The Creme de la Kremlin

Trip Start Jul 11, 2005
Trip End Apr 04, 2006

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Flag of Russian Federation  ,
Thursday, February 23, 2006

Russia - a country in which things that just don't happen happen.

- Peter the Great

Tobolsk, Siberia, Russia
Prague time +4hrs
Days to get to Prague - 14

If you've been following along up to now (and shame on you if you haven't) you'll know we disembarked the Trans Siberian in Tyumen. That's about a 2 day train trip shy of Moscow; about 1800km as the crow (or any other super fit bird for that matter) flies. We got off there as it is the nearest rail stop from a place called Tobolsk, a 4 hour bus ride north of Tyumen. We had read the old Kremlin in Tobolsk was worth visiting and we decided to go for it.

Passing through Tyumen
As for Tyumen. Well, it's the administrative capital of the Tyumen Oblast (province) and ....and....umm, that's it really. There's nothing of interest here for the average traveller. That would include me and Henk. The only place of interest to us was the bus station; somewhere we caught a taxi to straight after exiting the train station. The taxi driver took advantage of the fact that we were foreigners and that we didn't agree on a fare prior to getting into the taxi and thus charged us 150 rubles ($7-8) for the privilege of ferrying us across town. My bad there; I know better than that. Anyway, we were quite fortunate to find that there was a bus north to Tobolsk leaving within minutes of us arriving in the stuffy bus station. So with little time to spare the Henkster, armed only with my phrasebook and that killer smile, sharpened his elbows and made his way to the top of the queue. It, of course, was staffed by your prototypical babushka; heavy set with dyed hair, gold teeth and looking well beyond her years. But she was no match for The Henkster...... within minutes we were on the almost-empty bus to Tobolsk and I was settling back into 'The Da Vinci Code' which I had started on the train trip from Irkutsk.

Here is a travel entry from Henk, created on the bus to Tobolsk. Take it away Henk -

8:10pm (local)
After roughly 48 hours aboard the train that took us from Irkutsk to Tyumen, (crossing 3 time zones, and yet never leaving Siberia!), we finally got off at around 5:35pm (local time), said our goodbyes & took photos, (pretty much half the carriage seemed to disembark to say goodbye to us!), made our way out of the train station, jumped in a taxi (R150 fare) to the bus station ("aftovogzal"), missed the last official bus (6:00pm) that we knew of, but were lucky to get what appeared to be a higher-class (R320) (Korean) coach leaving for Khanty-Manslysk (via Tobolsk), at 6:15. "We're in luck, Dave!" So, now with another 3 hours of a 5 hour bus-ride to go, we (Dave's already asleep in his seat) look forward to finding a (hopefully) cheap & well-situated hotel, a shower(!), and a comfortable bed for the night...

Good job Henk.

Where are we? Tobolsk of course
We believed the trip was going to be a 5 hour one but after about 4 hours the bus stopped in the middle of nowhere. Nowhere turned out to be Tobolsk, or the outskirts of Tobolsk. But even here there was a taxi there waiting for the bus... or was he waiting for us considering we were the only ones on the bus by the time it reached Tobolsk?...... Regardless, it was a relief that he didn't overcharge to take us to Hotel Sibir where, after forking over a more than expected 600 rubles (each), we ended a solid 2 days of travel with a much needed shower. It was nice that night to fall asleep on a non-moving bed. Even nicer to fall asleep watching Russia beat the U.S. in Olympic hockey. Sweet dreams.

The next day, and having waited for almost and hour for Lady Henk to finish beautifying herself, we went for breakfast in the hotel dining room. There we had one of those uncomfortable "don't eat it until we know it's free" conversations over our bowl of what looked to be a tapioca/rice pudding fusion. But it was nice and yes, it was included in the room rate. It is a hotel after all and our uncertainty just goes to show how unfamiliar we were to staying in such establishments. After that the hotel arranged a taxi for us to take us to the train station so we could get onward tickets to Yekaterinburg. But that was only after we had stood for about 20 minutes outside the hotel trying to hale a taxi ourselves. We could only assume not too many taxis come to this area of town. The train station was, rather awkwardly, about 20km from the town and having got there we stashed our bags and got tickets without too much hassle (we are pros by now) for the overnight trip to Yekaterinburg. That was to bring us further west, that bit nearer to Moscow and, more importantly, we'll be back on the Trans Siberian rail line meaning we shouldn't have to wait too long to hop on a train the rest of the way to Moscow (assuming there are tickets of course).

Tobolsk & its Kremlin
So with that out of the way we refused to pay the stupid fee the station taxi drivers were asking for the return trip back into town so we took a chance of hopping on the next tram that came by, having no idea where it went. Luckily for us is went right to the walls of the amazing Tobolsk Kremlin and so began a day of sightseeing I'll fondly remember for a long time.

Tobolsk is historically one of the most famous towns in Siberia. A river town full of whitewashed churches and log buildings; it was founded by Yermak's Cossacks in 1585-1586 during the first Russian advance into Siberia. It used to be the historic capital of Siberia, where Siberia's first school, theatre, and newspaper were established. The city's importance declined when the Trans-Siberian Railway bypassed it in the 1890s and now, alas, it's just an ordinary town in the Tyumen Oblast (province). In August 1917 Russia's last Tsar, Nicholas II of Russia, and his family were brought here to live in relative luxury in the former house of the Governor-General before being moved to Yekaterinburg where they were murdered by the communists, thus ending the imperial Russian Romanov dynasty (more on that in the next entry).

Tobolsk is the only town in Siberia and one of the few in Russia which has a standing stone Kremlin, the Russian word for "fortress", "citadel", or "castle", referring to any major fortified central complex found in historical Russian cities. This word is often used to refer to the best known one, the Moscow Kremlin, but numerous Russian cities have them. The one in Tobolsk was built at the turn of the 17th and 18th centuries. Its white walls and towers with an ensemble of churches and palatial buildings spectacularly sited on a high river bank were proclaimed a national historical and architectural treasure in 1870. The principal monuments in the Kremlin are the Cathedral of St. Sophia (1683-1686), a merchant courtyard (1703-1705), an Episcopal palace (1773-1775), and the so-called Swedish Chamber, with six baroque halls (1713-1716). The city also contains some remarkable baroque and neoclassical churches from the 18th and 19th centuries.

A picture paints a thousand words
Okay, this entry has gotten long enough. I try to keep them short and to the point but at times they drag on. Thanks if you're still with me. I'll end by saying what I do in each and every entry; that being to have a look at the accompanying pictures for the lowdown on our adventures in Tobolsk. I put quite a bit of time into the pictures and they portray our experiences way better that any words can. And if you still have an appetite for more then we'll see you in Yekaterinburg.
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