Sunday, October 29, 2017

Day 24 - The Long Train Ride

First class cabins, crisp sheets, and beautiful appointments beconed our sleepy selves as we tucked in and drifted away. Clickity clack, rocking forward and back, we ventured further east through the wintery night. 

Little by little we awoke to bright sun on wheat fields as far as one could see. Rolling hills turned into forested low mountains and valleys, and then back into farmland again. 

All day we passed through countless small towns and villages, as well as numerous very large, modern, industrial cities.  We were now traveling through the northern region of Altai Mountain foothills climbing further up into the small knees of the Himilayas near the northern borders of Kazakstan and China.  

We began to climb slowly gaining altitude gradually, still passing cities large and small, large highesys full of cargo trucks, and long freight trains laden with coal, mineral ore, oil tankers, and containers from China and the far east. 

Dinner was served in our cabins by cheerful, brightly unifirmed staff. As night approached heavy pineforests  overtook the birch and mountain meadows replaced the farmlands.  We could see snow-capped mountsins to the east, pink with the setting sun. We will reach the rift valleys of Irkutsk by morning. Another 1,500 kms will have passed and a five day adventure surrounding Lake Baikal awaits. 

Day 23 - Novosibirsk

Novisibirsk (New Siberia) is the third largest city in Russia. A bit more than 1.5 million people live here and it is a huge scientific center for both technology and education-Nuclear Physics, IT, Engineering, Medicine, Geology, etc. It is home to Russia’s fourth largest  university that is considered one of the world’s top twenty. 

We are now one-half way across Russia-3,000 kms from Moscow and the same distance yet to go until reaching  Vladivostok-and still amazed by the large, highly developed and modern cities...and ALL THESE PEOPLE!!!

Our first stop was at the archeological museum to view several ethnological exhibits.  The most exciting was of the iceman and icewoman found in north central Siberia. Over 2500 years old, their remains were remarkably preserved/clothing, hair, skin with numerous tattoos, jewelry and rituals items. 

Our museum guide was bright and informative, offering both proven snd hypothetical explainations. In addition was another room depicting cultural elements of several indiginous tribes-costumes, crafts, household items. 

Next we toured the open air train musrum with rail cars dating back to 1900...all from the trans Siberian line. Although pretty darn cold outside, it was great to see various passenger cars, a mobile hospital from WWII, and a prison car. The steam locomotives were grand. 

Next up was the opera house. The largest in Russia accommodating over 2,000, it was built in the late 1800s in the Russian federal design. Recently renovated, we toured several kevels before settling into seats in the main theater to watch the rehearsal of the last act of premiers in a few days. 

Lunch was at a traditional Russian restaurant followed by a tour of the city sights including the trans-Siberian raikway memorial and hustoric bridge as well as the Uzbek farmers market. 

Our even dinner wss in a tuaga themed restaurant where we dined on deer soup and a fillet of Siberian Stag. REALLY GOOD. 

Back to the hotel we oacked our hags, said goidbye to Nettie and Denise who return home on Friday, and departed for the train station at midnight. 

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Day 22 - On the Train

Our 18 hour train ride followed lugging our bags up and down numerous stairwells as we made our way across the tracks to our platform. Calories consumed earlier in the evening were easily worn off with the effort.

Boarding was reasonably painless as we bade goodbye to our guide Irina. We quickly made up our bunks and by 1:00 AM were ready for about eight hours of sleep. For a change the train temperature was not excruciatingly hot and a comfortable night was reported by most. 

Little by little we woke to coffee being made from hot water in the samovar and quiet rustlings as each cabin stirred.  Like sqirrels (Caschy) we dove into our shopping troves and enjoyed various breakfast snacks. 

The day passed idly as we read, watched videos, chatted, and gszed out the large windows to see large towns, industrial complexes, and vast birch forests speed by. Our misconceptions of s barten and wild Siberia are wuickly bring dispelled.   This is a widely populated area with large cities and intricate infrastructure. 

Our destintion at the end of the day is Novosibirsk-Russia's third largest city with 3.5 milluon people. A 10 hour itinerary awaits us tomorrow!!!

Finally at one stop we saw the local vendors we had tead so much about. Furs and fish were the choices in this town. Shocked that no one in our group jumped at the opportunity. 

Day 21 - Tyumen

Established in 1589 the first and oldest city in Siberia, situated on the Tura River that flows north to the Arctic Ocean, is a center for major oil and gas production; 759,000 people live here with oil and gas as their major employer.  It is a cosmoplitan city with an old city center and a new town with skyscrapers and high rise apartments. Beautiful  green spaces dot the busy landscape. 

Our guide picked us up at 9AM and we visited the city center accompanied by a second local guide and historian. The architecture was true to what we have been seeing. There were some lovely old wooden buildings with lots of gingetbread. The usual assortment of Russian Rensissance beauties, and lots of those Kruschev block buildings. 

We visited the minastary if course. John would have been disappointed if we missed it. The bee houses stole the show.  

The highlight was out of town at the archeological park where we met a shaman, participated in a smudge and drum ritual, and toured the exhibits. Note the tippee, costumes, drums, etc. This is from northern Siberian tribes fron thousands of years ago. Look familiar?  Keep in mind that these people never interacted with Americsn Iindians until the 20th century. 

Afterward we were treated to an Elm Netting class. Not what you might think. We learned to make native Russian finger dolls. Great fun. John and I had a bunny love fest. This was followed by tea and cookies outside. It was only 30^ and bright sun!  They opened the park just for us and it was special. 

We stopped at a grocery on the way back for train supplies. The Leta store is Russia's Costco!  Lovely. A quiet evening at the hotel led to our midnight departure on an overnight train to Novosibirsk!  Two more time zones. Eighteen hours and snother 1209 kms. This was Denise snd Nettie's last train ride...clickity clack in a comfy, rocking sack. 

Monday, October 23, 2017

Day 20 - Further East to Tyumen

We slept in and enjoyed a late check-out before transferring to the train station and saying goidbye to our dear guide, Vadim. He overwhelmed us with his kindness, generosity and good humor. His extensive knowkedge of this part of the world was outstanding and he will be one of those people whose name gets brought up again and again in future stories of our adventures. From over 46 countries, he joins a small group of treasured guides, now part of our family. Davey & Frenchy-Silk Road, Shavkat-Turkmenistan, Monica-Galapagos, Mario & Nicholas-Patagonia, Moses-Kenya, Orhan-Turkey, Ramon-Egypt, Kimthet-Cambodia, Natasha-Russia, Natalia-Yaroslavl, Veronika-Kazan, and VADIM-Yekaterinburg!

We split up into four cabins for our five hour ride to Tyumen. 

The landscape was familuar at this point. Birch and pine lined the tracks with occasional breaks for fields, towns, small farms and country highways. The later filled eith heavy cargo trucks miving from city to city. Electrical easements were wide andsubstantial  indicating huge ususge at some point in the conveyence. There are a lot of people out here. Siberia, as in the lore most of us hsd in our minds is s whole different experience.

Arriving in Tyumen we were met at the station by our  guide and escorted to our hotel. Tyumen is not a tourist town. We are here to break up an otherwise 26 hour train ride. This is an industrial city. Think a very big mining, oil, and technical center with lots of workers. Kinda like the north slope of Alaska...only huge!!  Tomorrow should be interesting. 

The balance of the evening was free to relax. We went to a lical cafe/bar. Dud it sll in Russian. We be pros at this now!!!

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Little Russian Soldiers

OMG!  It has only taken since September 6th and my little troupe has learned the drill. Assembled, in formation, and marching in step. Storing their bags in the boot by size and color, finding their seats according to specific need and desire, and always with an affirmative smile. Waiting patiently at the hotel for room assignments, and cleaning their plates at every meal-it is truly a general's dream to have such a fine, tuned fighting machine. 

Reading Russian

Arriving in St. Peterssburg we were jointly overwhelmed by the signage in Russian of course. Individually we probably thought, "how am I going to figure this out?"  

Our guide pointed to a sign she said we would see often, "ресторан."  The p is a "r" sound, e as in "e", c as in "s", t as in "t", h as in "n". So "restoran" is "restaurant."  Voila!

Soon we had learned the phonetic equivalent to each Cyrillic  letter and were pronouncing the word, often the pronunciation leading one to a Getman or Latin or Greek familiarity.  From there simple memorization starting setting in and all of a sudden, one realizes they are reading and understanding basic signage. 

At a train station we saw the station name on s sign and quickly transposed our newly learned skill to utter the correct name of the town. It was only after we had congratulated ourselves that we realized it was transposed into Riman characters for us below the Cyrillic. We have become so proficient (?) that we are blocking out the Western translations. LOL. 

Having a conversation is of course a "bit" more challenging. But then that is a whole additional blog entry in itself. 

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Day 19 - The 16th Century in Siberia

We departed early for a two hour drive north through what could have been the Parks Highway in Alaska. Tall birch and spruce or pine lined the two-lane highwsy as we wound through small farms, open fields, and small mining and industrial communities. We drove through the city where Tchaikovsky was born-a hamlet of 30,000- then crossed several rail lines. During the Cold War this area was famous for itstank  and artillary factories, airplane manufacturing, and this is where Rusdia built their nuclear weapons. 

Winter is upon us now with snow flurries and brisk wind. It was warm in the bus until we reached Nizhnaya Sinyatchiha, a small Siberian village for an extensive tour of the Museum of Wooden Architecture and the Transfiguration Church. 

There we were met by 25^ -COLD-and a charming local guide. "Oh no, not another outdoor museum," was quelled quickly as we toured a beautiful simple church museum with fabulous painted parts of farmhouse walls, shuttters, doors, and furniture as part of the exhibits.  

Outside we wandered thegtounds. This collection of buildings were rescued by one man who made it a life's work to relocate and renovate these beauties...and once again our experience was unique and fullfilling. 

A warm lunch of local cuisine was followed by a sleepy ride back to the city and a free evening.