06.09.2012 - 07.09.2012 22 °C
Episode 6: Krasnoyarsk to Taiga 6 September 2012
A pleasant surprise; celebrity status; the fabulous foursome; where I discover major highlights
0415 rise....a totally brain dead hour but this was one of the few trains I travelled on within Russia that left really early in the morning.....a bit after 5 am. It only took me about 20 minutes to walk from the hostel to the train station in the dark along empty streets except for the two cars with about four people hanging around it. My suspicion was that they were the stragglers from a nearby karaoke club. Luckily I already knew where the station was having been there the day before to exchange my e-ticket to a boarding pass, mainly to avoid any minor panics.
Wagon 7 seat 15 train no. 273 second class (533 km from Krasnoyarsk 5 hours and 30 minutes) which means four berths in the cabin...two lower ones and two upper ones. There was a woman already in the cabin doing a wonderful snore when I arrived, but no one else was in the cabin. I was given sheets and a blanket by the unsmiling provodnika (train conductor), changed and went to sleep immediately. Renditions of Rasputin again playing through the piped music system but by this time I had figured out how to turn the volume to nil in the cabin.
So why go to Taiga? I really had no choice as there was no direct train from Krasnoyarsk to Tomsk and I really wanted to go to Tomsk again to see the wooden buildings and to visit the city that Chekov found boring. To get there, I had to overnight in Taiga to catch my connection.
There is little information anywhere about Taiga (sometimes spelled Tayga) except maybe in Russian literature. It does not get a gernsey in the Russia Lonely Planet Guide and if you Google it, you get virtually no information on Taiga the town, but lots on taiga as in Siberian taiga forest. Basically the town's claim to fame is that it is a significat railroad junction along the Trans-Siberian Railroad, opened in 1898 and exists only because of this junction. Alexender (Alexi), co-owner of SibTourGuide Hostel, and I searched the internet through three cups of tea the night before I left Krasnoyarsk looking for a hotel in where I could stay. Alexi finally tracked down a 'friend' of a friend of a friend on facebook who runs the local newspaper and an arrangement was made that someone would meet me at the train station. In theory, there may be a person waiting ...or maybe not. And who knows where I would be laying my head down.
I am a rock star. I am a celebrity. Queen Lizzy move over.
I was met at the Taiga train station by Dmetri and Igor. Dmetri is the administrator of the local city museum and Igor, a rather young 21 years old, teaches English in the local school to 10-11 year olds. I'm afraid Igor's range of vocabulary most certainly did not exceed the number of words a Russian 10 year old learning English might have. The two gentlemen brought me to the train station hotel and got me checked in. We were shown by the hotel attendant to Room No. 1 on the second floor of the turquoise, art-deco train station resplent with bathroom, living room and bedroom. Luxury compared to a typical Russian hostel furnished with Ikea pine single beds and sheets, and shared bathroom. I later discovered that Taiga does have one other hotel besides the train station hotel, aptly named the Taiga Hotel.
After much discussion between Dmetri and Igor in Russian, which I think was generally about planning our itinerary, we set out. I was expecting a short tour around the rather small town (population about 20,000) and then, after suitable time and excuses, left to my own devices. However, we were met by Vladimir and Sergei. Vladimir was the editor of the local newspaper (turns out he was the friend of a friend of a friend on facebook) and Sergei acted as the photographer. This was when I discovered that video footage was going to be taken while these gentlemen showed the Australian visitor around the town of Taiga. I think I conducted myself quite well as a guest of the city...smiling, asking questions, pointing and nodding at the appropriate times with Igor acting as translator.
So...the highlights of Taiga that were shown to me by the fabulous foursome:
- the train station which is very art deco and wonderful, particularly the wood trimmings in the restaurant;
- the cultural center where they make intricate pictures and clothing from thin strips of birch, all made painstakingly by hand;
- three Russian orthodox churches, one being the oldest between Taiga and Vladovostov, the second being a church with an impressive cluster of bullet holes in the wall where they executed people during WWII, and the third being the newest one in town with rather nice pastel frescos;
- the Taiga sign;
- the Green Building which was Merchant Magazov's shop;
- the memorials to the people from Taiga who died in WW II (over 1,200 Taiga men died) and in the Chernobyl disaster (about 120 died);
- the town museum consisting of one display of various household items found in a traditional Russian cabin and another display of pictures of Russian actors that probably only the Russians would know;
- the Taiga water towers which really made me aware of the water towers and their history throughout the remainder of Russia;
- the old steam locomotive;
- the ubiquitous Lenin statue in the main square;
- lots of wooden houses.
So there was substantially more to Taiga than initally met the eye and it was all good fun to see. And at each stop we made, video footage was taken of me appreciating......whatever was being pointed out to me to appreciate. My enthusiasm and the ability to keep a smile on my face was waning a wee bit towards the end of the day, but it was so evident that these men were very proud of their town and very happy to show me around. Well, at least to get out of the office and do something different. I said something to this effect when, at the end of the tour, I was asked to make a statement (video taped) about my impression of the town. I tactfully left out the impression that they were also happy to be out of the office. Maybe one day I will be able to get a copy.
The next morning I had a number of hours to kill before my train to Tomsk departed so I did my own wander. Taiga is divided into the old section and the new section by the railway tracks. And, amusingly to me anyway, they provide rubber mats for crossing over the train tracks..... as the trains are electric, I walked across the tracks quickly and gingerly. New Taiga has the austere, grey, functional Soviet style buildings and the Lenin statue while Old Taiga consists of the traditional Siberian wooden houses found in most towns and villages. As with most places visited so far, most are in a state of disrepair, but inhabited. And too many bloody dogs again.
Taiga is another town with no internet cafes or wifi despite the internet being available. A cup of hot tea is achievable as is 3 in 1 coffee packets but it just seemed safer to stick with bottled water or juice. There was a reasonable self serve grocery store (Russian towns are full of shops that are manned by dour and snappy shopkeepers from whom you have to ask for an item over the counter - which makes shopping at times a dire task) so I was able to easily stock up on my instant oats, crackers, pate in a tin and instant soup. Ideal for train.
Next stop: Tomsk