Privyet from Russia!
The journey west on the Trans-Siberian continues. When talking to the other travelers taking the Trans Sib, whether starting in Mongolia or Beijing, most were stopping only in Irkutsk and heading all the way to Moscow from there. Aside from that being a [very] long train trip (5+ days), it seems like such a miss to skip all of the stops along the way. Instead, I have opted for 4-6 stops on the way to St. Petersburg (plus a trip into the Stans halfway through). Though I’ll admit that I do have a luxury of time that many travelers do not.
So this week’s stops included Novosibirsk and Omsk. On these legs I rode in 3rd class on the train, which has a few differences from 2nd. The biggest is that rather than having 4 bunk cabins, the car is mostly open, so everyone’s in it together. The second is that it seems the demographic in 3rd is mostly commuters (compared to 2nd which was mostly travelers – though that could just be the trains that I’ve been on). What that meant is that hardly anyone spoke English, though once they broke the ice with me, they were very excited to try. I even tried speaking French with the man in the bed across from me.
I settled in with a group of Russian military, headed home from working in Irkutsk. Through mostly gestures and a little bit of English, we chatted and laughed the afternoon away. They taught me a card game they called “Stupid,” though I have to imagine the name didn’t translate quite right. This would come in handy later in the week because it is apparently THE Russian card game, durak (which translates to “stupid”). And humbly, I’m pretty good at it.
Novosibirsk is known for its opera house and zoo. The opera house is considered one of the most important in Siberia, and said to be incredible. I looked up prices and had decided I was ok with spending the $40 to go. Then I realized I did the conversion wrong and it was actually $4 (!!!) for basically front row. I saw Boris Godunov, a show depicting 1598-1606 (the Time of Troubles) in Russia and it was very beautiful. Though it was of course in Russian, so I didn’t understand any of it. But it was my first trip to the opera and I enjoyed it anyhow.
The next day I was just sitting in the hostel working on a video on counting on your hands in China when a hostel mate burst into the common area and said, “we’re going to see a liger!!” I wasn’t sure if he was doing a bit, but I played along anyway, not sure who he meant by “we.” He told me to put my stuff away and get ready and just like that he and I were off to the zoo, apparently to see a liger.
If I’m being honest, I did not know that ligers exist outside of Napoleon Dynamite. So my interest was definitely piqued. And I had read a lot of good things about the Novosibirsk Zoo, so I was in. The zoo was kind of underwhelming in terms of layout, enclosure sizes and general educational value. But it was shocking in terms of variety of animals.
We got to the tigers, lions and liger at feeding time, which was definitely a sight. I saw another animal that, again if I’m being honest, I wasn’t totally sure existed – reindeer. The antlers on the ones I had seen in the square were so fuzzy that they seemed fake. Plus that whole Rudolph thing. But very real. And very big. And very cute.
From Novosibirsk, the next stop was Omsk. Omsk is a city with not much of note, aside from standard beautiful Soviet architecture and cathedrals. However, the importance of this stop is that Omsk is the city on the Trans Sib route closest to the border of Kazakhstan. Because my Russian visa is 3 year, multi-entry, it made most geographic sense to “drop in” to the Stans from Russia.
The rest of the Trans Sib will have to wait – on to the Stans!