We’re staying at the Hotel Forum in Tomsk which is on Lenina ulitsa, the main street in the city. It is really 2 hotels in one building, as the Hotel Sibir is on the first 2 floors and the Hotel Forum is on the 3rd and 4th floors. It is an older building and the exterior is a pastel pink color but looks well cared for. Inside we again have a receptionist who speaks enough English to get us checked in and register our visas. We walk up some beautiful marble steps and the stairwell looks like that of a Southern mansion. On the 4th floor, however where we are staying, some of the wallpaper is literally falling off the wall in several places. Our room is down at the end of the hall, has 2 twins beds but is very small, maybe 10 ft by 10 ft with a small bathroom. Again the wallpaper is falling off in places but the room is clean although pricey at a cost of $130 per night. Outside we can hear Russian classical music playing on a loudspeaker. We find a maid on the 4th floor and ask her if she will do laundry for us. She hands us a price list that is expensive($4 USD for a shirt or pants, $2 for underwear etc)but we’re desperate and hand her about $25 worth of laundry. We take some time to check email and then go sightseeing.
Tomsk is another clean and beautiful Russian city of nearly 500,000 but it has a small town feel to it. We decide to walk down ul Lenina to the University and Lagerny Park. The street is nicely lined with Birch and Poplar trees that are starting to bud. It’s about 60 degrees outside but most people are wearing heavier early spring clothing. Even though we are near the University many people are dressed more formally. Near the University is a small park with several monuments. Two are significant. The first is dedicated to all the local residents who were imprisoned or exiled by Stalin during the 1930’s and 1940’s. The second is dedicated to a group of Polish exiles who were slaughtered during the Stalin regime.
Next to the small park is the Oppression museum, and the former headquarters of the NKVD that we passed on our taxi ride. Unfortunately it is closed for the weekend. We stroll through the rest of the park noting that there are a lot of younger Russian men sitting on the park benches drinking beer. Often their girlfriends are with them, guys on one bench talking to each other, girlfriends on another bench looking bored and ignored. Tomsk is a Russian city with many old wooden building with an architecture called ‘wooden lace’ that is unique to Siberia. We break off from ul Lenina and walk down ul Tatarskaya and soon we see nothing but this type of architecture for several blocks. The buildings are all constructed with timbers much like log cabins that are seen in the western US. What is different is the trim around the windows and the roof are all hand carved and then painted bright colors, often green, blue or orange. It is similar to the houses we have seen in some of the small Siberian villages but these are much larger, usually 2 stories and have several rooms.
After several blocks we walk back up the hill to ul Lenina, pass the local Travelers Coffee and continue down to the Tom River. It’s about 1800 now and the locals are getting off work and are strolling down the broad walkways near the River.
Near Lenina Square, traditional Russian music, similar to an Italian opera, is playing loudly from speakers that are placed for several blocks. In the middle of the Square is the ever-present statue of Lenin with right hand extended. While Stalin is no longer honored in modern Russia, Lenin apparently is. Next to the Lenin statue is a small church known as the Iverskaya Chapel. It is really surprising how many churches there are in the cities we have been to.
Around 2000, we return to the hotel where there is a small restaurant. We have had great meals in these small restaurants, so we decide to try once again. This time we have a menu in both Russian and English. Some of the entrees are Fried Salmon, Stuffed Squid, Cordon Blu, Beef a la French, and Roast Meat Russian Style with Mushrooms. The waitress is young, shy, pretty and speaks a little English. I have the Beef a la French and Jeff has Dumplings and we both have some Tomsk Beer.
We return to our room about 2100 and Jeff starts taking pictures from the window. The street is filled with young people now and the most common sight is young women walking together, and young men walking down the street by themselves or with a buddy, drinking beer.
Around midnight, ul Lenina is still filled with people and our room is a little noisy but we’re dead tired and sleep well.
Saturday May 7 Tomsk
The next morning I wake up a little early, around 0700 and decide to walk down to a common area, and use my computer to back up some photos. The maid sees me and hands over our laundry. Then she hands 200 rubles saying that she found it in my shirt. I pay her for the laundry and give her 200 rubles($7) for a tip which return a big smile with a spaciba. By the way, the clothes looked not only clean but almost new.
Next I boot up the computer but within 3 minutes it quits and will not boot up. Eventually I would discover that the power cord went bad and the battery was dead. (I would later find a replacement power cord in Mongolia). Frustrating, as a computer is a necessity for me when I travel.
A little later, Jeff gets up and we walk downstairs for breakfast, which is included in the price of the room. We have the same waitress from last night and we order scrambled eggs from the menu. While waiting for our order, I step out into hall to use the bathroom. It’s unisex once again with a female in the ante room, so I wait outside. Still not sure how this works.
We’ve got about 4 hours left before we need to leave the hotel for the train station. There are some other historical sights we would like to see in Tomsk, but there is not enough time so we go for a walk in a different part of town. A few weeks ago, while we were planning this trip, Jeff was insistent that we see Tomsk even though it was off the main Trans-Siberian path and really kind of difficult to get to, and also awkward for us to get back to the Trans-Siberian. I had been complaining about this because it was difficult to find a train at the times we needed one, and also I had wanted to spend more time in Beijing than in Siberia. But Tomsk and Siberia grow on you. I really would have liked another day or more here.
We are walking south now on ul Sovetskaya and come upon a supermarket. Time to stock up for the next train ride which will last 28 hours and cover nearly a thousand miles. Didn’t find any good souvenirs this time, but we buy Ramen, fruit, nuts, Siberian chocolate cookies and some bread.
By the time we are done we have to return to the hotel and checkout and catch a cab to the train station. Our driver charges us 130 rubles and is driving a Toyota, but the driver and steering wheel sits on the right side for some reason. Apparently it is a Japanese Toyota made in Japan for Japan where they drive on the left side of the road.
We walk up to waiting area on the second floor and take turns walking around the station which has beautiful marble floors, arched ceilings and entrances, and is pristinely clean. The marquee says that train 211 for Tayga will depart at 1600.