This was my second trip to Russia. In my first trip I was a tag along with a Rotary Club delegation that was chartering new clubs in Novosibirsk, Khabarovsk, and Vladivostok. I also visited Irkutsk, and I was given the opportunity to visit Irkutsk to help prepare us to send high school students on year long exchanges in Russia on the Rotary Youth Exchange Program. I was there from the beginning of September to mid November 1995. On the next three pages are some snippets and impressions of life in Irkutsk.
Things have changed a lot in the last few years, and you can buy just about anything. I saw some pretty fancy stores, but many people shop at the markets. The first photo is from the central market in Irkutsk. In one part of this building ladies sold from large buckets of cream and big blocks of butter. In another part meat was sold on the counter, while the butcher chopped up the animal behind. (Look closely, you can see his axe!) It may look scary, but it's all fresh and 100% organic. (No hormones or chemicals)
Car parts can be bought in stores, but people look for better deals at the open automotive market. I think you can find every Russian made car part here: from body panels and engine blocks to mirrors and seat covers. From what I saw, most Russians do their own repairs. Also, checks and credit cards are virtually non-existant in this part of Russia, so everyone deals in cash, sometimes shopping bags full of cash.
Many people own a "dacha", which is a cottage in the country with a small garden plot, where they usually grow most of their vegatables for the year. People build the dachas themselves. They usually don't have running water and you'll have to use the outhouse, but the Banya (like a sauna), warm fireplace, and peacefulness makes up for it. Dachas are usually empty during the winter, but kids on vacation and retirees often spend the entire summer there.
Russians know their mushrooms and berries. One of these guys is an electrical engineer, and the other is an economist. Like a lot of folks, they've just spent three days in the forest collecting berries to make preserves. Other people sell the berries they collect at the market.