Novosibirsk: Odd Contrasts and a New Destination
It's been a strange week here in Novosibirsk, full of odd contrasts. The city, the third-largest in Russia, manages to feel cosmopolitan, yet weirdly provincial at the same time.
The Internet connection in our apartment is the slowest yet -- but Novosibirsk's "Traveler's Coffee" also boasts the first coffee shop wi-fi access we've seen in Russia. (Filing entries every day for the past month and half, Internet speed can really impact our lives). We schlep downtown on old-style, rickety municipal buses -- and find the streets there packed with shiny new SUVs, far more than we've seen elsewhere in Russia. We eat day-old muffins from a Soviet-style bakery for breakfast, as there's no place nearby to get real groceries -- then we get into town and indulge in "Klub sendviches," French fries and slices of so-called New York pizza from hip Western-style eateries that certainly did not exist during our first trip ten years ago.
The weather is adding to our general feelings of discord. After five weeks of flawless sunny skies and warm-ish temperatures, we've faced gloomy slate-gray cloud cover all week, with occasional snow flurries, reminiscent of those we experienced in 1995. We've broken out the winter coats and bought new knit caps, and I'm guessing we'll be wearing them from here on out.
For years Novosibirsk has been considered the educational hub of Siberian Russia. This began with the founding of Akademgorodok, a scientific research area, in the 1950s. In the Soviet era, Akademgorodok boasted ample government funding, thousands of world-class scientists, and dozens of esoteric research centers like the "Institute of Automation and Electrometry" and the "Institute of Cytology and Genetics."
Today, the various institutes aren't as well funded, and many scientists have left for better opportunities elsewhere. Still, there's a wonderfully quirky feel to the place, like a big scientific commune created by all the the smartest kids in school. There's talk of reviving Akademgorodok and turning it into a kind of "Silicon Taiga." It'll be interesting to see whether any such plans pan out in the coming years.
On September 23rd, we invited you to tell us where to go with our extra week on the road. Lots of great suggestions poured in, along with a few clunkers like "Magnitogorsk! ...One of the largest steel mills -- and one of the most polluted towns -- in the world!"
For the record, the most votes went to Saratov, Velikiy Novgorod and Ufa. No one, unfortunately, wrote in and said they owned a five-star resort spa in western Siberia they'd like to invite us to. We got lots of suggestions to see statues, churches, factories and the like. And after sifting through all of them, we've made our decision.
It's... Murmansk! Why the heck not go up to the Arctic Circle in November? Cold, dark, possibly buried under several feet of snow -- Murmansk sounds like an adventure, if not exactly a traveler's dream.
Now, for our next question: Does anyone have tips regarding who we should see and/or stay with in Murmansk?
Next week: Chelyabinsk.
By Lisa Dickey |
October 14, 2005; 10:15 AM ET
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