The Siberian Part
Now I definitely arrived in the Asian part of Russia (taking the „side step“ to Chelyabinsk aside).
Unlike the ride from Samara to Chelyabinsk, I took „platskart“ here for the overnight train. Platskart is the open sleeping wagon, so no cabins. Temperatures were no problem then because in Ekaterinburg was a temperature drop from around 30 to 10 degrees. In the wagon I met a girl which was born in Ukraine but ever since lived in Germany and I was talking with her and another (Russian) passenger about traveling, (my) experiences etc. Next morning I arrived in Omsk whereas Ana continued to Lake Baikal. She did the non-stop ride from Moscow to Irkutsk taking 4 days.
In Omsk I was so stupid to take a taxi to get to my host.Well, taking a taxi is not stupid but not not bargaining before! And usually I ask before for the price but this time I did not and was persuaded by the driver to go by taximeter... NEVER do this! ALWAYS ASK and bargain for the price in advance! Even when he can only say it approximately it's better than to rely on those "taximeters" and get a (negative) surprise. But hey...I made him happy, I would say.
After reaching the flat I strolled around the area where my host was living. People often live a bit outside of the center, where mainly shops, companies and offices are. The center itself I spared for the next day as it was already evening. The city has an interesting atmosphere. As ever the main streets are in good condition and they are renovating and building a lot, but in other parts of the center you feel like being in a village because there are those wooden 1 or 2 floor houses, which are already about 100 years old. These contrasts you see pretty often in Russian cities and you feel like in a different place but that makes it somehow special.
As far as I can remember Omsk had no specific highlights. Strolling around for couple of days was ok but as the weather was cloudy I decided to continue to the next city. Like before I decided to go by platzkart but this time it was not an overnight train.
When I arrived in Novosibirsk I had to go to Akademgorodok, which is about 30 km outside of the city center (but still a part of the city). The term is an acronym for academic people and small city (gorod=city). So you can guess that this part was especially built for the Intelligentsia ("Akademiker") in Soviet times. It takes you about 40 min to get there and, in fact, it is really somehow idyllic. The part of the city is surrounded by woods, the buildings have not more than 4 floors and were of better quality and in general in (very) good condition and hence do not that have the concrete atmosphere.
My host was a french guy working for a French-Russian joint venture company providing him with a really fancy flat. It was already evening so I had a chat with Nicolas who used CS as a way to keep in contact with people as he was not able to talk Russian. Difficult situation for being an expat in a city where hardly any tourists and/or other foreigners come...
The next day I followed his advice to go the lake nearby and it was really great there. Weather was fine (like in Ekaterinburg) but windy. Sadly you could see that people are not aware of their environment (again) and garbage was more or less everywhere. Also the city seems not to feel responsible for cleaning the area. After about 4 or 5 hours strolling along the beach I walked to the center. Novosibirsk has its similarities to the other Russian cities but somehow going another way in city planing. It looked like the city government tried to harmonise Imperial past (100 years old 1 or 2 floor buildings made of wood), Soviet past (even there are different styles existing) and present time (glass and steel) in renovating, respectively conserving, old buildings and I saw the first time in Russia something like monument protection. In addition, there were interesting (or funny..?) compositions of old and new styles, where on the old basement new floors were built. So you can see quite good the 3 phases of Russian history, somehow a wild mixture. I could not say for sure if it was looking too wild or had its own charm... Anyway, it's interesting to see how this "problem" (old vs. new) is dealt in Russia; every city is doing it differently.
Even though being in the middle of Russia and definitely in the "Asian" part, I didn't have the feeling to be outside of Europe and there were not so many Asians around. I only realised heading further east because the amount of cars with drivers on the right side raised significantly. I guess that the amount in Novosibirsk was over 50%. For quality reasons people prefer to buy an (used) Asian car than a Russian (or expensive (used) European) car.
To Tomsk I took the bus and the 4 or 5 hours ride was pretty idyllic with a beautiful scenery. After my arrival I was looking for the one and only hostel in the city. The cheap price persuaded me not to look for a host this time because you can be more flexible (come and go as you want). I dropped my backpack and searched in the internet for the train ticket to my next stop Krasnoyarsk.
Here I almost got into troubles again with the unexcited names of airports or train stations. As far as I can remember it was shown that the train would leave from Tomsk-2. I decided to buy my ticket to Krasnoyarsk at the train station and then go into the center and stroll around.
On the way to the center I got into a downpour and some streets turned to small but heavy rivers. I fled to a front door of a building with another man. After a while he started to talk with me and kept on even though I mentioned that I hardly understand him because I'm a tourist and can only talk a little bit Russian. Anyway, after half an hour we could continue our ways.
Tomsk is known for its university and you could call it a university town. In addition, the city is known for its wooden 1 or 2 floor houses. Cause of that fact I'm not sure if Tomsk is more a village with elements of a city or a city with elements of a village. Because as soon as you left the main street you were more or less in a different world, like in a village 100 years ago. I don't mean it in a negative way because buildings and scenery were beautiful but it felt to be in a village.
Back in the Hostel there have been only Russians (students) because it was for them the cheapest way to accommodate during holidays. I was told that the university was still operating and holding exams but did not offer accommodation. We were talking with hand and feet because their English was as good as my Russian but it was funny and we tried for several hours.
Next day I was going around again. In the evening I met in the hostel an Australian-USAmerican travel couple and we exchanged our experiences. Then I continued to the train station - but the wrong one. I already mentioned in the beginning, that I though that my train would leave from Tomsk-2. But when I arrived I was surprised and couldn't find my train... I was puzzled and already considered if they maybe canceled the whole train? Then I was looking at my ticket more exactly and saw that it was printed Tomsk-1..... I had to decide what to do, stay one more night in Tomsk and buy a new ticket or try to reach the other vokzal in 10 Minutes.... I decided to try it. I was lucky because there was no taxis around in front of the empty train station. So I asked some guys if they would drive me to Tomsk-1 but in 10 Minutes...?! After little bit of bargaining (I hadn't the time and was not in the mood for) they were driving me there (BTW, in Russia every car can be a Taxi). During the go we were talking a bit and they said that they are Armenians and we would make it (making sound like "vrooom vrooom" )... I was not convinced and got nervous but in the end we really did it - I reached the train in the very last minute! Usually you have to go to your wagon number, show your ticket to the attendant and enter the train (and every wagon has its own attendant!). But in my case I simply jumped on the last wagon (the attendant let me in because it was clear that I cannot reach my wagon in time) and had to go through all wagons to reach my place. Every attendant was irritated by me that I cross their wagon respectively the whole train. However, I was lucky to reach my train and it was definitely a (funny) experience and thinking back of train station situation and the drivers :)
From here I stopped my travel diary I was writing during my journey in 2010 and have to remember my destinations and where I went and whom I met.
Again taking platskart (open sleeping wagon) to reach Krasnoyarsk, I arrived the next day and tried to find my host who lived a bit outside. He was wonderful, helpful and really tried to provide some kind of entertainment. He suggested to make a bike tour and we were going to the outskirts where I also saw horses going around freely. Besides, I was enjoying Krasnoyarsk and really have to say that (looking back to all places I have travelled in Russia) this was one of my most favourite places/cities I have been! And during my travels I was often asked which place I liked most - and before I could answer myself, followed by their answer “isn't it Piter? Because it is like Europe”... But yes, this is the reason: it is NOT Piter BECAUSE it reminds me so much of Europe... ;) I'm looking for and interested in differences and not similarities.
What did I like so much? Again it was a mixture of the city and the time spending with people making the stay special. Being a city Krasnoyarsk also provides a lot of green and also boasts something like the Donauinsel in Vienna, where people also enjoy leisure in going for a walk, skating or having a picnic.
The other day my host welcomed additional CSer coming from Denmark. They came directly from Moscow and told us that they completely underestimated the distance and were starving because they did not prepare for such a long journey. They told us that other passengers shared some food otherwise they would have starved to death ^^ They got to know a local who invited them (and me) for a hike in a nearby park called “Stolby” (simply meaning columns). It is not really far away from the city and it was amazing there and we could see where the name was coming from. I also did some dangerous climb which was stupid thinking back (see fotos one zoomed in and one from afar shot by the Danish guy)... However, it was a great day, the local very nice even though we could not communicate fluently, nevertheless we understood each other and it was about the moment!
And also the Danish guys were super cool and we should spend some additional time even though we arrived and started at different time slots.
Because when they arrived I started about two days later to continue to my next goal: Irkutsk. But they stayed couple of additional days at the host who did for example a horse rise with them. So he is/was really taking care of the people surfing his couch. Together with my host in Chelyabinsk, he was one of my best experiences in Russia, but also others were great (by the way, like the guy in Nishni who celebrated a tea ceremony with me or the nice and funny/happy girl in Ekaterinburg and so on...so many and good memories...)!
In my first ideas about my journey I thought of leaving the Transsib route and change for a specific part to the BAM (Baikal-Amur Magistrale). Instead of directly going to Irkutsk I thought of going to Bratsk, then reaching Severobaikalsk and from there to take the ferry down to Irkutsk. Unfortunately I found out that the ferry transport stops pretty early (already middle or end of August and I'd arrive a week too late or so) in Severobaikalsk, so I could only go directly from Krasnoyarsk to Irkutsk :-/ But I still would like to take this route one day, because I wanna go to Lake Baikal again anyway, because this is one of my all time favourite places!
However, again taking the night train I reached Irkutsk beginning of September. Somehow I don't have so many memories of this city and I think it was not too exciting except again my host, who spent time with me and friends of hers. All together with another CSer from France we spent a weekend at the family's dacha, outside of the city.
But what would get one of my highlights in my life was my day trip to Listvyanka, south of Irkutsk. Listvyanka itself is “nothing” specific or special, I'd even hardly call it a village as there is almost nothing except couple of small houses and just a name for a place. But that was not the reason to go there but to go along Lake Baikal, the so called “Great Baikal Trail” (it is also the name of a NGO trying to make a trail all around the lake). I have to say that I started pretty unprepared... I knew that my goal could be Bolshie Koty but had no idea how long it would take and where exactly to go (beside going along the lake, yes), if I could accommodate there etc. And as I already mentioned, no mobile internet at that time to check where I am etc. So I simply started to go along for hours and enjoy one of the most beautiful sceneries with almost no human being expect a guy passing once and a woman which accompanied for a while. The day was sunny and warm, the lake blue with silver lights from the mirroring sun and the trail in the wild... Hiking for hours at this scenery cleared my mind and I can remember some kind of euphoria when I was going along there. But as I told, I was unprepared and only knew when the last bus would return to Irkutsk. This means that I knew going for hours into one direction would also take the same time to get back - or continuing to reach (or not reach that day) Bolshoe Koty... But I left my backpack in Irkutsk and had no sleeping back and hardly any food and water with me and so had to decide to return at some point :-/ Nevertheless, I have to repeat that it was great.