At The Heart Of Siberia

One Of Russia’s Three Largest Cities, Novosibirsk Promises A Refreshing Summer With Its Tranquil Lakes, Silver Birch Forests, Cultural Venues And 20°C Temperatures Even In August.

Cold immediately comes to mind at the mention of Siberia. And it’s no different for its cultural capital, Novosibirsk. The temperature, which dips to the -30’s in winter, hovers around 22-25 C. in summer, clinching the famous saying here: “Nine months of the year it’s winter, and the other three you wait for summer!” In a sense the cold is of vital importance for the city, because the land here consists mainly of sand and wetlands, which the cold weather hardens, making it suitable for building. Gateway to Siberia, Novosibirsk, which means ‘sleeping land’, is located at the heart of the Asian continent. Neighbor to the Kazakhstan and Chinese borders, this city of upwards of 1.5 million people today was founded at the end of the 19th century as the central station of the Trans-Siberian Express, the world’s longest rail line at 9,288 kilometers. Perched on the verdant banks of the Ob River, known locally as ‘the sea’, the city’s two banks are joined by long iron bridges, some of which are only for freight or passenger trains. The river banks meanwhile are lined with beaches. Its name meaning New Siberia, Novosibirsk is rich in cultural venues despite a brief past of only a hundred years. Completed in 1945, the Opera House is the world’s second largest. This colossal, 11,837-square-meter structure seats exactly 2,267 people. At the same time Novosibirsk is a city of museums. Founded in 1920, the Museum of History and Ethnography offers a chronological overview of Siberia’s 150,000-year past. More than 170,000 objects are on exhibit at this museum near Ploshchad Lenina metro station. And at the State Museum of Art, known for its rich collection of icons, you can see the works of the famous Russian painter, Nikolai Rerikh (Roerich). The Railroad Museum appeals to those interested in reading the city’s history in its nostalgic locomotives and automobiles. The large number of religious buildings in the city stand out as well. Conspicuous for its golden domes, the Church of the Ascension dates to 1914, while the Byzantine-style Alexander Nevsky Cathedral was erected in 1898. Besides the Orthodox and Catholic churches, there is also a mosque since mainly-Muslim Uzbeks, Tajiks and Turks make up around three percent of the city’s population. The Russian currency unit, the ruble, is used here, and we get some 2,000 rubles in exchange for 50 euros. A decent lunch will set you back around 500 rubles, a nice gift item around 1,000. Life in Novosibirsk is neither cheap nor expensive. The effect of the pleasant weather in summer can be observed in the local social life when the city’s parks and squares are abuzz right up to midnight. Local and foreign students make up the bulk of the young people who fill the streets of Novosibirsk, where one out of every six people is a student. The level of education is very high in this university town with exactly 48 different higher education units attached to various universities. An ordinary looking young person you encounter in the street, for instance, may turn out to be a piano virtuoso. This multicultural atmosphere is also reflected in the city’s food. In just a few minutes’ stroll you will come across many restaurants offering selections from the world’s cuisines. Sampling the local meat-and-potatoes dishes is up to you. Shop windows tend to be small in Novosibirsk due to the long winters. A shop that appears extremely modest on the outside may have an astonishing variety inside. Russia’s biggest zoo is only 10 minutes from the city center by car. The white lion is the prized animal in this zoo, which is also one of the city’s leading recreational areas with its small lakes and viewing terraces. Another important spot near the city is Akademgorodok. This community some 30 kilometers away is a sort of academic village founded in the 1950’s. So is this city safe? The answer is a resounding yes. No one will even turn around and look at you in its streets, where you can walk without fear even at night. In short, Novosibirsk more than deserves its epithet: “Whoever has seen this place has seen the world.” Wooden kitchen cabinets adorned with stenciled decorations give a clue to the city’s concept of decoration. The area around the 1915-built Saint Nicholas Chapel is chock-full of fashionable restaurants. Meanwhile Novosibirsk Zoo is the largest among its counterparts in Russia. Small wooden bridges span the lakes in the park. The broad banks of the Ob River are also used for sports. And the squares and amusement parks where giant statues rise are so many hangouts for young people. A section of the Railroad Museum at Novosibirsk, which is home to many touristic venues, has been set aside for Russian automobiles from the 1930’s. Novosibirsk was founded at the end of the 1800’s to promote the Trans-Siberian Railway, which joins Russia from east to west. Noted for its elegant architecture, Novosibirsk Central Station is one of the main stops on the line. Silver birch woodlands and open-air markets are among the city’s attractions. A large lake, Siberia’s Ob Sea boasts an uninterrupted four-kilometer beach. Giving life to the city, the lake promises an unusual marine culture in the middle of the vast Asian tundra. Academy Youth Theater meanwhile stands out for its modern buildings and pool with a water jet. Fillet of beef Russian style is served with potato sticks and a medley of vegetables. Dried lake fish are also very popular in Novosibirsk. Selections from international cuisine are available as well. A university town, Novosibirsk is rich in entertainment venues. Places with live shows are large enough to accommodate several hundred people. The city’s most popular hotels are located around the historic squares on the Ob River embankment. A double room in a three-star hotel will cost on average 100 euros. It is also possible to find a large number of economical hostels in the city. Turkish Airlines has Istanbul-Novosibirsk-Istanbul flights three days a week. Flight times from Istanbul are Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays at 8:05 p.m., returns on Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays at 6:55 a.m. The Novosibirsk metro runs along two main thoroughfares. The longer red line links the two sides of the city across the Ob River. A single ticket is cheap at less than half a euro. One of the city’s most popular green areas, Eternal Flame Park attracts tourists with its phaeton tours. A favorite with honeymoon couples, the Grand Tour costs around 10 euros. Handmade wooden cylindrical boxes are one of the most popular souvenir items. Decorated with a variety of house motifs, these boxes are sold in shops and local markets. OPERA IN SIBERIA Its construction begun in 1931 and completed in fourteen years, the Novosibirsk State Academic Opera and Ballet Theater is a giant cultural complex. The world’s second largest opera house, it leaves even Moscow’s famous Bolshoi in the shade. There is a performance almost every evening at this venue, conspicuous for its colonnaded facade reminiscent of a Hellenistic temple. The building’s 35-meter-high dome is covered with hundreds of silvery scales. Musical instruments, local costumes, items made of felt, and wooden handicrafts are sold at the open-air markets near Chelyuskintsev Street. Tsarist-era locomotives, railroad tank cars and equipment used in the manufacture of rail cars are exhibited at the Novosibirsk Railroad Museum. You may encounter Novosibirsk’s much-loved white lion in the city’s circus as well as at the zoo. Impressive for its green tower entrance, the History and Ethnography Museum chronicles the development of Siberian art from the Paleolithic right up to the present. DID YOU KNOW? Symbol of Novosibirsk, the Siberian poppy can be seen in many spots from the city’s squares to its shop windows. The cold forest wetlands that start where the tundra ends in Siberia are called the taiga. Anna Romashenkova / STUDENT “For me, Novosibirsk is one of the best places to be a student. You feel the youthful energy the minute you set foot in the city. You have plenty of time for thinking and studying in winter. And perhaps the world’s most beautiful sunsets await you in summer. Boat cruises on the Ob River with its splendid beaches are very enjoyable. What’s more, to my mind this is also the world’s safest town. I would recommend that everyone see this city at least once in their lifetime.”