Facts for the visitor to Irkutsk:
1. Hotel Angara is the posh hotel for business men and their entourages. It sells out of single rooms, so all the dreams of jacuzzis that you may have had on a long train trip will cost around 70 quid a night
2. Hotel Arena is cheap and pleasant, and right next to the circus.
3. There don’t appear to be any bears in the circus in winter. Or any animals being tortured at all. No ravenous pitbulls, performing goldfish, nada.
4. The internet cafe is not in the basement of any sex shop, as might be described in your guide book. Frantic searching has revealed no sex-shop at all (to date)
5. It is in Siberia. Midweek nightlife includes live singing to a karaoke track by a stout lady with a blonde mullet. The tracks appear to have been concocted from snippets of Pet Shop Boys, A German Oompah band with no Oomp, and Stock Aitkin and Waterman’s late 80’s sound effects. It’s actually quite catchy, but the words are hard to pick up. And the songs seem to demand the vocal range of Mariah ‘Crazy as a Fishcake’ Carey
6. There is a war memorial in the form of a burning flame. Young girls and boys in army uniforms do ceremonial duties. The footwear is far from uniform, and it is entertaining to see a couple of 15 year old girls trying to goose-step in platform boots. In fact you could probably sell videos of it to a niche market. They are knee high boots after all.
7. Buying international train tickets is easy, from a multilingual lady (some say she speaks French, but she definitely spoke the Queen’s finest to me) who is enormously helpful.
8. The internet can be had for as little as 0.6 roubles a minute
9. There is a 3000 tonne ship, the Angara moored nearby, from a time when there was no train line around lake Baikal. The ice-breaking ship took the carriages onto 3 tracks on its deck, and then forced its way to the other side of the lake quite unsuccessfully, due to very deep freezing in winter, and very rough water in summer storms. The Angara was part assembled in Britain. Hurrah!