Tobolsk is a town which lies slightly off the major Siberian line. The train to Tobolsk was our maddest yet, the carriage was full of workers making their way home from the Caucas, they had already been on the train for several days so a lot of them were already drunk as lords. In the few hours we had before we went to sleep, we witnessed a few arguments, one fight, and several topless Siberian men being put to bed by their compadres. They were all best mates again in the morning though.
My opinion of Russian trains seems to be changing with every leg of this journey, but what I’m certain of is that every one is different and most folk just use it as an excuse to get steaming drunk whilst making new friends. They especially like it when a foreigner such as myself ends up in their carriage.
I really wasn’t in the mood for drinking this time, but ended up having a large shot of vodka and a glass of bootlegged whisky, just to be polite….just to be polite! The smoking area on this train freaked me out a little bit, half a dozen men were simultaneously quizzing me in Russian, I felt like Nick Griffin on that episode of question time, in the sense that a room full of non British people were asking me questions that I could not answer.
The main reason for visiting Tobolsk was to see what life is like in a small Russian town. Tobolsk is famed as the site where Yermak Timofeevich and his Cossack forces defeated the Tatar army in 1582. We spent an hour walking around the handsome kremlin, perched on the top of the hill where Yermak won his battle.
Took a visit to a fine arts museum, but we didn’t actually go in till the next day. The woman at the desk spoke no English, but punched in a number on the telephone and handed it to me, the person on the other end simply said ‘the museum is closed’.
We walked down the wooden steps from the Kremlin to the old town. There wasn’t anything to write home about here, most of the buildings were in a run down condition, creating a sad and haunting atmosphere, had I took a wrong turn and ended up in silent hill?
The highlight of our time in Tobolsk, was probably the moment we stooped to an all time low of communicating with non-English speakers. No Renglish, no sign language….drawing pictures. We didn’t know which bus to get back to where we were staying, nor did we know the name of the area. What we did know was that it was next to an old ferris wheel. Not knowing the Russian translation of ‘ferris’ or ‘wheel’ or anything of the sort, it was time to get the sketch pad out…..
Another overnight train journey later, came Omsk. We weren’t originally going visit Omsk, we wanted to go to Tomsk but there were no direct trains. So we ditched the T and opted for Omsk instead.
The first day in Omsk was simply just a place for me to rest and get over ‘trans Siberian man flu’, something all travellers contract from sharing a smokey train with a load of coughing Russians.
Omsk was our first exposure to the bitter Siberian cold. At around -1C, it’s hard to believe that it’s going to get colder from here on in. There really isn’t a lot to do at all in Omsk, but it was nice to break the train journey up and I must say the place had its charms. Sometimes the thing about travelling, is not always about the sight seeing, but just BEING somewhere. So freezing the cossacks off a brass monkey, at least it felt like real Siberia. We spent the afternoon walking around the centre of town…