I live in Manchester (UK) and it has been over two weeks since I’ve seen rain. The half hearted gusts of rain made the day really feel like Autumn. Sunshine and heat as the leaves change colour doesn’t make sense.
One day in Tyumen was ample – there isn’t a great deal to see but there are some excellent coffee shops that I felt were worth exploring.
Why did I stop here? It’s the first city you reach in Siberia, from Moscow and it was the first Russian city in Siberia.
Tyumen’s wealth comes from oil and it’s not picturesque but there are a couple of parks, one with an amusement park which very much emphasised an ‘out of season’s feeling about the city.
The river’s embankment was busy with groups of teenagers using the gym facilities and walking along the water.
The Znamensky Cathedral is very beautiful and there was a service taking place when I arrived.
I entered as I’ve realised that Russian services are far more informal than in other countries. People come and go as they choose.
While I don’t understand the language, I can always appreciate a choir’s singing.
Women are expected to cover their heads in Russian Orthodox churches and if you haven’t got a scarf, these are provided in a box in the corner of the church.
My favourite discovery in Tyumen, however, was a walkway filled with sculptures of cats, playing. (As I am having difficulties uploading these photos, check out my Instagram page).
It’s a tribute to the Siberian cats that were sent to Leningrad in 1944, after the siege ended, to take control of the rat population which was plundering the limited remaining food supplies.
People were starving and there were no cats left in the city because, well, starvation had forced people to eat them. Families had swapped animals so that nobody had to eat their own pet.
When the train carrying the Siberian cats arrived, some of the animals were released onto the streets and others were given to families. The cats were highly sought after and greatly prized.
And as for the rat problem, what rat problem?
The playful sculptures appeared in Tyumen in 2008, celebrating the war efforts of the moggies.
It’s not a town that appears to be used to tourists – the signage is predominantly in Russian. Though not many people I met spoke English, everyone (bar the receptionist at my hostel – a first!) was friendly.
The thing that strikes me is a greater willingness, to get involved and interact, than I see in the UK.
It was the lady who stopped me from sitting on the wet seat in the square in front of Lenin’s statue that made me think this. She didn’t have to warn me, but she did.
7/10 times in the UK, I’d have ended up with a soggy bottom.
And then, off to the station to take up residence on the train (to Vladivostok, I discovered) for the next two days.
So, remembering my training…
1. Check the train number… there was no English this time.
2. Check the arrival and departure time.
3. Don’t mix up the carriage and the seat numbers.
The platform number was revealed, 3 and lo, there was a door with a sign indicating: ‘Exit to Platform 3’. This was idiot proof.
…Except when I got outside there was no number on the platform and, looking up and down the platforms, no numbers on any of them. Hmmm.
Should have used the tunnels.
I decided to follow the crowd. Only one train had been announced for the next five minutes and it was a safe bet that we were all heading for it.
It wasn’t due to depart for 20 minutes so I’d have time to find the right train if I had made a mistake.
Everyone was crossing the tracks.
Ok, when in Tyumen and all that.
I could see the train approaching the platform and there are no photos of trains in this update because I was working out my options if this wasn’t my train.
It came to a stop. I walked to the carriage door and said hello (in Russian) to the provodnitsa who was wiping down the bar that disembarking passengers would use to climb off the steps.
Once all passengers had climbed down, she checked my ticket. She checked my passport.
She invited me to climb on board. Result!
There were three other women embarking at the same time as me. Two were clearly friends and all three greeted me – already feeling like a more sociable journey than the last overnight ride.
The provodnitsa returned to take our tickets.
Then she came back to speak to me.
I had not the faintest idea what was being asked but she wasn’t gesturing for me to leave the train, so that was a good sign.
The two friends got involved. A series of gesture and words, and one international game of “Give Us a Clue” (1970s/80s UK game show, Millenial readers, keep up) later and the issue was clear:
“Did I like chicken and rice and when did I want my dinner? Tonight or tomorrow night?”
(My ticket includes one free meal).
The provodnitsa appeared to be highly entertained which meant I didn’t feel so embarrassed at my inability to understand.
It also acted as a good icebreaker – I made it clear I was grateful for everybody’s help. Nevermind changing lightbulbs, it took three people to ask one person what they wanted for dinner.
(Yes, I am somewhat embarrassed by my language inability though I can get get by in French).
One of the women said she was to leave the train at Omsk the following morning while the other would leave at Vladivostok four days after joining at Tyumen… and that is how I found out where the train was going.
This part of my train journeys across Russia was the type of compartment journey I’ve read about. We shared tea, chocolates (made in Tyumen), dried fruit and nuts.
Conversation was limited beyond: “Where are you from?” But, there was genuine camaraderie. You don’t need to share a language to connect.
Featured Photo: There’s always a statue of Lenin – it’s about time he featured.