I'm afraid any further updates are unlikely to be as exciting as last time so I apologise in advance!
After Alexander got off the train he was immediately replaced by another military guy, although this time a fair bit older and not quite my type :)
Once again, his english was limited but he was still quite chatty! We worked out from another turn at charades that he is a helicopter pilot. He brought some cognac with him that he was keen to share but it was barely 6am at this point and I hadn't gone to sleep yet so I declined the offer and got into bed while he and Hunter enjoyed it and seemed to still be drinking it when they woke me up for lunch at about midday!
We said dasvidanya to both of them not long after and then it was about another 5-6 hours till our stop. More people got on to take their beds, this time a middle-aged couple. When we started to pack our gear later in the day they asked us where we were from and what we did then offered us food they'd brought with them. More food! Although the Russian's certainly aren't known for their food, there's certainly a lot of good stuff out there!
Our train arrived in Irkutsk just under an hour late but we were met at the door by a lady with my name on a sign and she whisked us away to our hotel. All we could think about was having showers... we felt so gross! Before we got off Kairsten and I picked cards to see who would get to go first and unfortuntalely for her, I won! It was incredible. The shower even had water jets on the side, they must have known we'd need the serious equipment! I had to wash my hair 3 times before it felt even remotely restored.
It was about 10pm before we were ready to do anything but it was still light out so we went for a wander. The hotel was within about a block of 3 different churches but as we got further into the city around 10:30pm we both suddenly noticed 2 police officers really close to us. The sun was starting to set and the hotel still had both our passports so we both turned around quick smart and made haste in the opposite direction! Successful police evasion #1.
We had a very late dinner in the hotel and watched a movie on the restaurant TV. I was surprised at how much my Russian seemed to have improved because I understood pretty much all of what they were saying but alas, I realised that I knew what they were saying because we were watching Harry Potter and I know it too well.
The next morning we were picked up by a girl named Katya who took us on a tour of the city. We were able to go inside 2 of the churches near our hotel and being a Sunday the bells were ringing and it was quite busy. Trust me to decide that this was the day to wear a really short skirt! Katya assured me that ít was actually ok but I felt like a right hussy, particularly because I'm certain that the old babushkas were giving me scathing looks!
Inside the churches were really lovely, beautiful paintings all over but quite different to a lot of western style churches or cathedrals you might normally see. There are also no benches inside as you're supposed to stand for the whole service which according to Katya, on special occasions like Christmas and Easter, can go on all night!
After the tour Katya drove us out to Litsvyanka, one of the villages around Lake Baikal where we stayed in a little chalet for 2 nights. Lake Baikal is the biggest and deepest freshwater lake in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage site. It's a popular place for people to go for weekends and summer vacations. We walked along the water down towards some markets with souvenirs and also food with a mixture of some fresh fruit and then heaps of fish, They were selling smoked Omul which is from the region and smells incredibly strong. We weren't game to try it which we found out from Katya later was a wise decision, apparently they like to get rid of the 3+ days old stuff to the foreigners.
We visited the Wooden Architecture Museum the next day which essentially is an historic Siberian village that has been preserved. Some were reconstructions of what buildings would have looked like and others were the real deal that had been restored and/or protected. It was quite excellent to see a complete village with everything from the police station and gaol to the yurts with the waterviews. After an enormous lunch we went back to the chalet for a nap in preparation for our sauna or 'banya'.
The banya was definitely amusing. It was in a room underneath the chalet with a small pool, a shower (one with the water jets again) and the sauna. I had read that in a traditional banya you are hit with birch leaves across your back in what I would assume is something to do with circulation but I may have not described it like that to Kairsten... until we got inside she had envisaged the banya to be some sort of hot torture chamber where she was going to have to get nude and be whipped! :-)
The next day we were picked up by a guy named Ivan who took us out to a Buryat settlement just outside of Irkutsk. The Buryats are the indigenous people of that particular area and are of Mongolian descent. We met with a Shaman in his yurt where he described to us the Buryats lifestyle and beliefs and then he dressed us up in some traditional clothing and took us outside for a ritual. Kairsten looked quite fetching in a big fur hat and purple coat, I hope I looked nearly as good in mine. We were then blessed by the Shaman and told to think about people at home while he blessed you all too, aren't you lucky!
We had another enormous lunch, this time accompanied by vodka which I think I managed very well considering my trepidation about drinking it straight. Kairsten's quite the master and has no problems knocking it back like it's water. My problem is I smell it first. Ivan says that's not wise.
Back in Irkutsk in the evening and then another full day exploring the city until we were dropped at the station for our train to Moscow the following evening.
I'm writing this from the hotel in Moscow now but it's quite late and I'm b*****ed so I'll have to fill you in a bit more later.
Lots of love xoxox
P.s. For those interested... Alexander has texted me. Hurray!