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Published: August 21st 2013
The first task of the day is to cross the border back into Russia. We're braced for the usual hours of hanging round when suddenly its all over and we're through. 30mins to leave Kazakhstan, 90mins to get into Russia - its the smoothest & quickest crossing we've had
As soon as we enter Russia the landscape is totally different. The Western Siberian Plain is still flat, like the Kazakh steppe, but there's no grassland, its all crops - giant fields of sunflowers, wheat, potatoes. The European style houses have gone and we're back to gingerbread cottages. The roadside cemeteries have gone and we now have onion domed chapels.
We head north, through the fields, to Barnaul where we cross the River Ob whose banks are full of locals sunning themselves. Its the world's 7th
longest river, from Barnaul it continues north for a couple of thousand km eventually reaching the Arctic Ocean. We leave the river and head east to rejoin the Trans-Siberian Highway.
East of Barnaul the landscape changes again. Now we're riding through the taiga forests that I associate with Siberia. Vast forests stretching away as far as the eye can see. Sometimes its fir
its all change as soon as we cross the border
the steppes have been replaced by vast fields
tress (pine, spruce, larch), sometimes its birch trees with their beautiful white bark. This will be the scenery that accompanies us for the rest of our 7000km ride across Russia. Occasionally vast open areas appear between the tress. Some are cultivated, some are grassy meadows scattered with wild flowers – are they natural or have they been cleared?. Its reminiscent of riding through the taiga forests in Alaska but its 32C here - at least that's cooler than Kazakhstan and when you stop here there is some shade around.
What isn't so scenic is some of the towns. The area is incredibly rich in coal so there's lots of mines and all sorts of industry around – many of the factories were relocated here during WWII. The first sign there is a town ahead is the ball of smog on the horizon. As you get closer you can see the chimneys belching out black smoke. Achinsk is one of the worst with its soap factory & aluminium smelter. Mariinsk, an ex-postal village and gold rush town, has some cute bits with several onion domed chapels and lots of historic gingerbread houses.
After 2 nights of camping in the
forest we reach Krasnoyarsk and get a bed for the night. Its the 3rd
largest city in Siberia and, yes, it does come complete with a smog cloud. Anton Chekov declared it the most beautiful city in Siberia and up close, lurking amongst the post WWII concrete, there are some beautiful Art Nouveau curves and ornate 2 storey gingerbread houses. And, it has to be said, some very non-Soviet statues – well the guide book does say its “forward looking metropolis”. The Regional Museum takes the award for best building – its in a 1912 Art Nouveau Egyptian Temple and recounts the history of the city from its beginnings in 1628 as a Cossack frontier fortress.
The Yenisey River flows through the town and the locals are making the most of it. Its another of 3 Great Siberian Rivers (Ob, Yenisey, Lena) on its way to the Arctic Ocean. Traditionally its the border between Western & Eastern Siberia. Apparently if Eastern Siberia became independent it would be the worlds 7th
largest country!! A sobering thought when you have got to ride across it – and that's where we are headed tomorrow.
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