I think I neglected to tell you in my #1 Russia email, that my plan is to go from Moscow to Vladivostok (on the Pacific) by the Siberian Express train. Actually I’m not really on the Siberian Express as that one goes straight through—-6 1/2 days! Who would do that?——people do! I’m doing the same long distance, but stopping in nine cities/towns along the way. I want to see something of Siberia.
I got a taxi to go to the Nizhny Novgorod train station on Sunday at 4:00 AM to go to Yekaterinburg. The sun had risen at 3:30 so it was light! When I boarded for a 5:02 departure, I found that my train seat was a bed in a car with all beds, since most of the people had come from Moscow and were sleeping. I was given 2 crisp sheets, a pillowcase and there was a blanket if needed. I made my bed and went to sleep.
It rained off and on, but later it quit. The scenery was very flat with birch and pine thickly obscuring the view on both sides of the tracks. Occasionally we would pass a small village with wooden houses.
I got slightly acquainted with a family of mother, father and 12-year-old girl who shared my space. They couldn’t speak any English, although at one point the mother ventured, “Who do you live?” When I’m asked that, people seem to respond positively when I say, “USA—America.”
Later I went to the dining car (about 4 cars down from mine) and had lunch. My
Russian salad and good whole wheat bread were satisfying. I think most passengers had brought their own food/snacks or bought snacks from the woman who runs the car—like Ramen noodles. They drink a lot of tea and there is a steam contraption with hot water available. The RR provides mugs that look so Russian!
The train bathrooms were
kept very clean and well supplied; the car was heated as it was cool and rainy outside; the ‘car lady’ offered me tea and made sure I was awake when it was time to get off. Finally it was, (20-hour ride) and I was in Yekaterinburg! I arrived at 1:15 AM Moscow time, but 3:15 AM local time. The trains all keep to Moscow time, so as I go through time zones (there will be seven) my tickets all say Moscow time, even though my iPhone automatically registers the local time.
I got a taxi to go to my hostel. Unfortunately he either couldn’t see or couldn’t read, and couldn’t find the address, which was off-putting since I had shown him Russian written instructions and the street was marked on my map of ‘central.’ After going around and around I asked him to take me back to the RR station, which he didn’t understand; finally I used the translation on my iPhone which did the trick. I had seen a big hotel right across from the RR station and pointed to it when we got there. I got a nice room for parts of two nights (!) (I was going again at 3:15 AM the next day), which cost $55, plus it included breakfast!. Besides I could walk across the street to the RR station the next morning at 3:15 AM for my next train ride!
After a sleep and breakfast, I did some sightseeing—-this is the town where Tzar Nicholas II and his wife and children (including Anastasia, which they proved with DNA not so long ago) were shot in 1918 by the Bolsheviks. A big church has been built to honor them, called Church Upon The Blood. (Do you love the name?) Only the basement was open (top being rehabbed) but that was pretty fancy.
Nearby was the Chapel of the Revered Martyr Grand Princess Yelizaveta Fyodorovna, a small wooden building to honor a royal great-aunt, a nun. She was thrown down a mineshaft, poisoned with gas and buried.
Across the street was the Ascension Church, and a park honoring the actual place where the Romanovs were shot in a house, now demolished. The ‘demolisher’ was Boris Yeltsin who is from this town and was the governor of this province in the ‘70s. He demolished it because he feared it would attract anarchists.
I tried to see the Museum of Fine Arts, but it was closed on Mondays—-but the building was said to be remarkable. It is the Kasli Iron Pavilion that won prizes in the 1900 Paris Expo. Maybe in 1900 it was more impressive!
There was also a small pedestrian bridge nearby with many padlocks on it. Somewhere I read about this idea, but can’t remember what.
Ah, a MacDonalds here in Siberia; noticing a couple— she wearing a hand crocheted cape with the ‘Pineapple’ design (my mother used to make doilies like this); touring the History Museum with photos of Trotsky, Lenin and Stalin, and buying some fruit from a vendor rounded out my day.
Next morning, I walked across the street, actually
through a subway, to the train station and got the 1:40 AM train (3:40 AM local time) to Tomsk, a 28-hour ride. This city is actually off the Siberian Express direct route, but my guidebook said it was a worthwhile town to see.
On the train I was in a compartment with two adult women and two children. That made it quite full! I did see that a number of the compartments only had two people in them, but—-! The scenery was completely flat green grass—-where are the Ural Mountains? I didn’t see any.
Sometimes we would stop for 15 minutes or so while they refueled? rewatered? the train. At that time, the ‘car lady’ used an implement and touched the wheels of the train—-I had seen this on a video about the Siberian Express. Another man also used a big wrench and checked the wheels, too. This train was not as modern as ones closer to Moscow.
Some of the places that we stopped had very elaborate train stations.
We arrived Tomsk at 6:00 AM Moscow time which was 9:00 AM local time (now 3 hours ahead of Moscow). Tomsk, too,
has a fancy station. I had a terrible time finding my hostel and then finally when I found it, they didn’t have my reservation. I did get a bed, so no harm done. I checked in and then went sightseeing.
The Oppression Museum was within walking distance. There was no English, but I gather that many of the pictures were of people either executed by Stalin or sent off to the Gulag. There was a map of Russia showing the local prisons and the ‘correction camps’ (love the name?) and a very nice English speaking young man who told me some of the stories.
For instance, there was a local man who was a prisoner of war in a German prison camp, which he survived. When he was released, Stalin sentenced him to 10 years in a ‘corrective camp’ for treason. Treason? Yes, they were supposed to fight to the death and not be taken prisoner. Well, he survived that, too, and, now over 90 years old, still lives in this town, a friend of this museum. My English-speaking friend (who works for the museum) has met him.
It was my linner time so I invited my friend to join me, which he did. We had a most interesting discussion on many things—-Russian economy, Putin, Joseph McCarthy, nuclear energy, oil prices, etc. He said that in the ‘80s economically it was very bad—-his family didn’t have enough to eat, except for their garden. Then in the ‘90s this area became very lawless—-mafia stuff. But the last 10 years have been much better economically until the ruble lost it’s value at the beginning of this year. Earlier it had been at 20 to the dollar; in January it was 100 to the dollar, and now it is 55 to the dollar. After, he returned to work and I went back to my hostel to nap.
Later, I did some sight seeing, starting with Lenin’s Square with the statue of
Lenin. Nearby was Epiphany Cathedral; again we couldn’t go upstairs in the main part.
The best was a Chekhov Statue. My guidebook says that in his diary he said that Tomsk was a boring town with dull people and no beautiful women. On the town’s 400th anniversary in 2004, this bronze statue was unveiled to get even with him!
I stopped in at the Tomsk Art Gallery, but found it lackluster.
Moving on I photographed the Red Mosque, built in 1904, which was used as a vodka factory during Soviet times. Now it has opened again as
an active mosque.
There is a great tradition in Siberia of wooden houses, decorated with lacy designs carved in wood. Tomsk has a good supply of these.
This city has many beautiful parks and beautiful young women (contrary to Chekhov’s findings!) I asked three if I could photograph them today, but only two agreed. Still, very glamorous. This is a university town with about seven universities here. However, these girls were not students, although two of the three could speak some English. There was a positive reaction by them when they inquired what country I was from. One time when a person asked my country and I responded, “USA, America,” he said, “Then why would you come to Russia?” I think he meant it as a compliment to the USA.
I have found quite frequently when I ask to take a photo, that people turn me down, although pleasantly. This has happened at least 20 times, so far. Perhaps it reflects times past?
I am enjoying the vodka as an aperitif. Yesterday it was served so nicely in a thick, carved
glass with the remainder in a nice carafe, both had been in a freezer—-all the better!
I do have to comment on how clean things are. Both the railroad bathrooms and the bathrooms in the hostels are impeccable! Except for Moscow’s hostel, all others have been more than clean!
There are a few people in these cities that speak a little English, which surprises me. How many people would you find on the street that speak Russian in the USA? I gather they study it in school.
Some of the people staying in these hostels are Russian workers who have come from elsewhere to work in these cities. They stay more or less permanently at the hostels. Some guests are Russian tourists. I have only encountered about five foreigners, so far, mostly from the UK. I did run into Anita from the UK in the Coffee shop. She is attending medical school but took a year off to travel.
My last day in Tomsk, I again chased down some landmarks, but mostly that’s an excuse to observe the local people going about their daily lives. I had breakfast at the “Traveler’s Coffee House” and had a good latte, and a salmon sandwich (there really wasn’t anything else for breakfast!). But what a sandwich. The Russian bread is SO GOOD! Another church—-another wooden house, all fun to see. And then the people!
Thanks to all of you who emailed me—-it’s fun to hear from you! Hope you’re all fine—-I am!