Novosibirsk is a city, changed

One person I was sharing my cabin with was Svetlana. 21, was going to marry next year with her fiancee. She studied in Yaroslavl, close to Moscow, but her parents lived just outside of Novosibirsk. That is, a two and a half hour drive from Novosibirsk.

My other two ‘bunkmates’ were older men with loads of food, who just had to share their meal with us. Although they didn’t speak any English, I was fine with them sharing, since I hadn’t had the time to get something to eat before I left.

Remarkably, the only people that yet haven’t asked me for money, although I talked extensively with them, where the people I met on trains. They’re actually friendly, and almost always actually offering something to share! A beer, vodka, something to eat. Really friendly people with which it’s nice to start a conversation. On the other hand, that isn’t really surprising, considering that they still have money to buy a train ticket, they can’t be that poor.

Judging from what the Planet has to say about Novosibirsk, a lot has changed over the last couple of years. Only the few high-end hotels still exist (although very affordable now) and most of the restaurants have gone but have made room for quite a remarkable combination of shops and new restaurants.

In the (very quiet) center of Novosibirsk, I found one German fast-food joint, 5(!) New York Pizza’s, no less then three Irish pubs and a total of two Internet cafe’s. On a population of only 40 expats (as I learned later) all that is a pretty strange combination for a city, so very much in the middle of nowhere!

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I had arrived at the hotel pretty late. Not only because the train ride was supposed to take 18 hours and was scheduled to arrive early in the evening, but more since, at the end, we turned out to have a delay of almost two hours. My two benefactors, who had given me loads to eat during these two days, had already left earlier so I was left with Svetlana, whose parents where waiting in Novosibirsk (and were very worried at the delay, as parents are). At some point during the trainride, when I figured I should do something in return for the eggs, tomatoes, bread, cucumber, cheese, etc I had received on the train, I got ourselves some beer. Nobody liked beer, I should have gotten vodka. Great.

The hotel I was staying in, the Central, was right in the middle of town, so, although it was already getting late, it was easy to take a small tour of the city still. Also, the city opera house was right next door, so I hoped to be able to see a show there, or maybe get tickets for a show the next night, since I had planned to stay two nights before moving on. I learned the next day that only a week before had they gone into their summer recess.

Throughout the whole city, almost no lights where on to illuminate the streets, the only lights shining from billboards, advertising Western cigarettes or beverages. Only about eleven o’clock at night did the square in front of the Opera become a little bit more lively, so I had sat down on one of the benches to lounge a bit and ‘grok’ Novosibirsk. Only minutes after sitting down, a petite Russian girl came over, asking for a light. I did understand the asking for a light bit, but when she started babbling away I very soon had no idea what she was going on about. She called her girlfriend over and it seemed like it became top priority for them to get me to understand something and for them to understand something of me. We tried pretty hard, but after sometime we just opted for a beer in a nearby cafe. Probably that was what they where after anyhow.

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Dance

The bar, an outside terrace surrounded by a metal fence, was reasonably full with mainly older men and women. All, on any music that was playing but especially on the Russian tunes, got totally wild and where continuously dancing all over the place. The two girls, of course, wanted me to join them in dancing, which, of course, I did. Some time later when I had had enough I tried to communicate that very fact without much luck at first. Its just not that interesting when all you can do is sit at a table (or dance or whatever) and not be able to talk with each other at all, besides on the most futile subjects (such as why I still wasn’t married at 25 where the girls had already been married at 18 and had been divorced as well). I was invited to go swimming with them the next day. Not a bad thing, since I really felt like swimming (and although Russians seem to go swimming when ‘normal’ people still need their winter coats the weather was shaping up nicely), but I figured I really wanted to see more of the city.