Saturday, November 15, 2008

Novosibirsk November 15

Novosibisrk November 15, 2008 11:00 AM

The previous blog entries should really be labeled “Akademgorodok.” There is a difference between Akademgorodok and Novosibirsk. Novosibirsk is the city north of the academic, scientific and cultural enclave that is Akademgorodok, which is where Novosibirsk State University is, and where I have spent all my time until last evening. But I’m not going to go back and change anything, because this post primarily concerns the trip three of us made to Novosibirsk last evening.

It was unfortunate that the trip was made after dark. The central part of the city, especially on a cold, snowy night, was beautiful. Sometimes cities are even more striking when night falls, and the lights on the buildings illuminate some, but not all, of their intricacies. Although I have no basis of comparison, Novosibirsk at night displayed a warmth and character I did not expect to find, but which was a delight to behold. But the story of last evening really begins with the trip into the city.

There are several ways to get into the city. There are mini buses, that cram as many people as possible into already tight quarters, and which stop at various places along the route. There are many stops in Akademgorodok, with lines of people standing in the cold waiting for the buses. Sometimes, there isn’t enough room on the first bus that arrives after getting in line, so they wait for another, or another, to arrive. Having taken one in Ukraine, I suggested we look at another option. A second choice would be by bus. The estimated travel time by bus would be about 40 minutes, especially at 5 pm. A third option would be by taxi. The cost is significantly more, but the travel time was expected to be perhaps half the time of a bus. As I was the one who suggested taking a taxi, I agreed to pay.

The taxi service can be called, and when the car arrives, they ring you and tell you they are downstairs. We piled in, and one of us recognized the driver from previous trips. With music blasting, and no seat belt buckle in sight (I think they hide them in the crack between the seat back and the seat), we began what we hoped was about a twenty minute journey into the city.

Walking on ice, as previously described, is a bit of an adventure. Driving on ice is not just an adventure. It can best be described, at least last night, as akin to Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride at Disney World. The traffic was miserable. It wasn’t quite as bad as the traffic in Moscow, but we spent a lot of time simply stopped, to the dismay of our driver (the fare is a set amount; he could see his hourly fee and profit margin shrinking). What should have been a 20-25 minute ride turned into forty-five thrilling minutes.

I can affirmatively state that our driver knew how to brake. He also knew how to ignore lanes (although, in his defense, the lane dividers were a little hard to see beneath the ice and the dirty snow), how to tailgate at 60 mph, and how to drive on sidewalks. One of my friends said that his mother would freak if she could see what he was doing. Need to make a left turn? Fine. Just pull into the opposing lane of traffic, beside all of the other drivers also wanting to turn left, and zip ahead of them as the light turns green.

(Side note: one never knows when luck may strike. The more times you try something, the more opportunities for success. And failure always, always lurks. Then there is the fool who tries and tries, only to be disappointed when time after time, the result is the same. Such is my lot. Eternal optimist, I click the internet connect button periodically to see if, perchance, something has changed. They toy with me. They tell me they are trying to connect, and because the “failure to connect” message doesn’t immediately come on, I hold my breath. “Connecting, connecting, connecting.” Such is the case at the moment. And I slump when it fails. But I try again, because the messages are different, which means there is hope. Foolish).

Mercifully, we arrived at our destination, Lenin Square, in one piece, five hundred rubles poorer for the privilege.

Novosibirsk is a bustling city. We are at a famous landmark, and a stunningly beautiful building, the Opera House. In the clear, cold air, its features seem to be sharper, more in focus. Families, young couples, groups of young men and women, business people leaving the office, all cross our paths. The statue of Lenin is huge. It is in line with the front of the Opera House, but quite some distance away. We have a picture at home that Adam took in Moscow. The pose is of me standing near a statue of Lenin. The angle, inadvertent, I’m sure, has me directly underneath Lenin, with his feet seemingly on my shoulders. Adam’s comment, upon seeing the photo, was humorous: “Well, Dad, you know that he towers above us all.”

With that in mind, we now have a photo, which I hope makes it into the blog, confirming that Adam’s statement still holds true.

The main street is lined with stores and restaurants. We popped into a bookstore to browse around. I’m sure I didn’t set off any alarms, that it wasn’t so obvious that I was a foreigner, but three security guards tailed me throughout the entire store.

There is a building on the main street, called the Iron House. There are several restaurants and clubs within, including the one we had in mind for dinner, called “Old Irish.” Every city has one. Even in Asian Russia. There were vegetarian dishes, so we sat at the bar.

The menu was in Russian and English (or Irish), including the beer section. I noticed something I had never seen before: Baltika 0, or non-alcohol Russian beer. Has to be better than O’Doul’s. Ah, actually, it wasn’t. But the cabbage and tomato salad, and the grilled vegetables were fine.

In the midst of the meal, we were pleasantly surprised to hear musicians tuning up onstage directly behind us. Nothing like live music. I remarked that Adam and I had gone to a Tex-Mex place in Moscow, which had a great band playing American and British rock and roll. Adam had been there before, and knew while the vocalists sang in English, they could not speak English. I wondered what they would play in this Irish pub in downtown Novosibirsk, Russia. Well, it was in English, but I didn’t recognize any of the songs.

Since we were right next to the bandstand, we were also next to the dance floor. Soon after the band started playing, two or three young women started dancing. No men, just women. I stuck my head down, for fear of any one of them trying to catch my eye.

The evening in town ended after the band’s first set. We called for a taxi, and the ride home was, thankfully, uneventful. Since it was only 10:30, two of us headed over to our favorite internet café to log on. Some nice herbal tea, some Skype conversations, a hilarious IM session with Lauren, and the night was over.

Even though I got to sleep around 12:45 am, I couldn’t sleep past 7. I decided to get up, have breakfast at the internet café, and catch the home folks before they went to bed. Leslie was still up, so we Skyped, and Adam was online, so we IM’ed. I was able to order, all on my own, an omlette with tomato and onion. They are extremely nice there. If you get to Akademgorodok, go to the café beneath the Japanese restaurant near the S7 travel agency. Should be real easy to find with those directions. There being an eleven hour time difference, it seemed unlikely that there would be any new emails coming in, so it was time to go and write this up future posting on the blog.

Incidentally, I have received several very nice comments posted to the blog, both from people I know, and people I don’t know. Thank you all very much for reading, and for your kind comments.


Anonymous said...

There is a building on the main street, called the Iron House.

Actually, it's called the Stone House, not Iron:)

Michael M said...

i am not sure who is colder, lenin or you.
your blog entries are very interesting and well done. very enjoyable. reminds me very much of my czech year in 93. much to learn from folks, much to see.

Scott Richardson said...

Thank you for setting me straight. You are absolutely right. I will correct it on the blog, and give due credit to you.

Scott Richardson