11 July 2011

Siberian Experience

I had the opportunity to spend a week in Siberia.   Specifically, I was in Russia's third largest city, Novosibirsk.

NE:  The American Siberia

The American image of Siberia is this frozen, wolf-packed tundra where people are sent to die.  The mental image may look like the picture above, except what you see above is actually in Nebraska, USA.

My experience of (admittedly, the southern portion of) Siberia indicates that it resembles the American Midwestern landscape quite a bit, except that the winters are somewhat longer (but not necessarily colder).  The country side is vast, the sky is big, there are few natural structures that provide any relief, and there are plenty of bloodsucking critters flying around during the summer night.  In other words, one could be in Kansas -  or Siberia -  if the visual clues where just taken from the nature.

NY Bronx in 1975, Like Some Parts of Novosibirsk

Novosibirsk is like a Rust Belt city.  Once a thriving manufacturing city that armed the Soviet Army with tanks, the city is in middle of an economic restructuring and attempting to reuse its aged manufacturing capability for other means.  The downtown area is revived and rather nice.  Walk away from there, as I did in fairly significant hikes across the city, and you will find yourself in what seems to be in New York's public housing areas of the 1970s and 1980s.  Incidentally, those same housing structures seem to exist in any major Russian city, Moscow included.  The massive apartment blocks where once a wonder to behold as they provided private housing for families that used to live in shared apartments after WW II.

I followed a friend's tip and visited the Novosibirsk zoo.  Generally, I do not like zoos; in this regard, the Novosibirsk zoo did not disappoint.  It was yet another place where magnificently large beasts are kept in relatively tiny cages.  But, some of the animals on display there, specifically the Siberian eagle, were rather impressive.  These massive birds of prey were some three-feet tall and had a wingspan of at least twice as much.

Novosibirsk's Ob River:  A River Runs Through It

Following the same friend's tip, I took a river boat tour of the very large Ob River.  Ob River cuts Novosibirsk in half and, contrary to expectation, flows northward.  After studying Siberia's topography, this drainage pattern becomes obvious.  Blocked by the majestic Altai Mountains to the south, Siberia's abundant snowfall has to drain somewhere; and the path of least resistance is northward to the Kara Sea and eventually into the Arctic Ocean.

What I saw was just a tiny spec on the vast Siberian front and, from a nature perspective, I liked it.  There is more of Siberia to see, including Altai Mountains, Lake Baikal, and Kamchatka.  

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