First weekend in Tomsk!

Time for my first blog from Tomsk! You are now reading Zoya’s blog because Russians can’t seem to grasp that my name is Zoe. So, Zoya it is!

Day 1: I’ve only been here a weekend and already so much has happened. Just travelling here took a whole day. First of all a 4 hour flight to Moscow which was not what I would describe as a smooth flight. Flying over Moscow I looked out the window and could just see a sea of concrete apartment blocks. Thank goodness I didn’t choose Moscow, even from up in the plane it seemed overwhelming. I was travelling with another Durham student, Rachel, and we were both feeding off of each others nerves which wasn’t so great but I found that when she was nervous I had to be the one that was fine and that helped me to calm down. Somehow we managed to be late for our flight to Tomsk eventhough we were checking the board every 5 minutes! So we ended up running to the gate in order to catch our flight. Running in moon boots is sweaty business believe me. But we ended up talking to someone on the transfer bus to the plane who then carried my case which was so sweet if slightly unnecessary. The flight to Tomsk went very slowly. Rachel went out like a light as soon as we sat down in the plane but I had made the mistake of sleeping on the first flight so I was left to freak myself out about arriving in Tomsk.

So, we arrived in Tomsk at 6am (12pm UK time) and went into a white plastic sheeted hut/tent to collect our luggage. This didn’t reassure me that we were in a civilised place. Also, a woman pulled her son’s trousers down (a toddler, just to clarify) so he could have a wee. Inside the tent. Really?! How is that acceptable?! We were met by the dean of the faculty and my Russian papa who drove us into Tomsk. The journey through the countryside was so pretty in a kind of run down way. Tomsk is in the Taiga region of Russia so there is forest everywhere but alongside that there’s shabby wooden houses. Everything is just on such a large scale. The roads are wide, the open spaces are vast, the buildings are huge. When we entered the town and turned off onto a side street we found ourselves surrounded by shabby apartment blocks. Think council flats but run down with paint peeling off them. Please god, this is not where I’m staying. But no, unfortunately this was where Rachel was to get out. I did feel slightly guilty. Turns out she doesn’t have hot water in her house until the 11th September! When we arrived at my apartment I felt like I had arrived in the ghetto. It’s not such a pretty area. But the apartment is luxury compared to what the other English students have to deal with, apart from a shower that I have to climb over a wall to get into. I am not in the mood for exercise when I’ve just woken up in the morning. Anyway, so once I had arrived I sat down for a cup of tea with milk + sugar. BIG MISTAKE. It was red berry and lemon tea. I wouldn’t recommend drinking it with milk and sugar. The rest of the day was quite relaxed, just sleeping and went to a cafe. That evening we went out to a bar for some bizarre traditional Russian party. We didn’t really know what was going on so in the end I phoned for a taxi (the area I’m living in is too dangerous to walk home at night!!). Phoning a taxi wasn’t as straight forward as I had hoped, the woman on the other end hung up on me because I didn’t understand what she was saying!!!! So rude. But the people at the table next to us had heard us speaking English so we got speaking to them and they phoned a taxi for me. Very lucky. After that day of not really understanding anyone I was determined to improve. DETERMINED.

Day 2: What a Russian day! All the English students met up (4 of us) with our teacher, Natasha, who drove us to the forest so we could have a little explore and spot some mushrooms! We then trundled along to Natasha’s Dacha in the forest. A lot of Russians have Dachas which are holiday houses where they spend the weekends and holidays as travelling out of Russia from where we are in Siberia is so expensive. The mum and two daughters in the family I’m staying with are actually in Italy at the moment and it is the first time they have ever been abroad! So we went to the Dacha and it was gorgeous!!! It looks out onto the river and is in a really rich Dacha settlement. Lying outside in a bikini would be a nightmare though as the amount of midgies there was unbelievable. I could barely look up at one point. We then went a got a kebab (Shashlik – slightly different from kebabs we have in the UK. Actually cooked on a charcoal BBQ) at the best kebab place in Tomsk and outside there were caged bears. It was so sad. They claim to rescue orphaned bears from the forest but I don’t think that quite justifies the conditions they end up living in. It was horrible. After that we went and rented bikes and cycled around a park which was a nice little workout. I’ve been so surprised at how pretty Tomsk is! The forest is all around us and it’s right on the river so I can see that from my bedroom window and it’s actually hot here! Who knows how long that will last.

Day 3: A very lazy day today. I basically woke up and had lunch and am now writing my blog. In my defence there has been an extremely loud fly in my room these past 2 days so I have been spending a good half hour trying to get it out of my room at night with no success. Plus the next door neighbour is so noisy! He is a big fan of techno music and talking on skype late at night. He may as well be in my room he’s so loud. And my body isn’t sure what time it is so I’m getting to bed quite late anyway. Today our lunch took about 2 and a half hours! We went and sat out on the balcony to catch some sun or in my case сгореть. The dad produced a 2 litre bottle of beer for us to drink (him, his niece and me) which I thought was just in case we needed a top up. Little did I know that we were meant to drink the entire bottle!!!!!! His niece and I ended up having 4 glasses of beer for lunch with Aleksandr(the dad) having about 10!!! It was ridiculous. Alongside the beer we had a very intellectual conversation about the Eurozone and British politics.

Lectures start tomorrow so I’m a bit nervous as I don’t know what to expect. I found out on Saturday that I have to teach English at the university, I was definitely not aware of this before coming here but I guess it’ll give me a chance to meet more people!

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2 thoughts on “First weekend in Tomsk!

  1. I saw that you were following our blog, so I thought I’d check out yours. Didn’t know I’d end up in Siberia! What an interesting experience! For future reference, check out the film Derzu Uzula, great flic about the relationship between a Victorian Russian surveyor and a Siberian hunter/guide he encounters on one of his mapping expeditions. Gorgeous photography, poignant. Not sure I’d spend my time reading about a Soviet penal colony while in Siberia, but enjoy anyway. Are you eating anything unusual? Ken

    • Thank you for the comment! I’ll make sure to watch that film at some point whilst I’m out here. I’m eating so many things that could definitely be described as unusual. I’m staying with a Russian family so I’m definitely being immersed in the food culture which is an interesting experience. A favourite of my family’s seems to be chicken with a type of buckwheat porridge. I wish I could say it’s nicer than it sounds but sadly it is not. I’m not sure if looking at your blog is a good idea or not as it makes me miss my home food so much! Those grilled figs of yours look amazing but I am yet to find any figs in a Russian supermarket. I’ll definitely keep reading your blog to remind myself that there’s nice food out there waiting for me when I return home! I don’t know about you but I haven’t seen many Russian restaurants in the UK and there is a good reason for this. I’ll keep plodding on though! Maybe I’ll even learn to love buckwheat porridge….

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