Sunday, August 25, 2013

Baikal team safely back in the U.S.!

This is the final post of Wellesley-Baikal 2013. The entire group made it to Logan Airport in Boston at about 10:15 p.m. Sunday evening. Everyone is in good shape, if very jet-lagged. Six of our checked bags somehow did not reach Logan with us, but those will be delivered by British Air tomorrow directly to their owners.
Thanks for following us on our Siberian adventure! Signing off,

Made it to Heathrow!

Though our flight from Moscow was delayed by half an hour, we seem to be in good shape, because our Heathrow-Boston flight is delayed by 45 minutes. So, we're here at the gate and hope to board within the next half hour! The attached photo shows how vibrant and full of joie de vivre our group is feeling right now.

Made it to Domodedovo Airport, Moscow!

We had an absolutely trouble-free departure from Irkutsk Airport
today. After a fond farewell to our wonderful translators, Sergei and
Ruslan, we left on time -- no fog! -- and arrived on time in Moscow.
We'll leave on British Airways for Heathrow in about five hours. In
the meantime, students and faculty are chilling. And guarding our
bags. I'll try to post again from Heathrow, but the connection is a
tight one and I may not have time. Best to all,
Tom Hodge

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Don’t cry for me, Si-iberia!

Today was our first and last free day in Irkutsk. We traveled by tram
into the center of the city and checked out as much of the town as we
could. Today was Souvenir Shopping Spree Day, where we took advantage
of purchasing Russian chocolates, Russian magnets, and other super
Russian things. We dined at an elaborately decorated Uzbekistani
restaurant, which of course served Russian cuisine. It was delicious
nevertheless, some of the best borshch we have eaten on this trip.
Tonight, we pack, we mourn, we cry, we sob so hard to leave this
place. We've had a blast, and plan to end this trip with one last
Farewell Irkutsk, Wellesley will see you again soon enough! In the
words of our translator: "Siberia forever, Siberia one love. I love
Xena and Kendall

Friday, August 23, 2013

Decembrists and ISU Botantical Garden

This morning we visited the houses of two Decembrists (revolutionaries
who were exiled to Siberia in the second quarter of the 1800s after
attempting to overthrow the Russian monarchy). The houses were
restored in the late 20th century and are now museums stuffed full of
old letters, music boxes, furniture, books, photos, five foot long
pipes, and more. Interestingly, the letters were all written in
French; aristocratic Russians of that time read and wrote French
better than they did Russian. The histories of the two exiles, Sergei
Volkonsky and Sergei Trubetskoy, were very sad—the men were
essentially two rich, brilliant aristocrats forced into labor camps
thousands of miles from their homes, and neither was allowed to return
to European Russia for 25 years after their failed revolution. Both
their wives accompanied them willingly into exile, although Maria
Volkonskaya had to leave her 9 month old son behind.
After visiting the houses and the grave of Ekaterina Trubetskaya, we
ate lunch at Prego, a schmancy Italian restaurant in the center of
Irkutsk. Unfortunately we did not have pizza, although the innate
hilarity of eating Italian food in Russia kept us from starting our
own revolution.
Lunch was followed by a visit to the State University of Irkutsk
botanical gardens, where we learned about various plants from Siberia
and around the world, and snacked on raspberries, plums, and sea
buckthorn berries. Best of all was the attached petting zoo, where we
frolicked with baby goats, cuddled rabbits, and fed fat ponies.
Also: last night, after the blog was posted, a bunch of us went with
our translators to a Russian mall for some casual in-line skating.
Most of us hadn't skated in ages, but it was a ton of fun to wobble
around beneath the disco lighting and drink slosh (Russian slushies!).
Vika, Katya and Granya

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Fate of Lake Baikal

This morning we headed into the old part of Irkutsk (on the opposite
side of the Angara River from the university where we are staying.
Ruslan and Sergei acted as our tour guides, sharing about many of the
historical landmarks. We visited the Moscow Gate (modeled after the
Arc de Triomphe in Paris), which points towards Moscow. We also
visited two old (early 17th century), but recently restored, Russian
Orthodox churches and watched part of a baptism. The frescos in the
churches were stunning. With the exception of two Roman Catholic
churches (one of which is not used for services), there are only
Russian Orthodox here in Irkutsk. Perhaps even more fascinating,
Professor Hodge seems to remember that these are the only two Roman
Catholic churches until Moscow. For lunch, Irkutsk State University
(our hosts) sent us to Tower, a British restaurant on Karl Marx
Street. We had a yummy four course meal that honestly wasn't too
different from the Russian food we have been eating (plenty of meat,
potatoes and mayonnaise).
After lunch, we visited Jennie Sutton at Baikal Environmental Wave.
She is a British woman who came to Russia in 1974 and has been a
driving force in the Lake Baikal environmental movement. The "Wave" is
almost 30 years old and has been instrumental in protecting Lake
Baikal from threats such as oil pipelines planned through the lake's
watershed. Given how seismically active this region is, such work is
crucial. Alas, because of a complicated and ridiculous new regulation,
the Baikal Environmental Wave may be considered a "foreign agent," a
very horrible thing in Russia. Depending on a court decision on
September 9th, the Baikal Environmental Wave may no longer be able to
exist. There is no other organization protecting Lake Baikal anywhere
near to the extent that the Baikal Environmental Wave does, so it is
vital for the organization to continue its work. After learning for
the last several months about how truly unique Lake Baikal is, and
having spent the last few weeks on its shores, the gravity of this
decision weighs heavy on all of us. We all wish the very best for the
fate of the Baikal Environmental Wave and the lake as well.
Graeme and Lily

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Goodbye BK, Hello Irkutsk!

We departed BK at 9:45 this morning, waving from the Kozhov until we
could no longer see our beloved Russian and NSF friends who kindly
gathered to see us off. We left without ever seeing the other side of
the Lake from the Biostation -- some of us find it hard to believe
that it is even possible. BK wept with us as a drizzle cemented our
departure, obscuring the town from view only meters into our journey.
About an hour later we docked in Listvianka, funnily enough right next
to the Vershina, the boat that half of us, the "nerpas," took on the
expedition. In Listvianka we did lots of open-air souvenir shopping,
primarily for the purple stone Charoite found only in the North-East
Irkutsk region. We had a wonderful bagged lunch from BK on the Irkutsk
State Bus, as we bumped and braved the traffic to the Siberian
architecture museum in Tal'tsy. Tal'tsy is situated on the Angara
River, between Listvianka and Irkutsk. There, we saw Siberian houses
of the 17th through 20th centuries from the Lake Baikal region that
were moved, log by log, to Tal'tsy to avoid flooding by the damming of
the Angara river in the late 60s. We were treated to elaborate stories
of times past, of the Cossacks, the Buryats, and the Evenks. A
performance by a musician on the Ukrainian bandura, what can be
described quite accurately as a combination of a guitar and a harp in
one instrument, was agreed upon as a highlight of the tour. Another
was the excellent selections of folk crafts for sale, which many of us
purchased, such as carved Siberian cedar (Pinus sibericus) cooking
utensils, wild rhododendron tea, and carved birch accessories, as well
as many others. We finished off our visit with a ride on Russian
Swings, large logs which allowed to riders to propel themselves far
into the air. It was exhilarating!
We sadly said goodbye to our hosts in Tal'tsy, and continued on the
highway to Irkutsk. Suddenly we found ourselves in the same place
where our journey began -- our Irkutsk State University dormitory. We
spent the afternoon getting comfortable again, resting, and enjoying a
wonderful supper together. We look forward to a full day of Irkutsk
culture and sight-seeing tomorrow.
Kate and Lily