Onward to Siberia.
With no mobile signal, no Internet and no technology to guide me, I can’t say exactly when the train crossed the border for my first trip into Siberia but the landscape out of the train window remained lush green during the trip from Yekaterinburg to Novosibirsk. It turns out a Siberian summer is actually quite warm and pleasant.
Novosibirsk was a stop of convenience and curiosity rather than for any specific sight or purpose. My aim was to get to Irkutsk and I didn’t fancy a full two-day train trip. Right in the middle of the route is Novosibirsk, the largest city in Siberia.
When I joined the train in Yekaterinburg I had the last available bed in the kupe. Already well settled in was a young family – mother, father and daughter. I smiled and said hello, the dad of the family replied, and I was left to settle in but with a slightly awkward feeling. If they had the kupe to themselves since Moscow then having a stranger joining probably wasn’t the most welcome thing.
But in line with much of my experience on the Trans-Siberian railway so far, we were chatting within no time at all. Only this time our shared language was Google Translate. Aleksei and his family had been travelling from around six hours outside of Moscow and were on a four-day train trip to see family, stopping some way beyond Novosibirsk. Chatting further, our football clubs had met in a European game some years earlier (my team lost), we spoke about visiting Lake Baikal, travel across Russia, and inevitably, ended up sharing drinks and food. “Let’s drink and eat sandwiches!” seemed to translate from Russian to English perfectly.
Arriving in Novosibirsk with the now familiar un-showered feeling but with the usual excitement from visiting somewhere completely new, I walked the two-mile straight line from the station to my hotel. I used a global hotel chain here for two nights at the total cost of £40, and since it’s a chain I use a lot with work I was upgraded to a suite for no cost. Unpacking my tiny bag in a room bigger than my flat at home, and with more bathrooms and TVs than I have at home, it felt odd, as if I wasn’t really doing this travelling thing quite right. But the usual warm shower and shave after a train trip felt wonderful.
Novosibirsk is quite a strange place for a stopover. It feels like a massive, sprawled out city. There’s a beach – a Siberian beach – which had people on it. There was no clear, obvious city centre but a couple of boulevards which were a bit busier. It’s lacking in places to visit even if venturing well outside of the city. There’s the zoo, popular certainly but one that might be a little uncomfortable for people given how some (not all, a minority) of the animals are kept. Then there’s the nightlife.
The main boulevard in Novosibirsk seemed to come alive far more in the evening. It was a Saturday night, I did a mini bar crawl and kept myself to myself as I worked through some Russian beer. Each bar was busy with a good atmosphere and it seems if you’re going to visit Novosibirsk for a stopover, go for the nightlife.
All in it was a short, two-day trip to Novosibirsk. I did my usual and walked, and walked, and walked, along the river, through the city, up to the zoo, covering a huge area but without really seeing too much. It satisfied the curiousity but by then Irkutsk was in my sights.