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Published: March 8th 2020
When we flew away from Krasnoyarsk after our last bicycle tour, something felt unfinished. We had made a few friends and become comfortable with the neighborhood. We knew where to go for a nice run, a beautiful hike, the cities best espresso machiatto, and the best bowl of noodles we have ever had in Russia....maybe anywhere. Fate doubled down on our departure anxiety with a two hour delay on the tarmac. We waited in a long queue with the seatbelt light on trying to think about anything besides urinating. Finally, one of us rushed the bathroom and used the "I'm a girl in a chivalrous country" ploy, while the other nearly overflowed an empty bike bottle under an in-flight blanket. One would think that a couple of weeks in a smoggy, Siberian city would leave us feeling anything but forlorn about leaving. But as the plane finally rattled up to speed and the lights disappeared into the distance, we were already thinking about coming back....
We had never thought much of this random city of a million people in the middle of Asia. And for the record, yes, that's correct, Asia; the continent on which 75% of the enormous
Russian land mass squarely resides. While a large portion of the population of Russia lives west of the Urals (the geographic boundary between Europe and Asia), the feel out here in Siberia is anything but European. Russians often affirm this and we have frequently heard the proud proclamation: это не Европа, это Россия!. We get it. We are not Europeans either. The menus that we must choose from to select "Russia" as our location in the title lines of these blog entries, require that we choose "Europe" as our continent in order to select "Russia" on the next menu. We trust that our benefactors at Travelblog have simply overlooked this detail. In fact, in the Departures Lounge of the new Krasnoyarsk airport (where Aeroflot airlines is constructing a new transit center) a map on the wall cleary touts the city as the "center of Asia".
This year, when our time in Baikal drew to an end, we decided to revisit Krasnoyarsk for an extended stay. We booked a room for two weeks that positioned us a hundred meters from the University Nordic trails, and a hundred meters from the bus stop with connections to the center. Our buddy Gleb,
purveyor of fine, handmade noodles met us at the train station with snacks, Japanese sodas, and a minivan. Also on the platform was the lovely Svetlana, our splendid host. Having help with our gear was five star and the hellish incubator of a train car quickly faded into the past as we settled into the nicest accommodation we have ever had, anywhere.
We went skiing in the morning and then came home for a second breakfast and decided to call Svetlana and request a third week in our flat. Having the trails at our doorstep was really top notch. There was not a lot of snow but it did not matter. The conditions were great and we managed to get kick on Rode Super Vert (really cold condition kick wax for real cold condition nerds) for the first time in our lives. We were joined on the trails by an endless cycle of good skiers. Krasnoyarsk hosted the Universiade Games last winter and the effect on the city and its active population is easy to see. Many of the top venues are closed to everyday skiing but there are still plenty of kilometers available for "civilians" like us to
get our fix. Again, many of these networks are hilly, cranky, curvy loops that never stop working you. And again, the descents are full on! To make matters more technical, masses of parents and their children use many of the steepest hills for butt sliding, thus work hardening the surface. Any attempt at speed checking is useless in these conditions. You have no choice but to do as the locals do: Point it out, and hope to make the inevitable turns at the bottom. Way too much fun!
Espressos and cakes were available trailside, and the heated visit centers were beautiful, modern structures that subtly flattered their surroundings. These Krasnoyarskians know how to do it. It helps that the outskirts of the city are flanked on several sides with large swaths of protected forests with established trail networks. We spent a day hiking up into the Stolby forest preserve with the guidance of Olya, Gleb's wife and co-restauranteer. She knows the back routes of the park intimately, which set us up well to be able to sled most of the way back down on our butt discs over many kilometers of packed out trails and roads.
in Krasnoyarsk flew by. We skied nearly every day, either at the University trails or one of the other big, hilly networks. We also took a few day trips across the Yenisei River to ski some lift service at Bobrovy Log, the local downhill area. Things were a bit thin but the surface quality was nice and the runs were long and empty. We got a lot of encouragement from other skiers who thought it was cool to see a little girl happily flying along with her parents and their "broken" (read: Telemark) bindings. The views from Bobrovy Log (literal translation: Beaver Pond) were grand as well. On one side the expanses of the Stolby preserve stretched out into the distance, and to the north lay sprawling Krasnoyarsk with the mighty Yenisei dividing it. We are not overly predisposed to cities, and Krasnoyarsk can feel filthy and polluted at times, but from above it is hard to call it ugly.
And truthfully, it is hard to call it ugly on the street level. The downtown is subject to inversions when the wind dies down, but in our breezy neighborhood in the western hills fresh air blows down the river
canyon and keeps things mostly clear. From a high point on the trails by our flat, one can stop and watch the fog below flowing by like a three dimensional mimic of the river below. The trails that begin in this part of the city go on for virtually infinate distances. Just across the river, Stolby preserve provides a large protected swath of parkland that is easily accessible. Named for the numerous, plutonic granite posts ("stolbs") that dot the summits of the park, it is also the training ground for a growing number of local alpinists. Olya runs and hikes in the park several times a week and has for years. Going out with her is a real treat because we have no clue where we are going in the steep, convoluted forest. At this point in our lives, being guided is an unspeakable luxury.
Aside from the skiing and hiking, we also used our city time to eat a lot of sushi and, of course, Gleb and Olya's noodles. Their little kiosk seats about eight skinny hipsters and sits in a perfect spot just outside a theatre in the oldest apartment block in the city. They work six
Lodge Cafe at Vetlujanka
With Grandfather Lenin looking over
days a week with few breaks, trying to make a come-up as young people in a tight economy. A dozen new, cheap noodle joints have opened up in the last few years in downtown Krasnoyarsk, but these two are serving up something much more high end. It can only be called art and most of their diners (most of whom they know by name) realize that.
And so the time passed more quickly than downhills on nordic skis. We skied, we ate, we saw a live musical, and we listened at the door as the cops tried to lure the drug addict next door out from his noisy techno lair. The city has a way of expressing its urgency. Busses pass, the same people walk by at the same time, the store is always busy, and it is never totally quiet. One is frequently reminded that their time is passing by as well, and our time in Svetlana's perfect little old Soviet flat trickled out and found us once again on our final night at the noodle bar. It has become harder to leave these places where we stay long enough to grow attached. It would be comforting if
Svetlana poses with Vetlujanka's new groomer
The back of the groomer reads:
Drop smoking, take-up skiing
we had doubles of ourselves to leave behind to keep skiing the same loops faster, eating the same noodles slower, and continuing the same dialogues - with everyone from trusted friends to the guy outside the store. But moving on is just how it goes. Thankfully, Sylvia is around to remind us that nothing really matters that much, except of course for what ever is happening right now. When we said goodbye to our friends and walked off into the icy night with our bellies full of hot noodles, we knew that, somehow, we were already on our way back to Krasnoyarsk.
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