Omsk - August 19, 2015
Greetings Everyone... from Omsk. So that makes visits to both Omsk and Tomsk. Both really nice places. Lonely Planet describes Omsk as a good place to stop on your way to somewhere else, but it is quite nice, almost one of the nicest I've seen so far after Vladivostok. so mucgh for Lonely Planet. Omsk looks very Italian with the little Mussolini-type large-spindled, stone balconies on the older buildings. Also has nice wide streets, lots of trees and parks, a sandy beach along the river. There is a picture in the lobby of Omsk during a flood, looking exactly like Venice. Omsk has it all! Even a nice hotel. So after a 10-hour ride yesterday, I stopped at the hotel I was aiming for, but it was a little higher than what my normal upper limit is. But it does include breakfast... and a free mini-bar with free beer... and the real kicker was a complimentary Siberian Tea Party in the lobby between 5 and 6 PM with a selection of herbal teas and Siberian cakes. Well, when will be the next time that I'm invited to Siberian Tea? ,,, in Siberia no less! OK, so not such a bad deal after all. Actually, I pigged out at the tea so much, I was able to skip dinner, for yet another cost savings. And I got to wear my suit to Tea.
Long drive yesterday through rather flat farmland with lots of small lakes and wetlands. I've noticed a very smart farming practice here. It seems that they leave at least 30% of the land as randomly sized and placed natural birch forest, and plow and plant around them. There are no really expansive fields. Makes for lots of animal and insect habitat. I bet they don't have nearly the bee and pollination problem they have in North America where bees have to be trucked all around the continent. And the patches are close enought that lots of wildlife can get from one to the other. All very smart.
Anyway, I was glad to leave Novosibirsk and did so at 6 AM, before the traffic started up. The hotel room itself was nice, but hot and buggy. I had made an online reservation that the desk person seemed to be unaware of and so when I arrived, they quoted me a price almost twice what I had booked at. So I fired up my computer, and showed them the booking. She then swapped keys and gave me an isolated room in the peak of the attic, a 5-floor walkup with the duffel and sidecases. The window wouldn't open completely and didn't have a screen anyway. And hot of course, as all attics are. Anyway, I got chewed up by the black flies and mosquitoes, of which there seemed to be more of there than farther east. So just glad to get out. But the bike ran well yesterday, so my mission in Novosibirsk was accomplished. I did visit the Rerick Museum there, a museum dedicated to a Russian artist who specialized in landscapes of the Altai. I figured that since I wasn't going to the Altai that at least I should see paintings of the place. Yeah, well, quite stylized and blocky color... not really my style. Also lots of symbolism of some protectorate or such. No thanks.
So I had an interesting encounter on the road some time back. It was near Baikal. I saw two stopped cars, nose-to-nose along the road and one of the guys was frantically waving me down. Now that in itself is quite unusual. You see people stopped along the road all the time with breakdowns. You see trucks with the entire rear-ends off, dismantled and being repaired by the roadside. You see flats by the craploads. But everyone is taking care of it themselves. So this really was the first time I had seen someone trying to flag down some help. So I stopped.
He came up saying that in English that he didn't speak Russian. Wow! His lucky day. Anyway, he was from Bulgaria with his wife and little daughter and they were on their way back to Bulgaria but his cash-card stopped working. I feel your pain buddy. So he was out of cash. And apparently out of gas as well. He was trying to get to Irkutsk so that he could try to get it all straightened out at a bank there. I offered him some fuel, but he said that his car used diesel. So what he really needed was some money to buy gas from a truck, then enough to get him to Irkutsk. He wanted my email address so that he could pay me back, and even plopped down a big gold ring on tankbag saying that I could have it as a souvenir if I could help. He was really pleading and got down on his knees. So I asked him how much cash he needed and he said 100 Euros. Well, that's crazy, that's like $110 US, so I told him I only had rubles anyway. Rubles were fine. So I gave him his ring back and enough cash to get 100 liters which I figured would be plenty for him to get to Irkutsk, and maybe even a little extra. I told him that there was a gas station about 15 km up the road, so he didn't need to get much from a truck. Anyway, if it was a scam, it was a pretty elaborate one, and I just remembered all the help I have received. So it was a pay-it-forward moment.
Anyway, coming out of Novosibirsk yesterday, I get flagged down by someone again. Two cars nose-to-nose. A car in front of me pulls over as well, but I pulled over closer to this guy. Comes up speaking in English... he's from Romania, trying to get back with his wife and small child. He needs "benzine". Ah, well benzine I do have. No he doesn't want the benzine, needs money. Out pops a ring that I swear to god was the exact same ring that the Bulgarian guy showed me. These must all be part of the scam. You buy the ring and the scenario in a mail-order kit maybe. He's down on his knees pleading. I fired up and head off. Not a kilometer down the road on the other side, are two cars nose-to-nose and some guy out waving down traffic going the other way. I should write a book. Gulllible's Travels. I think the two-car thing is in case the police stop, they can say that they are working on the car or something. Anyway, lesson learned. And it didn't break the budget.
So I'm not going far today. Just to Ishim, about 4 hours away. The weather is crapping out this week, rain for a week to the west of here. Not looking forward to that. So I figure I should just have short days, not the marathons like yesterday.
OK... off to that good buffet breakfast...