then said that they menus were only in Russian, which was an odd comment as we had been having a conversation with her in Russian. Eventually we ordered, and it was pretty good food. A highlight was a serving of local omul fish, the famous fish of Baikal, done in what is similar to a ceviche style. It was incredibly delicious. The downside of dinner, besides the staff, was another diner. It was a woman, her toddler, and seven year old son. At one point, she changed her toddler’s extremely full diaper in the play area in the restaurant. The smell was awful and lingered in the restaurant. Even the staff was somewhat upset. They checked for damage in the play area and opened up the windows.

Ouml round one.

From there, the night only got worse after a quick stop via the first market for some more omul.

I want them all.

Our hostel had quite a lot of problems. The first was that we paid extra for a room with a balcony, only to find that our balcony was just a hallway. The “balcony” room also meant that we were on the second floor in a wing accessible only from an outdoor staircase that was very steep and unlit at night. We shared our hallway with another room, which was for three people, and we had a toilet on the floor. The shower was annoyingly in the main part of the building, which was down the stairs and completely on the other side.

Around 9:30, Erin went to shower, and I was just sitting and reading in the room. At that point, our neighbors came back. They proceeded to make a lot of noise. From the yelling, doors slamming, and jumping noises, I thought they were high school aged kids horsing around. After about fifteen minutes of noise, and hearing that they were in front of my door, I exited my room and found two thirty-ish, trashy Russian women. I asked what was going on. One asked if I was sleeping already. I said no, and again repeated what was going on. The other just said, “Oh you know, girls.” She then asked if I was cold and wanted to show me how to use the heater. I said I was not cold, and again asked what was going on. I was then dismissed. They stopped making tons of noise, and I went back into the room. A few minutes later, Erin came back and asked if I knew why the neighbors on the stairs said “they know Russian” and why she heard “not a shy girl.” I explained what happened, and we then got ready for bed and read.

When I went to the bathroom, I noticed that they were quite drunk, and that they had pissed all over the toilet and used all of the toilet paper. I braved the deadly stairs with my phone flashlight to go to the main building. In the main room, there was a doorbell with a sign to ring it and wait a few minutes to wait for the staff to come. I did this multiple times and waited about 20 minutes before giving up. I then went back to the room and tried calling the phone number from the booking website. Someone eventually answered and I asked if anyone worked at the hostel. They said the person who is usually there had a problem and wasn’t there that night. I explained the problem with the bathroom and the noisy neighbors. They told me where to find more toilet paper and said that the neighbors had already been warned to be more quite and to call again if there were still problems. By midnight, we got tired of the super loud and rambunctious neighbors. I called again and was allegedly talking to the owner. He said he was on his way to kick the women out. About twenty minutes later, there was a knock on our door. It was a guy who was clearly not the owner. He asked about the noise and we said it was the room next to us. He knock on their door and asked them to be quieter, which caused them to storm out and pound on our door and yell at us to come out. The guy did nothing to stop them. Erin went to talk to them, and it got us nowhere. They said we are foreigners, and in our country everyone has to go to sleep at 10:00, but in Russia they can do what they want. Needless to say, we didn’t sleep much at all that night.

The next morning, when we tried to check out, there was no one to give the key to. I again called and was told to wait and that I would be called back. Someone else called and told me to lock the room and leave the key in the door so that no one would get into it. I was confused, because if I locked the door and left they key in the door, someone could open the door with the key that was in it. I also said I was upset about the lack of staff and that we were very angry about being lied to the night before. I said I was extremely frustrated with the poor management, and that I would be leaving a bad review. The woman asked if we would like a free night or the use of the banya, but I said that we were leaving soon. She then relented and gave us our money back in full. Apparently some Russians are now afraid of me. This is very pleasing.

Not everything at Listvyanka was bad, though. After dinner, we strolled along the water a bit and headed to the local market where we got two different types of smoked omul, cold and hot. We also got some local beer and enjoyed some of the fish with it on our “balcony.”

More fish please.

The next morning, we got up and went to the local beach so that I could swim in the freezing waters of Baikal. My swim was very short, as the water was pins and needles cold, but it was actually very refreshing. I also impressed a gaggle of Chinese tourists who came down to the beach just after I got out of the water and sat on the dock trying to dry off in the sun. They spoke neither English nor Russian, but we communicated with gestures. A man came up and asked if I had gone swimming and I said yes. I used my three words of Mandarin with him. I pointed to the water and said “good” and made a swimming motion. I pointed to the water again and said “bad” and made a cold gesture. He understood what I meant and was very happy. Some other women came up and then they all insisted on getting photos with me and Erin. I asked them to take a photo of us as well, and said “thank you” in Mandarin, which also greatly impressed them. And that is how Erin and I briefly became celebrities with the Chinese tourists in Listvyanka. It was actually hard to get away from them to head back to the room so that we could head back to the city.

Becoming celebrities with the Chinese tourists. The was the first of MANY photos.

Irkutsk itself was also a major highlight of the trip. The city is beautiful. There are lots of wooden, Siberian houses all over the city. There are also plenty of places for getting food and drink. And there are plenty of museums to spend time in. The waterfront was also quite nice. Irkutsk itself would be a great place to spend a solid two or three days.

So many cool, wooden houses in Irkutsk.

Despite wanting to spend more time in Irkutsk, we had to get on another train to Krasnoyarsk around 5:00PM. It was a ridiculously hot day, probably about 80F. When we got into our Chita-Moscow train, train 69Ya, we thought we were going to melt. As we tried to cool off and relax, we caught the attention of the children in the train around us. A grandmother in the next berth over asked if we knew Russian and what language we were speaking. She said the children kept walking back and forth because they wanted to know what language we were speaking. We said English and she asked about where we were from. She relayed the information back to the children, who then came over in droves. The car was basically full of a children’s choir heading to Krasnoyarsk for a folk music festival. They asked us a number of questions and then gave us a concert. They were exceptionally skilled, and it was quite a delight. After the songs, they continued to question us until eventually the grandmother intervened and told them to let us rest. One of the children was our favorite, though. His name was Vova and he was obsessed with Star Wars. He asked us about all of the film and what our favorite pieces of Star Wars technology were. He clearly had a much deeper knowledge of Star Wars than us, as I caught mentions of things that were presumably in the Clone Wars cartoon, and bits of light saber related mechanics that I remember from playing Knights of the Old Republic.

After a few short stops, we got someone in our immediate berth area. We didn’t get his name, but he was a very chill guy to ride with. He had a lovely collection of gold and steel teeth that I sadly didn’t get a photo of. He showed us how to properly rip apart the cold smoked omul that we were going to snack on. He also told me that in the future, I should always ask to have my fish wrapped in paper and not plastic because the fish needs to breathe. He seemed only mildly concerned that he was transporting lots of fish to friends somewhere else on a very hot and non air-conditioned train.

Our very cool train neighbor.

One of the women chaperoning the children was annoying at night. She came by and said that we had to close the window because of the breeze. Russians are paranoid about breezes and catching colds from them. It was still very hot in the train, and I told her it was hot and that we didn’t need to close the window. The man with us also agreed and told her to leave us alone. He made pleasant conversation with us and told some jokes, but at one point he asked our ages and if we were married. At this point, Erin was getting some tea in the morning, and he told me that we need to get married and soon. It’s not good to be our ages and not have husbands. Then children also got off of the train at Krasnoyarsk, and a chaperon joked that the man could now have some peace. He joked that he could now start drinking vodka.

Train snack – cold smoked omul.

In Krasnoyarsk, we got a taxi to our hostel, which was fantastic. If anyone needs to stay there, I highly recommend Hovel Hostel. It’s in the center of the city, the staff is very friendly and knowledgeable, and the facilities are great. Our private room was huge and had its own PS3 and copy of Call of Duty. They also had laundry facilities, and let us shower the next day after checking out but before our train to Novosibirsk. The hostel also had a card, which got us discounts at a few local restaurants.

The super amazing room in Krasnoyarsk at Hovel Hostel.

The guy working at the hostel when we arrived was friendly, but he gave us a hard time about registering. In Russia, you have to register your presence in a new city, but generally only after seven days. As a rule, though, hotels have to register you while hostels don’t always have to. The guy working there said he had to register us, which is different from what Erin had been told by the visa staff at her university. While waiting to enter our room, we made some small talk with a British traveler staying there and some Russian guys who were also checking in at the same time. One of the Russians asked lots of questions and kept talking to us all the time when he saw us around coming and going from the hostel. He was a little annoying and demanded to know how to move to America and what we thought of Trump.

We went to one of the discounted restaurants for lunch, a beer hall, and then went back to take a nap before exploring downtown Krasnoyarsk on June 12th, Russia Day. There were some activities set up along the main road, Prospekt Mira, and around Lenin Square and the Central Park. Unfortunately, most of the stuff on Prospekt Mira was being packed up by the time that we got there. There was a classic car show at Lenin Square, which was really cool, and we were allowed to sit in a few of them.

Lenin overlooks the Soviet cars.

We then walked through the park, stopped by a rock concert for a bit, and then went to the central view point of the Yenisei River. We then doubled back along the park and listened to a few more bands before grabbing some dinner and then popping into a local craft bar for some beers. When we emerged from the bar, it was raining. The rain wasn’t too heavy, but it had been much worse while we were inside and the streets were flooded. Nearing the hostel, we were heavily splashed by one driver.

View of the Yenisei.

In the morning, we got up and went to the literature museum. After wandering through it, Erin spoke briefly with the director before we got some lunch and coffee. After, we took a taxi to go to the Stolby National Park. Thanks to the awesome girl Anya who worked at the hostel in the morning, we knew a few tips that made the visit to the park much better. The first was to be super careful of ticks, so we bought tick spray at the pharmacy before going. She also told us that it’s possible to get to the park by bus, but then it’s about an 8km walk to the park from the bus stop. Instead, it’s better to take a taxi to the ski area and take a lift up and down. The lift takes you to the center of the park, where it’s possible to easily hike on mostly level terrain and see the solby (pillars) for which the park is named.

Up we go.

At the top, we spoke briefly with a family from Krasnoyarsk who had relatives visiting from Kazakhstan and Chechnya. They were excited to meet us and asked to get photos with us. Then, at a later point, I asked a young Russian couple to get a photo of us. I asked if they wanted one in return and said that it wasn’t necessary, they would take a selfie. I said I wasn’t skilled enough for us to take selfies and they laughed.

With the Russia/Kazakh family.

The park was definitely worth the visit and the stop in Krasnoyarsk. The city itself seems to have a few cool museums, and there is definitely a lot of good food and drink to be found in the city.

Krasnoyarsk from Stolby.

Of course, I also had my own other motivations for seeing the city. Being a huge fan of the Russian sit-com “Папины Дочки” (Daddy’s Daughters), I wanted to see the city after one of my favorite episodes, which revolves around going with Papa back to his hometown of Krasnoyarsk for the summer. It’s episode 110 for those of you who know Russian and wish to watch it. It’s clearly a favorite episode as it’s also not posted on Youtube with the random other episodes uploaded by the studio.

One of the major pillars at Stolby.

After the park, we got dinner at an Indian restaurant. We then went back to the hostel to shower and get our things before the train to Novosibirsk. Anya also roped us into filming a quick video for the hostel as we are Russian speaking foreigners who had a good impression of the place. I told Anya about my interest in seeing Krasnoyarsk from Papiny Dochki, and she laughed and couldn’t believe me. She also asked why we were going to Novosibirsk and told us that there was nothing there besides a metro. After another night on the train, we realized that she was somewhat right.

While heading to the train station, we had a very funny taxi driver. He lamented the loss of the USSR, where there were no “drug addicts, terrorists, or prostitutes.” He then was angry about nationalism for different ethnic groups and thought it was better when everyone was one country. He then talked about the Russian police, or the politsiya, and said that he missed the older militia, militsiya. He then asked us about cops killing people in the USA. He said that if a cop ever killed a member of his family, he would kill the cop without any hesitation in revenge. He was a charming fellow.

Some Krasnoyarsk Communist Party trolling. “How’s living under capitalism, comrades?” Also, UAZ!

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