Although the wide boulevards, tree lined streets, parks along the river are somewhat reminiscent of Paris it's not even close. But it was the arts and intellectual climate that earned Irkutsk that sobriquet. Irkutsk also has excellent restaurants - Russian, Italian, Georgian ... and the service is excellent. I hadn't expected that but it is very welcome.
The highlight of Irkutsk is getting out and down to Lake Baikal. On the way we stop at the Taltsy Museum of Siberian Architecture. Travel with http://talci-irkutsk.ru/ Fall days are my favorites and these are fall to the max.
The three days by train to get here went well. The compartment was clean and comfortable. The views were spectacular. The route edges North Korea for a bit then Manchuria and Mongolia. Mile after mile of Taiga with its groves of conifers and birch. Hours of National Geographic scenery. The Autumn colors were at their peak. Well worth the trip. We passed through a few cities but mostly sparsely inhabited rural areas. Small hamlets scarcely seemed inhabited. You would think them deserted until you'd notice a whiff of smoke, a light in a window, a small tilled garden plot with a row of cabbages.
Vast and beautiful. But a brutal place in which to survive.
The train coasts along Lake Baikal for about 6 hours. It is the world's deepest and oldest lake. It contains one - fifth of the world's freshwater. Its deep blue waters and the snow capped peaks nearby remind me of Lake Tahoe, but on an even grander scale.
For me it's been the landscape that's been the compelling aspect of the journey. The cities are dwarfed by Siberia. Two more days of birch till we reach Yekaterinburg and the Urals.
So far we haven't met a single American traveler. Nor have the British, German, and Swiss couples we've met aboard the train.
Where are you guys?