July 31, 2008: Novosibirsk

We spent most of the next day on the train, pulling into Novosibirsk about 5:30 p.m. During the day we watched the Romanov movie and heard a lecture about the upcoming eclipse from David Levy, an astronomer traveling with the other group on our train. There were about 50 of them--we had 35 Stanford travelers--and they called themselves "eclipse chasers." They were all on the trip just to see the eclipse! The astronomer's advice? "Don't worry about getting photos, just take it all in and enjoy the experience!" Good advice for this photographer to remember... One of the other eclipse chasers told me that seeing it would "change my life.” You'll have to wait another day to see if she was right!

For being the largest city in Siberia and the third largest in Russia, there was not a whole lot to do or see in Novosibirsk. When we arrived we went to a "folk performance," which turned out to be a band with an accordion and several balalaikas. Balalaikas are triangular-shaped guitar-like instruments. The place we were in was a bit dreary--up three stories of uneven stairs (have I mentioned there are no elevators in Russia?) to a stuffy, un-air-conditioned balcony with a drippy ceiling. Thankfully the music was lively and fun, and the accordion player, who doubled as the emcee, had a great sense of humor. It was especially appreciated as we were all having a hard time cracking the sullen exteriors of our Russian train crew. Serious, serious, serious--you just knew there was a smile in there somewhere, but it was hard to find!

Dinner was in an authentic country restaurant called "Gillibilli," which is the phrase that all Russian fairy-tales start with, "Once Upon a Time." A slew of waiters stood and watched while two poor girls tried to serve us--well, sort of tried. Martin had to coach their every step--"ask what they want to drink," "clear the salad plates," "see if they need drink refills..." They had no clue how to provide good service and did so begrudgingly. I guess that Russian customers don't expect it, so no one bothers! The main course of sausage and fried cauliflower didn't go over very well, though I did feel like we were getting a taste of "real" Russia and not just the high-end touristy part. That evening we were all happy to return to the comforts of the Golden Eagle, docked at a siding for the night. Ah, finally a good sleep!

Double-click the arrow for a few photos of Novosibirsk:

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