Novosibirsk (New Siberia)
Novosibirsk was not highly recommended by the guidebooks. Lonely Planet said "there really isn't much to see". But it was a reasonable distance between Yekaterinburg and Irkutsk; it is the third largest city in Russia; and it is the capital of Siberia; so it seemed a good place to stop.
It is not the easiest place to visit. There is no tourist information office and no maps available at the hotel desk (Grammar found a for-sale map in a display case managed by the hotel clerk just as we were leaving.)
Novosibirsk is quite a new city, founded in 1893 as a small town for workers who were building a bridge across the Ob River for the Trans Siberian Railway. It became important for its trade routes both by river and by rail. In Soviet times, huge industries were situated here, far from the threats of Europe. Really big buildings were erected and four lane roads were built. Everything was big. The Opera and Ballet Theatre is larger than the Bolshoi in Moscow. There is also supposed to be an excellent regional museum that has a section devoted to shamanism, but it was closed.
Despite the difficulties, including on and off torrents of rain, we explored the downtown core on foot and found lots of interesting things:
- Enormous Soviet-era sculptures of Lenin, three soldiers and two workers
- Many, many other sculptures and fountains sprinkled throughout the city. One of our favourite groupings was of two women - one fat and one thin - sitting on a bench chatting. Andrew took a photo of Ruth and Grammar and me sitting with them.
- a coffee shop opposite the opera that had excellent coffee and pastries. ( unfortunately Grammar had to return her chocolate hedgehog because the spines were made of almond slivers coated in chocolate. Grammar is super-allergic to almonds.)
- The tiny little Chapel of St Nicholas, which is a calm space in the middle of a crazy intersection. Underneath the intersection is a warren of passages, very small shops and kiosks that sell everything from eggs, to brassieres and from cell phones to oranges. Each one is quite specific in its offer.
- A lovely green city park that had a live singing competition and a craft market.
- Three ornate, old wooden buildings that appeared to form a museum. We could not figure out how to get in!
The train station is not mentioned in the guidebooks. It is enormous and very beautiful. Built in Art Nouveau style, it is green with white trim on the outside and has has lovely light colours and curving lines inside. The main waiting room has giant chandeliers hanging from the ceiling and the first class section has big leather chairs and sofas surrounded by potted palms. Marble urns and statues of lovely naked ladies grace niches around the station. There is a second building that may be for commuter trains. It is equally attractive and right now it is hosting a children's art exhibit. A few of the drawings were of trains and zoos and children playing but the main theme seemed to be May 9, the end of WWII in Europe. Most children had done very graphic and gory scenes of war.
Also at the train station, on Platform 1. are WWII Family statues of father and son, mother and daughter waving off relatives to the war. Many Siberians went directly to the war from this station.
Because there was so little tourist information, Grammar did some research on Trip Advisor. We are really sorry that we did not find:
- the monument to the first traffic light or
- the monument commemorating laboratory mice.