Where do you start when talking about the 'Oxford of Siberia'? Arriving in tomsk after being cramped in a minibus with 15 people was a refreshing change, even though it probably would have been a refreshing change no matter where we would have come from. Being a university town, Tomsk had a completely different feeling than the other cities we have been to, with their giant avenues and monolithic buildings. It seems no major russian dwelling is complete with a Lenin square, and Tomsk was no exception, also having its share of soviet architectural monstrosities, but it didnt have the same imposing feeling.
Being a university town where around 1 in 5 inhabitants is a student left the town full of bars, pubs, restaurants, and most enjoyably, cafes. We decided to try an old soviet hotel, for a change and so Hotel Sputnik (next to the football stadium, of course) was our home for the duration. Since the town is not that big, we walked from the train station, and then walked less than five minutes to the main drag, passing a pair of really nice, well kept parks, one including a funpark, that while sort of sad, soviet grey on a rainy friday, was full of children and joy on a sunny sunday.The older buildings that still are around fall mainly into two categories, the first of which seemed a lot like industrial england; red bricks with art-noveau touches, which make sense as they were mainly from the turn of the 20th century or the end of the 19th. However, the second category was phenomenal, solid timber houses and mansions. Given siberia(where there isnt gas or oil) is a rather poor part of russia, most of these had lost their splendor and were in need of some repair, and several had suffered fires at some point in the past. Others, however, were either well kept or been restored to an impressive state, and it started a conversation of any other paralell situations were there was a particular building style of houses that exist in only one or a few particular places around the world, as the finely carved windowframes and latticework on the roof really mark tomsk and the older sibierian settlements apart from anything else on the planet. In addition, tomsk has so far been the culinary highlight of our trip, particularly marked by a traditional siberian restaurant named after a popular old russian tv show. The tastiest of soups were followed by a veal cutlet from supposedly an animal taken from Roman Abramovich's personal herd, as well as the most amazing pelmeni, russian potato dumplings, which were phenomenal in their simplicity. After finishing the meal, the waiter showed us to a back room where Putin eats when he is in Tomsk, including his preferred table and seat. Whatever is good enough for Vladimir is good enough for me.
We get back on the train soon, for two nights, with a stop for lunch in krasnoyarsk, but head for the icy cool waters of lake baikal, and hope to spend a few days getting our legs back after spending most of our time so far between sidewalks and sleeping compartments.