Episode 5: Side trip to Yeniseysk 2 September 2012
Lots of wooden houses; flat land and river; dogs; a slow wander; the mysteriously missing museum
I had read that the town of Yeniseysk, a town about 340 km to the north of Krasnoyarsk, had an assemblage of fine Siberian wood houses and a pretty interesting history mainly relating to the sable fur trade. So I decided this was well worth seeing and off I go, the first challenge finding the main bus station in Krasnoyarsk and then the correct bus. Challenges successful, and after showing my passport to the ticket seller and painfully explaining where I was going, I received a document declaring I was coming from the city and going to the countryside, my bus ticket (R519 one way) and proceeded to board bus 519 seat 33.
The bitumen road to Yeniseysk was quite good...relatively smooth, minimal potholes, white line down the center of the road. As an aside, I couldn't help wondering why the roads in Ulaanbaatar and generally in Mongolia cannot be the same standard as in Siberia...same climate, big trucks using the road, but virtually no potholes on the Siberian road. UB and Mongolian roads in general are usually made up of crater potholes, chasmic ruts and are brain jarringly unfinished. Anyway, we made very few toilet pitstops along the way and occasionally picked up and dropped off people in what seemed like the middle of nowhere. I dared to buy a fish piroski from an elderly lady who stored them in cardboard boxes at one of the bus station pitstops....a wee greasy, but surprisingly tasty with no ill after effects. The type of fish was totally unidentifiable except maybe through DNA testing.
The bus trip took six hours with complimentary piped music the entire way, all of which sounded like variations of the Boney M song 'Rasputin'....ba ba bababam hup hup etc. As an aside: I later heard on the radio that the lead singer or writer of Boney M supposedly liked the Australian detective series Boney so much that he took up the name for the band. The band also was suspected of lip-syncing a lot of their songs. Say no more.
But back to Siberia: the majority of the bus route ran parallel to the Yenisey River. It's a shame rivers can't talk....there is a lot of history in those waters, but it is generally a wide, flat slow moving river and very flat landscape on either side with a far flung flat horizon. There was a lot of forest which consisted of lots of birch trees interdispersed with pine trees.
The bus station in Yeniseysk is in the center of town and I'd already identified Lenina Street on our way in so finding the Hotel Yeniseskya was easy. And what a nice hotel it turned out to be....one of the old Siberian wooden buildings complete with a cheery flower garden with bench out back. The front desk was tended by a very nice elderly lady who knew a few basic words in Englsh. The reception come lounge area could have been anyone's living room...resplent with pot plants, ironing board and laundry. I was put in a room on the second floor with four bunks, but I was the only one occupying the room so it was all very luxurous, especially the shiny, flowered a la 50s acrylic bed covers.
The first thing the lovely receptionist pointed out to me was that I could view the two major churches from the room windows, these being the Assumption Church and the Spaso-Preobrazhensky Monastery.
Yeniseysk was founded in 1618 as a military fortress and is one of the earliest settlements in Siberia. The city's coat of arms has a sable on it indicating the importance of the fur trade in the region and it is listed as a Russian monument city by the Russian goverment. Enough history for the time being.
If I lived in Yeneseysk, I would extremely nervous every time I heard the fire engine siren or saw someone toss away a cigarette. The entire town is predominately wooden houses made of pine and larch and one can imagine a hot day, a bad match or cigarette and whoosh. In fact, it has had the misfortune to burn down a few times in the past, but it was resurrected each time, again using wood as the main building material and what a wonderful town it is.
During my first evening in town, I managed to find a cafe-restaurant with very limited menu, made even more limited because although I could read the words, I had no idea what they meant. No borst soup, so I played it safe with a microwave heated fish cutlet that had probably been sitting out on the plate all day, slab of dry bread, and a ham/cheese/tomato/cucumber salad smothered in sour cream..which equated exactly to the scattering of words I could understand. The species of fish in the cutlet was again unidentifiable without DNA testing and only on the verge of being edible....but luckily, no unwanted after effects.
I had stopped in a small shop to buy a yoghourt and smoked salmon and this was the first time I noticed that they still used an abacus to add up and show how much you owe. Somehow fits into a small village with no internet and wi-fi which is probably still in the realms of Star Trek for the locals. Nice.
A wander around the town the next day took me to the two main churches (both very strict Russian Orthodox) where I had to wear not only the headscarf, but had to wrap a skirt around my pants. There were two ladies tending the Assumption Church and one tried to make conversation but it was a very short, stilted conversation because of the language difference. I think at one point the other lady told the first to give it up, but I don't know. I just appreciated the effort.
A slow wander around Yeniseysk could technically take about two hours giving you ample time to perch somewhere and pass the time. The need for a cappacino does not even enter your mind because you are still buzzing from the King Brand 3 in 1 instant coffee you had for breakfast. I ventured out of the town a bit and initially walked along a road parallel to the river. Awful. It was hot and dusty, the river is flat, the shores are flat, the tops of the birch trees are flat and the horizon beyond the trees is flat. I later walked along the river and unfortunately the shores are strewn with garbage, broken bottles, a shoe or three, old campsites and signs that people sit on the shore and fish. The occasional passenger vessel, cargo vessel and barge quietly slips by, most going upstream.
After returning to town, I meandered around the streets of Yeniseysk visting the ubiquitous statue of Lenin, looking at the wooden houses and occasional red brick building, taking pictures and walking in the middle of the street if I heard a dog barking. The dogs in these smaller villages scare the bejinkins out of me..especially the old ones with the missing front teeth that come charging out of nowhere. This is probably because these dogs are guard dogs rather than street dogs that wander around finding food, trying to survive. A bit like in Ulaanbaatar.....the street dogs in the city are not threatening, but you have to be careful of dogs in the ger district and even more careful in the countryside approaching a ger as the dogs are used to protect property and can be very vicious.
Example brick building
The village did attempt to construct a promanade by the river, near the post office. There always seems to be a lot of potential for public space by these rivers, but this is not too well developed in many of the towns and villages. Like other walkways I visted in different cities and towns in Siberia, the walkway in Yeniseysk seems like an afterthought and is all of about 30 m long with a wonderful array of randomly located potholes. This seems to be a popular spot for mother's with their prams and babies....walk north 30 m, pivot, walk south 30 m. But it does give you a nice view of the river, the ferry dock and a feel of the flatness of the surrounds.
I managed to stumble across the local bakery, more by smell and luck rather than knowing where it was. Time to satisfy the sweet tooth. I stood in line and when my turn came I pointed to a roll thing with a white blob on top. Turned out to be a sweet roll with a sweet poppyseed filling with sweeted cream on top. Awful. I left it for the dogs.
I had read that there was a museum in Yeniseysk. It was even marked on the faded town map as being located on Ul Lenina. Good stuff, I thought. Even if I can't read much, the pictures should be interesting. I must have walked up and down that street a dozen times looking for the museum. The Russian word for museum is 'muzei', so recognizing the word was a no brainer. I finally started playing gopher, popping into one building, asking where the museum was, getting a general wave of the hand or very confident finger point either up the street or down the street and popped out again, never being able to find the building. The only common factor between all the directions given was that I was told that the museum was in a krasnyi building. In Czech, this means 'grand'; in Russian this means 'red'. Either way, I figured the museum was housed in one of the rather nice red brick buildings along Ul Lenina. Never found it but I suspect I both frustrated and amused a number of people that day.
After a rather noisy night due to a number of mainly men, who stay in the hotel during the work week, stomping up and down the wooden stairs, slamming the shared bathroom doors and coming in from outside after their smoke, the next morning was back on the bus returning to Krasnoyarsk.
Ubiquitous Lenin statue
Next stop: Taiga