Omsk (2)

After a… warm night’s sleep, we awoke to our second day of Omsk.

After Yet More Food, we hit the town for another walk, through another part of town. This was also the time when the girls found out that they had been properly eaten alive by the midges of Omsk, their legs peppered with bites. Ouch! Such are the joys of a city sitting next to a nice river…

During our exploration of Omsk I managed to get everyone to enter a bookstore, where I then completed one of my quests: buying a chess book in Russian! It’s called “1000 приключений на шахматной доске“. I haven’t read it yet. But I will!

Apart from that, the walk through town was pleasant. We cheered on one 50-year old man who was running in the local marathon. We I stared at an ad for… I suppose clothing, but this model has taken “-70%” a bit literal ;-).

"70% of all clothes off"?

OK I’ll get the church out of the way rightaway… our hosts lit a candle here for our safe journey onwards (which worked, suggesting god exists). Interestingly for especially the Dutch readers, this was (obviously) done at the icon of a familiar face: Saint Nicholas – patron saint not only of speculaas, amandelstaven and pepernoten, but also of travellers. Bless him.

Church, another one

Whether there are more trolley buses or Lenin statues in Russia is a close contest. Which of the two Diana prefers is not.

Lenin statue, another one, with Portuguese neo-communist.

Our hosts enjoying themselves:

Hosts, arm of host

The only half-decent shot I got of the Pushkin Library, from a minibus through the dirty back window:

Pushkin Library

Of course, one finds these typical apartment blocks everywhere in Russia – so also here:

The Soviets were here

Finally, despite the obvious technical flaws I still like this photo, call it ‘putting the Oms in Omsk’ or something :).

Om, Oms, Omsk

We were then sent on our way, a simple process that involved a Russian sit-down ritual (ignoring the stressed westerners that were wanting to get to the train), a couple of neighbours with cars and a nerves-of-steel attitude towards making it on time to a station, food given to us to take along, and a prolonged and curious goodbye at the station (of course we made it in time, these candles aren’t burnt for St Nicholas for nothing).

And so, we were on our way, again, this time for an even longer train leg; Omsk to Irkutsk in an afternoon-night-all day-night leg for a total of approximately 44 hours and 2046 km.


A Taste of Russia – Omsk (1)

Omsk… finally!

With apologies for the delay in posting… think of it as an equivalent to our really long train ride ;)!

In case anyone was wondering if I would give some impressions about what life on board the train was like – yes, I will, but I will put all of these in one post, for easier comparison. And I don’t want to give away too much now, so I will wait with that post until after Mongolia.

Right now, we are arriving in Omsk, and to briefly give at least some impression of what it was like on the train: we drank three bottles of cheap Russian champagne the night before we arrived, and I was very hung over. OK that’s enough impression, on to… Omsk!

Where we would be staying with, well… friends of family of friends, or family of friends of family… something like that. Anyway, we were not going to stay in a hostel, instead we would be staying with natives. To appease them and their heathen gods, we (I, really) had been carrying two large tins of Walker’s Real Scottish Shortbread, in the shape of a London double-decker, since we bought them at Stansted airport. Don’t laugh.

Just to get it out of the way, the weather was bloody hot for the entire two days we were there. And as a result, we did not get all that much sleep at night (Diana and Ted were not helped by a self-deflating air mattress, as a result of which they ended up on the floor by morning, and I similarly wasn’t helped by a, how shall I put it, basically V-shaped sofa, as a result of which I, in turn, kept rolling into the valley, no matter what position I tried to sleep in. But I’m not complaining, just stating facts.

OK, enough of introduction

Anyway, on to the major two things about this part of the trip: (1) the city of Omsk, which I thought was pretty OK, and (2) the incredible hospitality of the people that hosted us :)!

I don’t have photos of the hospitality; it is best summed up by the amount of food that we got stuffed with during our stay there. I might forget some things but we had: home-made pancakes with clotted cream and home-made jam (this jar of jam would later travel with us all the way into China); home-made pelmeni with pork and (IIRC) fish fillings; home-made kvass; a 12-kilo watermelon (regional specialty, you see them being sold everywhere); and a three-course dinner at the aforementioned Dutch (errrr) restaurant where we had… just about everything on the menu, including fish, borscht, more pelmeni, vareniki, chocolate cake…

Aside from that, we were also taken around Omsk on foot (-always good, walking through a city; you get the best possible feel for it. Walking is like taking the train, well, a bit.), on three separate occasions – this helped to burn some of the calories we ingested. During the first of these, I was dying from my hangover doing my daily beauty sleep, so I missed that :( (in short, Ted went in search for his roots, sort of).

Then, in the evening, we did a second walk, this time with me present. As I said, I quite like Omsk; here are some impressions.

And before I know it, that’s a big post. I’ll put the second part of Omsk in my next post, that also will allow more space for photos.

All aboard… for the longest train leg yet

Leaving Nizhny Novgorod we were extra excited – not only were we going to Amazing Omsk… well we were not THAT excited about Omsk, no offence – but we were also starting our first (of two) night-day-night train rides. The city distance tool tells me that these cities are 1837 km apart. Quite a trip!

For the first time, we would not be woken up really early to be thrown off the train, and for the first time, we would see the sun set whilst on a train.

Most importantly, we would witness the best thing about train journeys: watching the landscape roll by, and watching it change, slowly, with each passing kilometer. And this journey, there would be more passing kilometers than any of us had ever seen pass :)!

Without further comment I think the best thing is to just show the impressions that I managed to capture (difficult enough…) in a little slideshow.

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Dutch, Dutch, Dutch…

I realise that I have a lot of ideas for ‘thematic’ posts about our TranSib trip. So many that I can’t wait with writing and publishing them only after I’ve done all the posts about the trip itself, chronologically. So I will have to ‘uncover’ photos of places I haven’t written about yet. Oh well, c’est la vie.

One thing that struck me during our trip is that I kept bumping into random Dutch stuff.

In Russia (1)

The Netherlands are not exactly reknowned for their fine cuisine. In Europe, you will therefore only find a Dutch restaurant…well, hardly even in The Netherlands itself, and also not in a 2000-mile radius around Holland.

However, just outside that 2000-mile sanitary zone lies Omsk, and people there have no clue about how Dutch ‘cuisine’ is viewed in Europe. So, they open a Dutch restaurant not just without batting an eye – they actually go overboard to advertise it and make it look as Dutch as they can.

Which, with not a single Dutch dish on the menu (…wait a minute, maybe they DO know how terrible Dutch food is!) and with waitresses dressed like Germans, is… not that much really. But they do have Delft blue tiles on the walls with windmills on them.

Delft blue tiles on the walls...

And a painting of Amsterdam...

But not a single Dutch dish despite all the windmills!

No shame in shouting about it either

In Russia (2)

Not in Moscow or St P, not in a busy youth hostel, not in the touristic TranSib train, but in our chalet at Lake Bajkal in Listvyanka, we found two Dutch magazines, one I knew: Men’s Health, the summer special of some years back. Apparently the main articles were about getting your body into shape for the beach – and about how, if that paid off, you could make the best of your ‘summer overflowing with sex’.

The other magazine was called Jan, if I remember correctly, and seemed to be aimed at women. It also contained articles about sex, and dated from around the same time as the Men’s Health. It seemed to me that they were left at the same time by both sides of a frisky couple, who must have gotten inspired by the content. That night, I was glad I was not sleeping in the double bed.

Lekker lekker :p

In Russia (3)

Even more obscure was the finding in Ulan Ude, where, betwixt only Russian books in a cupboard, there was one foreign title – Amsterdam, by one ‘Paul C. Pet’. However, I could not be arsed to do more than taking a photo two photos, as it was quite buried.

Ugly flash photo of Russian books in cupboard

But look at that blue book...

In Mongolia

This wasn’t so weird, because Ulaan Bataar is fairly cosmopolitan. Still, finding a Dutch cafe that serves apple cake and La Trappe beer (and full English breakfast – also the Mongolians do not trust Dutch food that much it seems), and having photos of Amsterdam on the wall, does make you wonder. After that, it being 8 AM and yourself being starving, you stop thinking. You order the espresso, the full English, and the apple cake, and you enjoy.

Don't judge a menu by its cover

Dutch library in UB :)

The inescapable photos of A'dam

No Belgian, yet Dutch beer (it was La Trappe, no less)

In China

While in Beijing, we stopped one morning to have late breakfast, kinda brunch really. The large rice dumpling I had was to die for. Then I spotted a rather unexpected bottle on the drinks shelves – advocaat, a very Dutch… drink, I suppose you should call it, made with brandy and eggs. Normally you’d either pour it over ice cream, or spoon it, straight, from a small glass. I asked if I could get a glass of it, but it wasn’t on the menu. So why was it there?

The lady behind the counter showed me: one of their specialty coffees required, amongst other things, advocaat. So they kept an entire bottle of it, for no other reason than that someone might, once, ask for that specialty coffee. I did not. I also decided it would not be worth trying to explain her I wanted a small glass, and a spoon, and haggle for a price.

I just took a photo of the bottle, without thinking about how long that bottle must have been, or still would be, there.

Untouched, also by me

(I have no idea how to end this blog entry, as it was not meant to have a story. So I’ll end on the advice of Herman Finkers, Dutch comedian, about writing poems: “The last line is the easiest. You just stop writing, and it’s there.”)