A couple weeks ago, I went to Tomsk on a quick work trip just like I was sent to Rostov-on-Don a few weeks prior to that trip. I couldn’t believe it – my first trip to Siberia! 😀
The night before I left, I told one of my aunts about it, and her response was, “Come back, okay?”
LOL! Seriously?! Granted, Tomsk used to be a place for exiles. I didn’t know what to expect in Siberia, but I certainly knew that I wasn’t going to no man’s land. I never imagined Siberia to be nothing but wilderness with bears, tigers, and abandoned gulags; I imagined it to be like where I’m from in northern Ontario, Canada – a great deal of wilderness with towns and cities here and there.
It turned out that I was right. Tomsk is a nice university city with a population of over 550,000. Founded in 1604, it has a lot of interesting history, but I didn’t get to learn all that much since I only had about 3 hours to check the city out. My fabulous host gave me a quick, fun tour, and I felt like I was back in much bigger version of Kapuskasing except that everything is in Russian.
Siberia is a big part of the mystery of Russia that lured me here almost a year ago (already!), and it’s not what most people imagine it to be. Here’s a photo tour of Tomsk and what I learned. Those of you who have been to northern Ontario will probably see why Tomsk reminded me of where I grew up.
We started at this yellow church called the Church of the Resurrection, or Voskresenskaya. We didn’t have time to go inside, but I heard that the walls inside are like St. Basil’s in Moscow and Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood in St. Petersburg.
My host stopped at Voskresenskaya so I could see the massive bell behind it. The bell weighs over 16 tons, but what surprised me was the He is Risen sign that was still up; it was two weeks after Easter. I recognized it because of the XB symbol decoration I learned about for the Easter eggs I decorated – XB is short for Xpucmoc Bоскрес, which means Christ has risen.
Next was the nearby Resurrection Hill, which was named after the church we just saw. This hill is where Tomsk was founded back in 1604, and you’ll get the I’m really in Tomsk feeling.
Of course, the I heart Tomsk sign will do it, but since it’s on a hill, you’ll get decent views of the city. The best view is from the wooden observation tower at the top of the Tomsk History Museum.
If I had time, I would have visited, and if I make it to Tomsk again, I’d really like to go. In addition to the cool tower, I heard that it has placards in English and that it has a good collection of artefacts and clothes.
You can go inside the replica of the wooden fortress next to the museum for free, which was built in 2004 for Tomsk’s 400th anniversary.
The highlight of the whole day was the humour behind Tomsk’s horse on its emblem. I thought nothing of it when I first saw it on Resurrection Hill…it was just a nice-looking white horse. However, take note of its tail. ↓
It turns out that over the centuries, Tomsk’s citizens fought over the horse’s tail to make it as anatomically accurate as possible. Some argued that its tail ought to be low and just hanging down. Others argued that it should be the way it is depicted in the photo of the coat of arms above. Others argued that it would be most accurate for the tail to be even higher, and those who opposed this option said that the only time a horse’s tail is up is if it’s taking a shit. ↓
I don’t know when or why this version was put up on the city hall (near Lenin Square), but I can guess where it came from based on these nearby.
Based on the next one from 1878, I’m guessing that the first one I saw on Resurrection Hill was either designed between 1804 and 1878 or that someone created it after it tail fight had gotten completely out of hand in an attempt to settle it once and for all.
I got a few great laughs out of this, and since then, I’ve kept my eyes peeled for a horse anywhere in Tomsk so I could check out the tail.
Humour aside, a Russian city wouldn’t be a Russian city without spotting Lenin. He’s not far from all these horses. In fact, as my host explained to me, he’s directing traffic. ↓
I couldn’t help but smile and stifle a few snickers when I noticed the pretty little pink and blue chapel with a guardian angel on top just a few steps away from Lenin. It was the same type of reaction I had when I realized what the Gum was, which faces Lenin’s mausoleum in Red Square.
However, in Tomsk, Lenin is facing the old trading buildings and pointing to the Soviet drama theatre as a message to the people to erect more buildings like that. No one appears to have listened throughout the city.
On our way back, we walked around along the Tom River so my host could introduce me to the statue of Chekhov as a caricature.
Sculpted for Tomsk’s 400th anniversary, it’s across from the Slavyansky Bazaar, a restaurant where he ate during his visit to Tomsk in May 1890.
My host told me the monument represents how Chekhov is seen through the eyes of a drunken peasant as a response to Chekhov’s famous diary entry describing Tomsk as boring, full of drunks, muddy, and not even worth a brass nickel.
When you see the statue, you have to do what everyone else does: rub his nose and make a wish. You have to do both things simultaneously, or your wish won’t come true.
The last stop on the tour was to see one more Tomsk landmark, which is a massive war monument. I found it to be very touching since it depicts a mother and her son.
No disrespect to the war veterans, but what captivated me was the sea of birch trees. The war monument is at the end of a beautiful birch tree park called Lagerny Sad (Garden) at the end of Lenin Prospekt. Coming from Canada, I’ve seen plenty of birch trees, but I’ve never seen so many like this. At a fast glance, it looks like snow, don’t you think? ↓
Other than the vegetation, another thing about Tomsk that reminded me about northern Ontario is the weather. When I landed early in the morning, it was about 2 degrees, but when my host was showing me around, it was about 22, although it was really windy.
That’s warmer than you imagine Siberia to be, right? A student who used to live there told me that in August, it can be both hot and sunny and snow on the same day…just like in Canada! 😀
Finally, I found people of Tomsk to be nicer than Moscovites, but that’s just like everywhere else in the world. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of people from major cities who are nice, but I find that people who are originally from outside a major city are usually nicer and friendlier.
So, what do you think of one of Siberia’s oldest cities?
Is this how you imagined a Siberian city?