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Irkutsk - le Paris de l'Est


We have solved the riddle of Russian time travel, (no formula necessary).
Russia spans one-third of the earth's circumference and the Trans-Siberian trains take a week to travel the eight time zones from Moscow to Vladivostok, or vice-versa, passing through a zone roughly once a day. But the trains’ speeds are inconstant and the time zones are not equidistant; meaning that clocks and watches on each train need to be changed at a different time every day otherwise passengers will alight in the wrong place, or, worse still, the drivers could end up playing ‘bumper-trains.’ Therefore, to prevent confusion and accidents, the whole show is set to the same beat; every clock on every train and station in the country marches to Moscow’s metronome irrespective of the local rhythm. So, continuing on the musical score, all railway and station clocks in Vladivostok are set 8 hours slow, meaning that Gladys Knight’s memorable hit, “I’m leaving – On the midnight train to Moscow”, should actually be, “I’m leaving – On the four o’clock afternoon train to Moscow.” Consequently, by keeping all railway clocks permanently on Moscow time, the Russians not only avoid nasty accidents, they also prevent Motown from producing lyrics that don’t scan.
Now, as we have been travelling eastwards for the past month, local time has always been ahead of Moscow time, and whenever we boarded a train we gained a number of hours – until we alighted and left the station at the next city and real time caught up with us again. Confused? We hope not.
The handsome city of Irkutsk in Siberia is as far east of London as our Canadian home is west, which means that we have now travelled precisely two-thirds of the way around the world (and are 16 hours older than had we stayed home). However, had we dropped in by parachute, we might have thought that we were in Cannes or some other French provincial city.
The elegant stores lining Irkutsk’s main shopping street have “Paris” written all over them. L’Occitane, Cartier and Louis Vuitton vie with French restaurants and cafés on a street named in honour of Karl Marx, the man who called capitalism the ‘dictatorship of the Bourgeoisie’, and the girl in the coffee house says, “Bon appetite,” as she serves our café au lait.

There are numerous architectural gems and the city is bursting with elegant pre-Soviet cathedrals and merchants' palaces…
In addition to large numbers of traditional wooden houses…
Unfortunately, climate and time have not been kind to the architectural wonders of this place and we cannot help thinking that the locals are simply waiting for these beautiful old buildings to fall down so that they can build something new – something like this futuristic market hall…
…unquestionably, the cleanest, brightest, most advanced market hall that we have ever encountered. You really could eat your dinner off the floor – in a market!

Irkutsk may be deep into Asia but there seems little really ‘foreign’ here, apart from this pub…
Yes, under a thick blanket of Siberian snow, we found a genuine English pub. But this is not an English pub in name alone. There are real Scottish bagpipes, a whisky still and genuine English beers pumps, and on the walls are posters for Wright’s coal tar soap, Benger’s baby food and even cricket bats…
But why?
It seems that in 1997 ‘The Royal Standard’, a famous old Bradford drinking house, burned down and an enterprising Russian salvaged everything possible and shipped it to Irkutsk to furnish a bar in the city’s top hotel as a novelty.

It is certainly novel, and we felt right at home. However the best thing about The London Pub in Siberia is the food. No, there are no jellied eels or pie and mash, but the four course Russian lunches are quite superb and only cost six quid, (nine bucks), each.

Posted by Hawkson 03:42 Archived in Russia

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Stunning architecture.

by Jenna

I never would have thought that Siberia places would be so decorative. Where are the horrible places people were sent in the Stalin days. Like poor Trotsky. This is truly and interesting ride for me too...only a few more days to our big rally in Victoria re the oil pipeline. Jean

by Jean

The buildings are beautifully preserved and act as striking pictures for tourists to send home. Hope you like the Siberian weather. I am too old to weather their climate.

by David Henderson

Have changed my impressions forever. We are certainly a global community. Interesting to see the variety of architecture and influences cities choose to model themselves after. So thankful to see the historical buildings. Once they are gone......

by sue Fitzwilson

Great pix and interesting coverage of that continent, in perfect bliss style. I am quite content with being part of your great journey from my cozy space, looking at "your view", especially so when I see the winter clothing to keep with the Siberian weather... Thanks, looking forward to more.. G

by gottfried

Your photographs are elegant too. Who knew, before this blog, that there was so much style in Siberia?

by Janet

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