My russian visa was about to expire and the last stop in this country was Irkutsk. Why Irkutsk? Because of proximity of Lake Baikal.
First thing I thought of when I ended up in Irkutsk's city centre was: This is siberian San Francisco :) Probably that was also a consequence of the weather which was that day a bit nasty... Well, like in SF. Irkutsk lies on the banks of Angara river, which is not as wide as San Francisco Bay but suffice for imagination. And those river banks are just enough hilly, so the streets are not plain - one more similarity.
There is something about Irkutsk that is not typical for russian cities. Especially those on the east. This is the old city centre, which is unexpectedly neat. Athough they don't call it "old city centre" but 130th quartal (photo below left.) I guess russians love numbers :)
City's main symbol is Babr - some sort of already extinct tiger (photo below right.) In most cases it is shown with some weasel in his mouth :)
Well, when you go out of the centre the streets start to remind you to real Russia. Including traffic jams.
Irkutsk is known also of aviation industry. Unfortunatelly I didn't make it to Museum of Irkutsk Aviation Factory. It's quite out of the city. But I managed to look over a fence of an abandoned part of the airport. And I couldn't believe my eyes. Completely unexpectedly I saw airplanes probably prepared for some museum. Among them legendary Ilyushin Il-76 (photo below left) and Sukhoi Su-27 (photo below right, first from left.)
But my main reason to visit Russia after all was, as already mentioned, Lake Baikal. I spent one day walking it's banks near the town of Listvyanka on the southern part of the lake. This is quite a touristic part. But I was able to see a couple of breath taking sight there already.
And this was just a warm up. Next two days I went to Olkhon island, and man, this was a spiritual experience :) I don't know how to explain, only the photos can gat closer to actual explanation:
Sunsets are unforgetable:
The best thing to do is to climb some rock, make something to satisfy your stomach at the top and to eat it with a view that no 5 star hotel has.
The major town on the island is Huzhir.
And because I have to mind my budget, I rented the cheapest room I found in the town :) I payed 400 rubels (cca. 5€) for it. For camparison, a guy from Pakistan that I met on the bus booked a room in advance on internet. He payed 14 000 rubels. However, I couldn't be proud of comfort but for one night it did it's job. It looked something like this:
As usual, I have to mention some gastronomy at the end. On the first picture there are Buzy. This is Buryatian speciality which is becoming more and more popular also in other parts of Russia. It's pastry filled with minced meat and some soup. They are interesting because you must first drink the soup through a small hole at the top, and then you can bite into them.
Baikal is known by it's rich animal world, especially fish. And the king of all fish is Omul. In Listvyanka there is a market place (on the second photo), where you can buy tons of it. Normally it's smoked.
On the third photo is Plov, originaly from Uzbekistan but very popular throughout Russia. Saying short, this is a rice with meat, carrots and some spices that already remind of asian cuisine. In a bottle beside is Kvas. Drink made out of bread or something like this. Who wan't to know more I advise to google it :) But you can buy it on the streets in such cooled tanks (fourth photo) and is very useful to kill your thirst :)