Published: May 1st 2012April 9th 2012
The common theme of the train journey is snow, we spend a lot of time going through silver birch woodlands opening out every so often into grassland. This is interspersed with frozen lakes and rivers. The most interesting thing about the landscape is that what at first looks like a forest around us isn't its an optical illusion - its actually small clumps of trees dotted all over the place - not a place to get lost as there's no points of reference for great distances.
Our constant search for wildlife is not too successful to date we've seen a hawk and a couple of geese. Shortly after we leave Balyezino station (where we get breakfast from the platform sellers and are greeted by an array of station dogs on the platform all friendly) the first hills are spotted. Grave yards are frequently seen built into the woodland with metal fences around them and are brightly coloured. The landscape and the wooden houses have the feel of a children's fairy tale very Hansel & Gretel/Little Red Riding Hood.
This day has a number of firsts, a sheep spot and heat :) at Omsk station. We spend the day on
the train arriving in Novosibirsk in the evening. Our expectation of getting accommodation fairly easily was misguided. We ended up in a hostel
the rooms were fine but the stairs up to the flat smelt like a number of cats lived there as well as a number of cockroaches. Although the hostel was questionable we were right beside the Opera House (largest in Russia) and main high street.
Our reason for going to Novosibirsk and this is probably the only reason was the Zoo - our lack of wildlife spots had been disheartening. This way we were sure to see something. Some guidance of visiting foreign zoo's - it helps if you can read the signs - knowing what 'no entry' and 'staff entrance only' look like is less likely to lead you into the bear/big cat enclosure. This was reinforced after about 10 minutes into our visit. We were wandering around inside a building slightly unsure if we were on the correct side of the enclosures when there was a mighty noise surrounding us - think of Jurassic Park - we thought it was the end or our trip. All was OK but we took a lot more
care for the rest of the day.
We were unsure about visiting the zoo even though it has the reputation of being one of the better and working on conservation issues. The forest bears (not the polar bears) appeared to get the worst deal. The tiny big eared foxes and polar bears were highlights.
Other interesting facts the feeding pans were accessible and the holes big enough to get a small child through and it was really easy to put a hand through the bars to the cages and touch a tigers head. Tina had been advised before going to the zoo that such behavior was unacceptable.
We didn't see much of the rest of Novosibirsk but it certainly felt like one of the most polluted cities we'd visited so we were happy to get back on the train and head to Irkutsk. We travelled in a coupe four berth sleeper. We were pleased when we only had one other occupant - Lola. Lola we think is a teacher - she was very hospitable and bought us breakfast potatoes in pastry. She was from Uzbekistan and travelling to meet her husband who is Russian and runs his
own business. Lola loves Lady Diana and we were eventually able to explain (Mark did this by mimicking a grave digger) that Lady Di was buried in and came from our county. We exchanged money and she showed us pictures of her nieces wedding and daughters and wanted to see pictures of our parents.
There are more photos below