30.08.2012 - 03.09.2012
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Episode 4: Irkutsk to Krasnoyarsk 30 August 2012
Minor panic; Nirvana; Stolby Nature Reserve
Success. My first Russian train and I managed to get on with only minor panic. Caught the No. 1 tram from near the Baikhal Hostel to the Irkutsk train station in pouring rain. The train station is divided into a number of separate buildings, so I popped into one that looked like the booking hall and showed my ticket to the nice lady in the booth. Buggers if either one of us could understand a word we were saying. 'Da', a nod of the head, sit down and watch the board is what I thought she said. Which I did gratefully as my pack was a bit heavy...but not realizing at that moment that I had to convert my e-ticket to a boarding pass. This became my minor panic. Something niggled in the back of my head about having to do this conversion so I went on a scout. I went to a ticket booth, asked in my best Czech-ish Russian about e-tickets and the lady, totally expressionless, said nothing and just placed a sign on the window that said "go to main door, turn right, go to No. 1". Seems I was in No.3 building. Off I go and luckily there were a couple of people at the e-machine that assisted newbies like me on how to get my boarding pass. Easy peasy once you know how.
Train 007 Wagon 11 Seat 5 first class, 18 hours 29 minutes and 1088 kilometers from Irkusk got me to a grey Krasnoyarsk. No other passenger was in my cabin during this leg of my journey. The cabin was certainly nicer than the UB-Irkutsk train....wood panelling, brass trim, off- white leather uphostery, thicker pillows, little table cloth, ubiquitous tea glass and piped music (little was I to know that piped music was going to be the bane of my life during a lot of my travels in Russia and Eastern Europe). I'm still sorting out train etiquitte: am I supposed to leave my door open? When am I allowed to close it? Can I turn off the piped music? Can I put my stocking feet on the opposite bed? When is it proper to make up my bed and crash?
After a night of rocking and rolling (but no drafty window), I woke up to the train moving away from the sunrise and crossing a timeline. I stepped off the train in Krasnoyarsk which found me facing Natalia holding up a placard with my name on it. I had been a bit extravagent and through the hostel I was staying in, had arranged for a taxi pick-up from the train station to the hostel, which, although cost more than public transport, was worth the hassle of finding the hostel. And what a good move that was. The street and the building would have been easy enough to find, but the entrance to the hostel would have left me baffled. You had to go the back of the building (as usual) and find the correct entrance...which would have been a challenge as there were no signs. And then there was The Code to get into the door which I did not have.
The hostel, SibTourGuide Hostel, turned out to be well placed in the center of town..tidy, clean and very unbusy. I even scored a room to myself. Settled into my bunk with Ikea linen and went outside to wander around the streets and found myself in nirvana. The reasons...a Cinnabon store about 20 m down the street and a pastry shop with rather tasty raspberry turnovers across the street.
Krasnoyarsk, a city of one million people sitting on the shores of the Yenisey River, another 'one of the oldest cities in Siberia' (established in about 1628 by a bunch of miltary types) is really nothing special - an assortment of solid, grey, square, functional Russian buildings with a scattering of old wooden houses, some of the historical ones (such as the Surikov Museum Estate) being well preserved and quite ornate. The Krasnoyarsk Regional Museum was a bit of an oddity being an ancient Egyption style building, replent with pillars. I didn't really get a feel of any sort of history in this city although a passing comment about Krasnoyarsk-26 picqued my interest. Seems this was a model city set up in 1950 about 80 km to the north of Krasnoyarsk for the the scientific elite who were into producing plutonium for nuclear weapons. A town still exists there but I gather it is closed to foreigners and no more plutonium is produced.
A trek to the top of Paraskeva hill on which the Pyatnitas chapel sits gave a good view of the city and Sayan Mountains, and the opportunity to check out three brides dressed in their white barbie doll dresses and a red stretch Hummer. It seems that September is an auspicious month for weddings.
Some of the highlights of Krasnoyarsk:
The main reasons for stopping in Krasnoyarsk were to visit Stolby Nature Reserve and as a jumping board to go up north to Yeniseysk.
Although I prefer the challenge of finding and travelling to places myself, I had to be pragmatic and so I ended up booking a one day tour to Stolby National Nature Reserve as finding directions in English on how to get there using public transport was near impossible....and then, as I later discovered, I would not have known where to go within the reserve anyway as signage was generally wanting. Anatoliy, the owner of the hostel, was my guide who drove me there, told me the history of the place, provided a picnic lunch and took me on the rock circuit. And was cute to boot in his special tick prevention suit. Ticks are rampart in the taiga forests in Siberia in summer and if you are bitten and unlucky, you can get tick encephalitis which is a real nasty given that it is a viral disease that affects the central nervous system. There is no cure, so yu have to take preventative measures instead such as a wearing tick resistant outfit and/or getting the tick vaccine. Tick season starts in about April and is pretty well over in September, so I did not have to take any special precautions although I did check myself when I got back to town.
Stolby National Nature Reserve was first established in 1925 as an initiative of the citizens of Krasnoyarsk to preserve the taiga forests and the rock pillars to the east of the city. The word 'stolby' means 'pillar' in Russian and that is exactly what you find there: numerous granite pillars of varying size and shape jutting through the taiga forest. Seems there were and are a lot of die hard rock climbers in the Krasnoyarsk area. The reserve is famous for free rock climbing (as in no rope and no spotter) and I was told it even has its own social cult known as Stolbism. Over the decades, the stolby-ites built huts in the forest where they stayed while climbing and telling tales to one another and some are still there today. These huts were important during WWII as places to hide in from whomever needed to be hidden from. Unfortunately, most of the time the hidee was found, although it intrigued me how given the very dense vegetation in the area. Svoboda????
We hiked to and scampered over the main rock structures which have names such as Grandfather, Grandmother, Elephant, and Feathers, ranging between 60-100 m in height, many having pitons and small flags permanently embedded in them. We ate lunch of bread, cheese, cucumber, tomatoes and dry cookies overlooking the reserve and the autumn colours of the forest, and later watched a rock climbing competiton where the climbers had to scamper about 150 m up a rock face of while being timed. All the competitors used ropes and the only mishap was when someone could not climb over an overhang. Anatoliy and I walked a total of about 18 km up innumerable wood stairs and well trod trails. On the way down we stopped at a small cafe and I endulged in blini (pancakes) with strawberry jam. Yummy.
Some scenic shots from Stolby National Nature Reserve:
Next stop: Side trip to Yeniseysk