It rains here in Tomsk so I pause to reflect on my journey so far. I am always determined that travel has some effect on my personal development but sometimes I never know how. I hate the idea that this experience could simply be recreation. Or should I allow myself the pleasure of a good time?

I landed in Tomsk. I was expecting cool Siberian fresh air but the air was thick with smoke. They have forest fires as we do and the smoke has blown across the city. Tomsk is an urban island in a sea of Siberian Taiga Forest. The river on which it sits is as wide as a lake.

I had a mild case of jetlag and slept in the morning. In the afternoon I met with some people and walked in a park. It was warm and smokey. There is here a fun fair and it was pleasant to watch the people enjoy its simple pleasures. We bought glasses of kvass from the tank trailers that are here and there. Kvass is a wonderful drink that pleasantly quenches your thrist. Try it if you ever come across a bottle.

In Tomsk there are many old houses. In this part of Russia they used to build houses from logs to which they added window frames of decorated fretwork. Many are falling down. They slowly rot and are more often than not at an angle. Yet people still live in them. [ Click here for more on the architecture of Tomsk ]

In the afternoon we went for a drive into the countryside. The landscape is vast and you can see across to distant hills. There is a particular kind of light here. I have seen it in paintings and now it is confirmed in reality. The forest is taiga, which is basically tall thin trunked birch trees and pines. I think the trunks are long because they have to sit in deep snow during winter.

The Russans tend to leave a lot of rubbish lying about. Which is a pity but I think that for much of the year it is hidden by the snow and so forgotten until the next spring. The streets however are clean but rough. A bit like it was in outer suburban Melbourne in the sixties. There doesn't seem to be any shops. The only commercial activity I see are these kiosks:

I suggested a short bushwalk but was told of the danger of ticks in the forest. This may sound odd but many people die of disease (Encephalitis) carried by these insects. But we did go to see the river Tom in the dusk.

In the evening, by which time I was reeling with tiredness, we went to an Uzbekistani restaurant. The food was superb. One international cuisine we seem to lack in Melbourne. If I am wrong tell me and I will gladly try it.

I must however write of the grey cloud that covers the silver lining. One of the people I met lives in a town nearby. No one is allowed to visit this town. You need a special pass to be allowed in. Why? Because it is dangerously close to a nuclear power station. Sadly Tomsk is at risk of becoming another Chernobyl.In places the pollution is so bad you are not allowed to stop your car and must keep the windows wound up as you drive through. The Russians developed their nuclear power wth great enthusiasm but little care for safety and now must live with these power stations as they age dangerously.

I seem to have done everything all in my frst day. Tomsk is only about the size of Geelong, or so it seems. And I am here for four days!!!

Downtown Tomsk

My last day in Tomsk.

You can not believe the hosptality I have received here. English speaking tourists are something of a novelty. Although we did meet some Mormons in the park handing out cards for English lessons. I guess they use this as a hook for their rather dubious missionary work for their rather dubious religion.

My kind hosts in Tomsk

Today we went into a rather run down (like most things here) little cafe ran by Uzbekistanis. The food was a good as the fancy restaurant we went to before. The owner was so flattered to have someone from Australia in his cafe he gave me a free bottle of excellent Kvass. I will bring this bottle home and share it with those of you who wish to try it. Normaly it is sold from tanks on the street but this is the bottled version. Apparently home made is best but my own attempts have always failed.

Because most people live in small appartments when the weather is fine they like to walk around outside. So the streets are full of people. You feel quite safe as you do in London for this reason. I like busy cities I have decided. Melbourne is too empty.

Because of this liking of simple (and possibly affordable) pleasures there are dotted around Tomsk a number of statues which are qute whimsical. Outside a maternty home is a baby coming out of a cabbage. On the other side of town you find the other version depicted with a statue of a baby in a couples arms celibrating the family and love. And near by a fat dog based on a cartoon character. But most favourite is a statue to commemorate and mock the visit to Tomsk of Anton Chekov. He had written that Tomsk was full of drunks. So the statue has been made from the point of view of a drunk lying in the gutter. It looks quite comical in that it recreates the distortion of perspective with large feet and small head looking down at you dissapprovingly. Here is a wintery view of the statue I found on the web. I couldn't bring myself to photograph it as it has been photographed too many times by many others.


So I took this.


Yesterday I went to a puppet theatre and met the director. She invited us to see a show today so we sat in the seats wth all the children. Despite it being for children and in Russian it was still entertaining for me. Which is a good sign of any performance.

We then walked through the oldest area of the city which is situated on a hill near the original fort. Tomsk is 400 years old. The buildings in this area look pretty much the same as they do in other areas of the city. This is because the log cabin building style didn't really change much for a few hundred years.

It is odd that if you look all over Tomsk, as indeed I have, you see very little evidence of the soviet era. There is of course a statue of Lenin and all the theatres are huge and must have been well funded back then. Every now and then you see a hammer and sickle, but mostly now this is used as a brand (much like a Play Boy bunny). There is a fondness for receipts and paper work of any kind. Here there are less police than you find in Moscow And none of the suits with menace.

Tomorrow I take the train to Novosibirsk. It will be a five hour version of the Trans Siberian Express experience. Although this train eventually goes on to Moscow. From there I am off to Vlad for four days. As here I hope I find someone who speaks English. It makes life easier. But by the time I return I wll certainly have an ear for Russian. The usual thanks, hellos and what have you are coming to me quite easily after even a short time.

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