Q&A: Siberian Sojourn

Seven Questions Only                    

Listvyanka is a fairly typical village
Listvyanka is a fairly typical village

What did you expect to see?

Gulags, frozen peasants and snow! Ok, so I needed an update since watching Dr Zhivago but isn’t that why we travel?

Snow icing everywhere
Snow icing everywhere

What did you find?

Not a gulag or peasant, frozen or otherwise, in sight! It’s a wonderfully modern, diverse, interesting and quite prosperous Russian oblast (state/province) that destroyed every ignorant, preconceived stereotype I may have held.

 

Was there snow?

Old world charm
Old world charm

Yes! Yes! And more yes! But my idea of snow was so limited. I don’t believe I could ever have imagined how much snow there was or indeed, how beautiful it would look to my dusty Australian eyes. Rooftops on gingerbread houses were iced with thick, heavy layers of freshly fallen snow; larch trees on hillsides stood firm and dusted in white powder that glistened like sugar in the late afternoon sunlight; fallen, wooden paling fences sank deep into the snowline all the time outlining quilted downy fields that reflected the myriad pinks splashed down abstractly by the setting sun. Falling asleep to this fairytale scenery we travelled from Asia on the train for four nights before awakening, 5200kms to the west in Europe, to the same snow covered story. It is an immense and beautiful part of our planet!

How did you fill your days?

We wandered around the village where individuality and old world charm oozed together from the wooden fenced backyards, public corner wells and winding streets.

Dog sledding through the forest
Dog sledding through the forest

Crossing a snow encrusted bridge we spied an old Russian Orthadox church at the end of a lane and entered wondering what kind of faith we might find. Dedication to service was worn on the sleeve of the young nun who greeted us at the door; a timeless story of sacrifice and love was revealed in the murals that elaborately adorned every corner of the 170 year old timber structure that had survived a religiously oppressive political time; multiple candles burned for loved ones while icons were sold in a corner of this ritualistic space. We moved on.

Outside we found a dog sled company and paid the tourist price for a local experience. I can’t complain. It was great fun!

Which was the best part?

Without a doubt… walking on the frozen Lake Baikal.

Aussie tourists dancing on Lake Baikal
Aussie tourists dancing on Lake Baikal

This  is the deepest (1637m) lake and holds approx. 20% of the world’s freshwater supplies. Snow covered turquoise ice blocks piled up across the surface hint at what lies beyond.

Bubbles and cracks caught in layers below
Bubbles and cracks caught in layers below

The lake is covered by a 50cm layer of clear ice that magnifies the dark depths below. Because the water below is so clear we could just make out the rocks up to 10 metres below on the bottom of our bay. It was fascinating to see whispy veils of cracks in the ice and various size bubbles trapped below while Aussie tourists kicked ice footballs or danced the cancan and etched abstract markings onto the glassy surface.

How was the food?

Fish at the markets
Fish at the markets

We were welcomed with warm piroshky (fish or meat pasties) and our fingers frozen numb from the unforgiving winds outside slowly thawed as they wrapped around bowls of steaming solyanka (meat soup). Our taste buds reveled in the delights of Russian champagne and local caviar on toast before we dined heartily on smoked fish and potatoes before celebrating late into the night like real Russians with vodka shots, beer and the occasional Georgian red. It is easy to party hard when you feel so satisfied and warmly welcomed.

What did you learn?

I realize that past generations here at various times have suffered harsh realities and oppressions that I will never fully comprehend and also atrocities that I choose not to contemplate… but I also realize this is what has made the contemporary people who they are today. They are not dwelling in the past but are learning from it. The modern Siberian is aware of their many indigenous peoples and rightfully proud of their heritage. They have big hearts and are a modern, vibrant part of Russia today. While my contemporaries here grew up under extremely different circumstances and restrictions to myself, our children are growing in similar worlds now that are connected, blended and full of opportunity. I wonder only about who will squander their opportunity.

Lake Baikal snow covered turquoise ice
Lake Baikal snow covered turquoise ice

What would I like to say to Siberians?

Spa-see-ba = Thank you!

Das ve danya = Goodbye!

Selfie on the dog sled with driver
Selfie on the dog sled with driver

Nas da rovia = Good health!

Bucket Listings

When you wish upon a star..

Have you ever waited years for a wish to come true?
In this world of instant gratification it doesn’t seem to happen that often anymore. And yet when it does,  after such a long time, my appreciation seems to reach an unparalleled value… well, at least for a while!

My travel bucket list is pretty extensive but ever since hearing about the entombed terracotta warriorsTerracotta Warriors in Pit 1 discovery while I was studying art back in my tertiary ed days, I had wanted to see them ‘en masse’, up close and personal. Yes, just like Mr Attenborough studying his obsession, I had my own natural curiosity to explore these unique objects within their natural habitat.. and so my objective was always to one day travel to Xi’an in Shaanxi Province, China and visit the Terracotta Warrior Museum.

On my Travel Bucket List it was listed right between
24. Visiting Uluru at midday, dusk and dawn
and
26. Enjoying Oktoberfest from midday, past dusk until dawn.
I still have to tick off 24 but yesterday I was lucky enough to tick off 25. See the Terracotta Warriors at Xi’an accompanied by my very knowledgeable, young, local guide Maggie. She was wonderful!
Advertisement: if you ever need a great guide on your next visit then let me put you in contact with her.

What did I think? 

It still amazes me sometimes how all my acquired art appreciation skills can desert me and instead my instincts for the mundane shines magnificently through clear as dawn to dusk.

I’m not sure what I was expecting but it surely wasn’t the aircraft carrier size hanger like building that covers each pit full of warriors. Makes sense I guess but for some reason I mundanely thought it would all be outdoors.

This kneeling archer was found whole.
This kneeling archer was found whole. It’s only this photographer that cut off his head.

I’m guessing it was worked out pretty quickly that tourist numbers drop off on wet days. Today however was just cold inside and the dust from the diggings hung noticeably in the air.. but I did notice it was less dense than whatever was hanging in the air outside.

Maggie gave me all the stats on numbers, size, weights, years and then put it in context by explaining it was from the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang from the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC) who had commissioned.. or just encouraged.. artists and local ceramicists to produce with crafted detail these 8000 more than life size individual figures weighing between 100-300 kg each, to be buried alongside him… along with his concubines, wives that hadn’t given children yet and various other lucky courtiers chosen to help him out in his next lifetime. Oh the joys of calling an emperor ‘best mate’!

I wandered around the three huge covered pit areas trying to take it all in; the way the jigsaw pieces 2-Jigsawwere found when dug up; how they had been lovingly restored and proudly displayed; the painted colours; methods; rankings; horses; bronze castings and adornments.

My brain buzzed with an overload of creative and statistical info…                                                             ….and so I did what all good tourists do in front of one of the most significant archaeological excavations of the 20th century, UNESCO listed world cultural heritage site and one of my own personal obsessions…

I took a bad selfie! 

Selfie.. yes, I did!
Selfie.. yes, I did!

Needing a break, we wandered off to enjoy lunch followed by a tourist tea ceremony,

Tourist Tea for Two
Tourist Tea for Two

a visit to the Banpo Neolithic museum showing a matriarchal cleverly run local society more than 6000 years ago. Yep, we’ve been running things well forever ladies!

And finally, I finished my day on a high note of kulcha with a last minute whim booking for dinner at ‘a very special only in Xi’an’ dumpling banquet and spectacular show of costumed singing, twirling, whirling, dancers, musicians and assorted performers on an ever changing cherry blossomed stage.

Cherry Blossoms
Cherry Blossoms
Performers
Performers

It was a full day of memorable touristy experiences… tick, tick, tick and tick.

But my appreciation for the warriors is still what’s keeping me warm today.

I am currently writing this as I enjoy my bucket list #67 Ride a bullet train anytime of day. Yes, I’m heading to Beijing, a super city with a population approximately the same size as Australia!

Ode to Munich

(Sung to The Twelve Days of Christmas)

 
And we'll celebrate and buy another beer!
And we’ll celebrate and buy another beer!
On the first day in Munich,
my new friends said to me,
“We’ll celebrate and buy another beer!” 
 
 
On the second day in Munich,
my new friends said to me,
“Scrap the glockenspiel,
And we’ll celebrate and buy another beer!”
Glockenspiel dncing figures
Glockenspiel dancing figures
On the third day in Munich,
my new friends said to me,
“Three pretzels please,
Scrap the glockenspiel,
And we’ll celebrate and buy another beer!”On the fourth day in Munich,
my new friends said to me,
“Let’s order sausage,
Three pretzels please, Scrap the glockenspiel,
And we’ll celebrate and buy another beer!” 

Five golden mass... well here's three of them
Five golden mass… well here’s three of them
On the fifth day in Munich,
my new friends said to me,
“Five golden mass…
Let’s order sausage, Three pretzels please, Scrap the glockenspiel,
And we’ll celebrate and buy another beer!” 
 
 
On the sixth day in Munich,
my new friends said to me,
“Drink till the last drop Five golden mass…
Let’s order sausage, Three pretzels please, Scrap the glockenspiel,
And we’ll celebrate and buy another beer!” 
 
 
On the seventh day in Munich,
my new friends said to me,
“Sing and dance together,
Drink till the last drop
Five golden mass…
Let’s order sausage,
Three pretzels please,
Scrap the glockenspiel,
And we’ll celebrate and buy another beer!” 
 
Sing and dance together
Sing and dance together
On the eighth day in Munich,
my new friends said to me,
“Jump up on the chairs,
Sing and dance together,
Drink till the last drop
Five golden mass…
Let’s order sausage,
Three pretzels please,
Scrap the glockenspiel,
And we’ll celebrate and buy another beer!” 
Go to the beer hall
Go to the beer hall

On the ninth day in Munich,
my new friends said to me,
“Go to the beer hall, Jump up on the chairs, Sing and dance together, Drink till the last drop Five golden mass…

Let’s order sausage,
Three pretzels please,
Scrap the glockenspiel,
And we’ll celebrate and buy another beer!” 
 

 

You wear a dirndl
You wear a dirndl
On the tenth day in Munich,
my new friends said to me,
“You wear a dirndl,

 

Go to the beer hall, Jump up on the chairs, Sing and dance together, Drink till the last drop, Five golden mass…

Let’s order sausage,
Three pretzels please,
Scrap the glockenspiel,
And we’ll celebrate and buy another beer!” 
We'll get ledenhosen!
We’ll get ledenhosen!

On the eleventh day in Munich,
my new friends said to me,
“We’ll get lederhosen, You wear a dirndl, Go to the beer hall, Jump up on the chairs, Sing and dance together, Drink till the last drop Five golden mass…

Let’s order sausage,
Three pretzels please,
Scrap the glockenspiel,
And we’ll celebrate and buy another beer!” 
Oktoberfest is party time!
Oktoberfest is party time!

On the twelfth day in Munich,
my new friends said to me,
“Oktoberfest is party time!

We’ll get lederhosen,
You wear a dirndl
Go to the beer hall,
Jump up on the chairs,
Sing and dance together,
Drink till the last drop
Five golden mass,
Let’s order sausage,
Three pretzels please,
Scrap the glockenspiel,
And we’ll celebrate and buy another beer!” 
 
 

THANK YOU MUNICH! THANK YOU FAMILY! THANK YOU NEW FRIENDS HERE AND OLD FRIENDS BACK HOME … FOR ENCOURAGING ME AND HELPING ME TO ENJOY THREE OF THE MOST INTERESTING MONTHS OF MY LIFE!   

PROST!