After our previous attempt to travel outside of Tomsk (when we attempted to enter the closed nuclear town of Seversk http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seversk only to be met by labour camp fencing, guard houses, barbed wire and a metal hut with passport control style document checks guarded by “comrades”) didn’t exactly go to plan we decided to persevere and give it another go. This time our adventures took us out into the countryside to a база отдыха (relaxation base): Zapovednoe.tomsk.ru. I honestly think this was one of the best decisions all of us have ever made.
The first thing we clapped eyes on when we stepped off the bus was the massive hammer and sickle monument. From this moment, I knew this was going to be a great couple of days. On our walk from the bus to the reception desk Rachel decided to tell us a little historical fact about this relaxation retreat we were planning on spending 3 days at. Turns out that it was formerly the largest collective farm in the Tomsk area and when we walked through the gates there was no doubt in my mind that this was true. Old warehouses and concrete buildings greeted our eyes and I was absolutely loving how Russian this whole experience was so far. We decided to take a walk around the retreat and the whole thing was just so bizarre. We were staying in a lovely, grey, concrete apartment block yet if you walked 1 minute along the road there were idyllic wooden cabins nestled amongst the trees. There was an outside gym which I have no doubt is extremely well used when it is -30 outside and an energy pyramid. I was sceptical about this whole energy malarkey but Rachel was the only one that went and actually sat in it and for our whole stay she was in tip top spaniel-like shape. Inside the hotel there was a “Winter Garden” which comprised of a stuffed fox, a pond, a stuffed weasel and some potted plants and trees; not exactly the Eden Project.
We opted for the catered option just to enhance our Russian experience and this led us down some interesting culinary paths, such as eating seaweed. I’m not talking about the sugared cabbage “seaweed” that you get at a Chinese restaurant, I am talking about actual green slimey seaweed from the sea. Considering the fact we couldn’t possibly be further from the sea if we tried I have to question the freshness of this produce. We were also treated to a bowl of butter with some bitter rice pudding in it for breakfast and the next day, just for a bit of variety, a bowl of butter with some porridge. Although I can’t lie and say the food was worth the money we paid, I am pleased that we chose the catered option as it added to the whole experience.
The highlight of this trip for me had to be the Banya that we rented out both nights. It was comprised of 1 room with a big table and benches, and another room with 4 showers, a mini swimming pool and a sauna. Absolutely great. The first night we rented it out at 11pm but decided to start drinking at 8 so we had an extremely interesting experience. The second night was slightly more sedate and after the freezing cold temperatures we had walked around in during the day, it was so lovely to relax in the sauna. I also managed to get myself a free massage from one of the managers of the retreat. Of course, the fact that we were in the middle of nowhere in Siberia and he was on the slightly older side of 50 did make me pause and think about my answer before accepting his offer (especially as he offered me a free massage on my way to the sauna). I decided to take Rebecca along with me and the poor girl had to sit there and listen whilst I got my back clicked and the air pummeled out of my lungs. In future, stick to paid massages.
The countryside surrounding the База Отдыха was undoubtedly beautiful. The snow decided to fall just as we arrived, masking everything in a white blanket, which in my opinion can only improve the appearance of a former collective farm and the stream flowing nearby looked as if it was from a postcard.
All in all it was a great little getaway. Where will our next adventure take us?