Monday, February 26, 2007

A Trip to Novosibirsk

Yesterday Anthony and I decided to go to mass at the cathedral in Novosibirsk. We actually live in Akademgorodok (roughly translates to “small academic community”), which is about 30 kilometers outside of the big city Novosibirsk—a metropolitan area of about 2 million. I actually hadn’t been to Novosibirsk yet, except for arriving at the airport in the wee hours of the morning, and we were both excited to see the city and the architecture of the cathedral. To make the 9am mass we had to leave our apartment at 8am on a particularly crisp Siberian morning. While eating breakfast, my culturally sensitive husband half jokingly pointed out that I might want to wear a skirt, as the Lonely Planet Guide book recommended it at the Novosibirsk Cathedral. Skirt? It was -22.6° C at that moment (a mere -8.7° F, sans windchill). Not wanting to be a rude foreigner, I donned my thickest long underwear, the one skirt I brought, and my boots—though they were not Uggs…I might have looked fashionable if you squinted your eyes and ran by very quickly.

Quick movements seemed to be the MO for the day. As we walked the 10 minutes to the bus stop, even stoic Siberians were steeling themselves against the abrasive wind that quickly found its way through my long underwear. Pedestrians walked with great speed and swing of appendages to keep them filled with as blood as long as possible. Everyone’s eyes quickly filled with the tears from the wind, as if a cold front were meeting a warm in the mountains of the cornea.

After a numbing 12 minute wait, bus route number 8 swung through our stop and we jumped on. The bus system here seems to be quite good. At least ten buses came to the stop before number 8, but only this route takes you all the way into Novosibirsk, through all the other outlying towns on the way there. On the bus, I sat down in a comfy chair only to realize at the next stop that I should give up my seat for some older women who had joined the trip. Anthony did the same, but I noticed that young local men did not think twice about leaving their warm reclines. I suppose that perhaps Anthony and I had actually insulted these tough older folks, implied that they needed to sit and could not stand. They were clearly experienced at bus travel and seemed to walk around with great ease as we jolted down the frost-heaved highway.

If it weren’t for a thankful smile from one older lady, I would’ve been very sorry for giving up my seat because our new location had us standing directly in front of the door, getting blasted with cold air at each of the many stops we made before Novosibirsk. When we finally arrived in Novosibirsk, we were cold but still functioning and decided to walk to the cathedral rather than taking an in-town bus. Walking would obviously warm us up, and figuring out which bus to take would’ve meant a painfully cold moment of looking through the map and guidebook.

It’s a rare case when vigorous exercise can’t warm you up. Walking up the hill from the main bus station was one of the coldest experiences of my life. The vast street we were following was a giant wind tunnel, though the explosions of wind seemed to come from every direction. After a dreadfully long 20 minutes of walking, we felt we were honing in on the cathedral and turned off onto a side street. This street was amazingly warmer because of its relative shelter from the wind. My calves were still anesthetized with cold though, which I don’t think I’ve ever felt before, and poor Anthony was wearing sneakers (the only shoes he brought to Siberia), so his toes were quite painful. For the record, I told him to bring boots many times.

We finally spotted the cathedral and arrived there at a timely 9:42am. 9am mass was coming to a close, and during the “kiss of peace” I noticed that I was in fact the only one there in a skirt, or a least a skirt that was not hidden by layers of coats. We stayed a little while after mass was over to pray/prepare ourselves for the elements, and on the way out I realized that chairs along the sides of the church were placed right above the heating vents. I decided we should sit and pray a little more.

Finally, still quite cold, we got up for the return journey. Sight seeing was out of the question. We hopped on a trolley, thank goodness, to get most of the way back to the central bus station. Once there we had to wait a grueling 20+ minutes in the cold. We were not alone in misery, there was a lot of pacing and purchasing of warm “chai” by the locals to stay warm. One woman with the tell-tale Russian plastic zip up shopping bag was constantly tapping her boots together. I was a bit comforted that many weather-worn Siberians clearly regarded this as uncomfortably cold, not just we green Americans. We were all allies against the artic. Amazingly though, some travelers looked quite at ease even with fewer clothes on than most.

Bus route 8 again came infrequently, so we had to wait while numerous other buses tortuously came and left. Finally it arrived and people pushed and shoved their way onto the bus. This rush of activity and body contact was like the secret way to warm each other up. We got shoved towards the front of the bus, and seeing as there were several open seats there we gladly settled in for the farthest destination of route 8.

Apparently being seated and not next to a door makes little difference—I did not warm up one iota for the entire ride (during which the driver was driving excruciatingly slowly). When we arrived at our stop, I started a stiff awkward walk then run back to the apartment. We made it, and after some warm food while sitting on top of the heater, my body temperature felt somewhat normal. I then went skiing and actually was quite warm the whole workout. Apparently sitting, standing, and even walking in the cold are just not sufficient for generating warmth.

Most days have not been that cold. We’ve enjoyed temps between 0 and 20° F for the most part, so it really has not been unbearable. Today was a balmy -10 C, about 14° F. I hope you all had a wonderful and warm weekend.

5 Comments:

Blogger Christine said...

You have fascinating stories and you have been in Russia for only about 10 days!
I can not wait to read more!

Just a question. Do you actually have a well heated apartment? because when Greg was in Russia (closer to the Black Sea), he did not have a lot.

Take care and stay warm (at least as much as possible).

28 February, 2007 00:43  
Blogger Carolyn said...

Yes! The apartment suffers from being over-heated. This is preferable though because we only have to open the window for 3-4 minutes for it to cool down. It seems like many buildings here are the same way--it's freezing outside, so they make it boiling inside. I'm very grateful the apartment is warm, I get cold easily when I'm not skiing. Thanks for asking!

28 February, 2007 08:18  
Anonymous Sara S said...

Yes! Skiing proves the superior form of movement yet again! We miss you back here in balmy Hanover!!

03 March, 2007 07:35  
Anonymous Sara S said...

Yes! Skiing proves superior yet again! We miss you in balmy Hanover (but there IS snow...crazy, I know).

03 March, 2007 10:41  
Blogger Peggy W said...

Bob figured out that the heating system has two positions: on and off. He thinks that is why there are so many windows within windows in Apt 22 at Pirogova, 22: when it's hot, you can open as many windows as is necessary to take the heat to your comfort level. Oy!!
I am so impressed that you ventured out into that cold, cold stuff. I understand that the weather has warmed up a bit.
Keep posting...we love to hear about your adventure!

06 April, 2007 11:03  

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