Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Welcome to Siberia! And it's the city
Well, I'm not one for the city, but here's one that you shouldn't miss. This is probably the first place you will see when you get to what's lovingly been called the wild wild east. This is the train station where you could depart to visit the city of Novosibirsk, Siberia.
Novosibirsk is the third largest city in the Russian Federation. During the Soviet era, it was used as a major academic center. The section of the city named Akademgorodok is still centered around learning institutions and universities. I very rarely talk about large cities. I sometimes talk about unusual things in large cities, but this is one of those rare occasions where I'm saying that you should consider visiting the city as a total tourist destination.
Yes, it gets cold, so if you want to visit, you might wish to come in the summer. Novosibirsk is one of the coldest major metropolitan areas in the world. It is in the western more civilized part of Siberia, barely across the Urals, but it is still in Siberia.
The amazing thing about this place is that it is so modern. I think that's why it appeals to me. It was one of the first bastions of capitalism to pop up after the fall of the Soviet Union. The people of Novosibirsk are used to being on the cutting edge with all of the research facilities in the area, and it was natural for them to be the first ones who really took capitalism out for a test drive. They did it in no small part with help from America.
The SAIC, American Business Center is an organization that works hard to partner with American businesses and use that cooperation to further the standard of living for Novosibirsk. It's almost antiquated at this point in time, but back in the 1990's when the country was going through the enormous change to capitalism, the people of this area reached out and got some advice and help. It was a time in history that made the city what it is today.
And no story about Novosibirsk would be complete without the story of Eric Shogren. He's in all kinds of trouble now for taxes that he hasn't paid since the economic problems all started a few years ago, but in his time, he was a hero. Eric Shogren comes from Minnesota. He moved to Novosibirsk in the 1990's and started a pizza place called New York Pizza. Now this is an institution in the city.
It was a simple idea. Shogren soon found himself the most successful entrepreneur in town. He married a Russian girl that he'd met years earlier in America on an exchange student program and they had five kids. In the years of his great success he not only owned the pizza places, but a bakery, a furniture business and a Victoria's Secret.
Novosibirsk was very western very fast. IKEA, McDonald's and all the other popular chains are commonplace in the city. It's a fascinating combination of old time Russian, secularist Soviet, and modern western. It's the kind of cityscape that you very rarely see, where three distinct cultures that are so vastly different meld together. That's what makes Novosibirsk so interesting.
In this picture you can see the Times Square like images across the street from the Lenin Statuary Park. It's a combination that you won't see anywhere else.
The mixing of cultures is something that you can't help but notice. In some places is looks like Moscow. In some places is looks like New York City.
The towering apartment blocks look like Soviet Moscow.
And there it is. Ancient Russian shrines and churches right in the middle of it.
Novosibirsk has it all.
They have all the stuff you want to see when traveling to Russia, but it's different. It's modern. It has an American quality to it. There are Americans there living and working. It's their chosen home. Those who live in Novosibirsk love it. That's why you should take the time and visit.
Even the bridges over the River Ob are worth viewing. But that's not all for water here. There is a giant reservoir that's called the Ob Sea. It's huge and it's every bit as much of a water draw as a great lake.
It looks like the shore of Lake Michigan.
You can go sailing from the marina. Most places have rentals.
You can even go to the beach. Try that anywhere else in a city in Russia. Try it.
At any rate, you can do all the quintessential Russian stuff in Novosibirsk. You can go to the opera, the circus, the churches and the Lenin Statues. But, you can also get an American Pizza, American lingerie, Swedish furniture, and a Big Mac. You can go to the zoo, or go to the beach. You can go sailing or ice fishing depending on when you visit. You can see all the Russian stuff, Soviet stuff and modern stuff you want. You can go to the big city and see the most amazing combination of things you'll see almost anywhere. So, instead of doing what everyone else does, like going to Moscow and St. Petersburg; take a look east and try out the new look of Russia in Siberia in Novosibirsk.
Then there's that other thing. In the beginning of the story, I mentioned that you would probably be arriving by train. Well, not only do they have a train museum in Novosibirsk, it's a major stop on the Trans Siberian Railway. So, if you have the time, take the train.