Our train from Irkutsk arrived a fraction before midnight. We were aware of this, so we intestinally booked a hotel within walking distance of the station, and with a 24-hour check in. While both were technically true, it wasn’t the easiest of experiences. We arrived at the correct address, but all we could see were some official looking offices (banks, government agencies etc), which were all locked, and the workers long departed. We walked a little further, until we found an open restaurant, only to be pointed back the way we came (based on the address). We ran into a man in a neighbouring building, who attempted to help us using his phone, but he too had no luck. And then as things were starting to look a little hopeless, the owner/manager of the place that we were staying found us, and escorted us inside. We’d honestly never have arrived if he hadn’t found us, as it was in a private apartment, completely lacking in signage. I’m just happy that I left a comment during booking explaining that we’d be arriving when we did (and that he read and paid attention to it).
The next morning we spent finalising bookings for the remainder of the trip, including the accommodation in Moscow and Saint Petersburg, as well as a few minor train tickets.
I’m not entirely sure why we decided to visit Novosibirsk. It may have been because I had heard of the city, it may also have been because Risa had visited as a teenager on an exchange program. So, when it came time to go outside and see the city, we were a little at a loss for things to do until our train left at 8PM. The city is essentially a modern administrative capital city, with office blocks, busy roads and countless Soviet concrete apartment blocks. I’m sure there are attractive aspects to the town, but with the short time that we spent walking around, it wasn’t immediately obvious where. Even the main hotel in town looked like a dishevelled relic of the 60s – at least on the outside.
As we’d spent so long working on booking trains/accommodation, it was quite late by the time we finally had breakfast – and we’d worked up an appetite. Risa wanted to eat sashlyk (grilled meat on a skewer), which always sounds good to me, so we walked towards the centre of town until we found somewhere. I don’t know if it was because it was from regular restaurant (instead of a greasy, smoky market stall), but when it came out and was mouth-wateringly delicious, I was truly taken aback. The flavour was incredible, and the meat was impossibly juicy and tender. The menu was all in Russian, and there were no pictures. Ordering food we know the name of isn’t a problem, but everything else is a bit of a mystery. By a sheer stroke of amazing fortune, a waitress brought out a bowl of soup that we didn’t think we ordered, but since it looked amazing, and it was possible that we ordered it, we devoured it. Every last drop!
Just behind the square was the famous Opera/Theatre house, which is said to be fantastically beautiful inside. There are often daytime shows/rehearsals, but today there only the evening performance (of a ballet called Spartan, no less) that was too late for us to watch anything more than the first act (and then rush to the station in a taxi).
A little more interesting than the sculptures were the boys/girls in their graduation clothing. We saw some people dressed like this in Irkutsk, but I thought it must have been a wedding party that were having their photos taken. These girls in their ‘French Maid’ style dress/apron, with giant white hair ties and knee high socks was … interesting, and the overt sexuality of it was a little surprising. It looked closer to a Hens Night than a school graduation, but it’s meant to be traditional attire. They were everywhere in town, hanging out in cafes/fast food/restaurants and roaming the streets in large packs.
The tiny, and I must emphasise tiny, Chapel of Saint Nicholas was just down the road from the Lenin Square. It wasn’t until we were at the footsteps of this church did we realise just how miniscule this place is! We tried to enter to have a look inside, but there was a crush of people coming and going, and since they had a more legitimate reason for being there, we settled for a quick peak from the front door at the tiny interior, and the twenty squashed people. It’s said that this church is in the middle of Russia, and I guess I can believe it. I can say however that it’s in the middle of a very busy road.
We were expecting poor weather, and the forecast proved correct. Since we were walking through town with little actual purpose, we instead retreated to a Russian café chain (Coffee House) for a few hours and people watched.
The weather cleared a little, so we headed towards the Cathedral of the Ascension, which was a little plain for a Russian church. It took a little effort to find our way inside. When we finally did get inside, there was an active service taking place, and my presence wasn’t welcome, and I was quickly ushered out. The interior was a lot nicer than the exterior, but I had enough common sense not to start taking photos (even before reading the no photography sign). I think ultimately my bare knees were the cause of offence – I’m clearly not up to speed with church etiquette…
The large concrete/brick apartments might have been a sad sight, but there was something still very interesting about their design to me – they weren’t completely soul-less cookie-cutter grey slabs. Plus some of the weird columns that didn’t seem to make any sense were amusing.
Confident that we didn’t purchase a meal for tonight’s journey, we had a large feed to avoid eating in the restaurant car. I see pizza restaurants everywhere, so it was time to finally sample one. It was a chain (Il Patio), but it was pretty good. They had wood fired ovens, and the chefs were preparing the pizza bases by hand (even tossing the dough). The pizza might look very appetising (they really could have added a little bit of basil), it was pretty tasty. A little cold/soft, but otherwise satisfied.