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krisek Biysk - A travel report by Krys
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Biysk,  Russia - flag Russia -  Altayskiy Kray
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krisek's travel reports

Waiting for the Total Ecplise in Biysk

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It sounds a little ludicrous to travel all the way to Altayskiy Kray to see the total eclipse of the sun, but the prospects of seeing my friends, who have been on their epic two year bicycle journey around the world for a year, was a reason good enough.


Biysk travelogue picture
It took me almost exactly 24 hours to reach Biysk in Siberia. I departed London on a 4 hours flight to Moscow, spent 6 hours on the Domodedovo airport, jumped on a 4 hours flight to the capital of Siberia, Novosibirsk, waited almost 2 hours for luggage to be offloaded there, then 0.5 hours on a taxi to the main, but very tiny, bus station, waited 0.5 hours for the bus, then 4 hours on it to Barnaul, and finally 2.5 hours on a shared taxi to Biysk, after having waited for it for about 0.5 hours. What a trip!

The hardest bit was the very boring Domodedovo airport packed with shops selling mobile phones. Yes, it had a reasonable restaurant there (Paprika) serving Indian dishes, but while you pay your bill, your wallet fells like you actually flew all the way to India to have this meal! The second hardest, but this time interesting, was the minibus ride from Novosibirsk to Barnaul. It was packed and uncomfortable. As I was sitting there on my one cheek only, I kept thinking to myself... "so Russia believes it is so great and civilised, and here we are packed like sardines for hours and hours in a smelly van converted into a minibus, only due to the lack proper buses. That is the way to travel in Russia in the 21st century, ha?" I felt like I was travelling in Africa! But it was interesting how normal this form of transport was to the Russians. Their only complaint was the lack of music. They clearly stated to the driver that next time they were not going to travel with him.

And I could have done this trip in a cleverer way. I could have flown from Moscow directly to Barnaul. The flight was departing Moscow about 2 hours earlier, and was taking 4 hours. I would have saved at least 8 hours! Had I not checked in any bags, I would have saved even more time. I had to check in all those sharp spare parts for my friends' bikes, whom I was meeting in Biysk on their round the world biking honeymoon. And I am not complaining! It was a great trip-adventure to tell stories about.

Favourite spots:
Biysk travelogue picture
Biysk was not pretty. And I could stop right here. However, I think I ought to explain. It was a Siberian medium size town with gray concrete mass production prefabricated blocks of flats. Soviet authorities engineered it to be relatively easy to navigate. It had wide alleys, main commuter routes with absolutely no character apart from being a typical Soviet, purpose designed midsize Siberian town.

And yet, in few places there was this small wooden house, as if it was taken from an old cartoon or fairy-tale about Russian Siberia set in the times of Tsars, rustic, simple and authentic. Absolutely marvelous! Normally built from solid tree logs with small windows and decorated frames painted blue. If only there was a larger group of those to form an 'old town', eh. There were two patches of those. One patch was actually referred to as the historical centre, east of the bridge along the norther bank of the river, with interesting examples of imperial architecture and a nice cathedral.

What's really great:
Biysk travelogue picture
Vastness of the surrounding nature in enormous measures made it feel that if Biysk was not at the end of the world, it must have been very close to a place where one could see it.

I could not believe how clean the large Biya River was. The waters were clear and had almost a tropical hue for a colour. A few beaches along its banks were an incredible sight. Who would believe that Siberia baked in 35C, fried on riparian beaches, and bathed in rivers? Biysk was!

The town was relatively close to the UNESCO listed Altai Mountains, and travellers sometimes stopped in Biysk on their way there, instead of the more pleasant Barnaul.

There was another quality that Biysk had. It fitted the stereotype of a forgotten Soviet little town, whose main avenue was named after Lenin and his massive statue was still standing at the most prominent spot of that avenue, and the crumbling old wooden houses stood next to the concrete blocks of flats. Blocks that were nearing their shelf-life.

Sights:
Biysk travelogue picture
There were two clusters of the old houses in town. One group stood between the river and the cathedral. The other one was by the loop of the 153 tramway. Both boasted mainly the crumbling houses. Remarkably, the huts were painted in the rotten-grass green colour or brown, or the combination of the two. There were two types. The more solid looking houses were built from tree logs laid horizontally. The frail looking ones were erected of wooden planks stitched vertically. Both of them had roofs mainly made of tin or corrugated iron. The latter ones, often tilted or leaning, gave an impression of being completely abandoned as it appeared that no-one could have lived there. The planks were half eaten by termites or some wood disease and the paint was falling off. But the Siberians did live in them indeed.

Apart from the old districts, there was nothing else to see and do in Biysk. Honest.

Accommodations:
Hotel Central - Two room tripple accommodation apartment, room no. 701
Hotel Central - Two room tripple accommodation apartment, room no. 701
Biysk had few accommodation options and there was no hostel or a camping. The only obvious place to stay overnight was the Hotel Centralnyi. It was an awfully drab Soviet style block with countless rooms. Barnaul was fully booked for the eclipse and in Biysk I had not made a reservation and they still asked me if I wanted a single room or a triple room (to accommodate my friends) and what standard I wanted! It was clear that Biysk was not a popular place at all.

Certain floors of the hotel had been refurbished. I stayed at the sixth floor (in Russian seventh) in a triple apartment no. 701, which combined a single and twin rooms with a joint (refurbished) bathroom. It smelt strangely but when I opened windows it got better. It was RUB 900 (GBP20) per person, had minimalistic decor and two TV sets, one even with a remote control. The room charge included rather good breakfast, complete with bliny, sausages, eggs, preserves, four types of bread, artificial juices, instant coffee and tea.

Nightlife:
Biysk travelogue picture
There bound to be places to go out in Biysk, given its sizeable young population, I thought to myself, and yet I did not spot anything too obvious for a nightlife. Perhaps the beachfront cafes turned into clubs at night, I do not know. An obvious place, where there might be a club would be the hotel, but there was nothing there either.

Anyway, about half way between the Lenin's statue and the bus terminal, there was this large eatery called Caucasian Kitchen (see also below for restaurants), which played some music from a tape and people danced. Inside, it was dark and cozy but the semi-open-air adjacent section had open grills and hosted most of the parties. These often ran into the hours of darkness. Three days and three nights in town, and that was the only spot where one could boogie into the night. A word of warning - due to the lack of tourists, one had to dance like the locals - holding hands with the partner and with lots of turning and twisting.

Hangouts:
Biysk Beach
Biysk Beach
There were two alleys where people hang out. One leading from the Lenin's statue towards the new glass-and-marble building of the Russia Savings Bank, and the other running parallel to the bridge, ending at the beach. The alleys had benches on them. Very useful to sit down, gossip and drink cold bottled beer.

There were two cafes at the beach, great for cold drinks and people watching and very poor for coffee (instant with powder whitener) and extremely poor for snacks. Although the menus claimed a range of almost edible options, such as pizza and burgers, which were never available. During the day, the Siberians spent most of the time at the beach drinking cold bottled beer to cool down from the near 40C weather. Sitting down and drinking cold bottled beer appeared to be like the core activity in Biysk, actually. When I was heading to Siberia, I never imagined that I would be seeing half naked people strolling down the streets, sweating from the heat.

Restaurants:
Hotel Central Restaurant
Hotel Central Restaurant
The clean restaurant at the Hotel Centralnyi served yummy dishes, mainly Russian cuisine but a few fusion options were available. There were two menus. One very expensive, printed and laminated in a leather bound book, and the other - printed on regular paper and put in plastick sleeves. The latter had prices ten times (!) lower than the former, with delicious grilled fish fillet priced at RUB60 as the posh menu quoted from RUB 450 - RUB 600 for fish dish.

I ordered Ukrainian Borshtch (RUB 170) from the expensive menu and the friendly waitress suggested I should get half portion, as 500ml might be too much for me, and of course half portion would be half price. Beer from tap 500ml was RUB40.

I also tried a few items from the restaurant called Kavkazkaya Kukhnia (Caucasian Kitchen). Their food was tasty and the service was very friendly but the majority of dishes (35 - 150 rubles) on the relatively comprehensive menu were not available. Grilled meats were best and always available.

Other recommendations:
Total Eclipse of the Sun on 1 August 2008, 17:48 local time
Total Eclipse of the Sun on 1 August 2008, 17:48 local time
Transport into Biysk didn't appear easy. There were only 3 trains to Barnaul a day, and about 6 buses to Novosibirsk. However, many shared taxis and privately owned minibuses served many routes as far as Novosibirsk and Tomsk. They left when full and could cost almost twice as much as the buses, e.g. a regular bus to Novosibirsk was 591 rubles, minibus van was 1,000 rubles.

The Altai Mountains were just about three hours drive from Biysk, towards and beyond Gorno Altaysk. My friends told me that they were worth the trip as the mountains were truly magical.

I only made just across the border between Altayskyi Kray and Altay Republic as I was chasing the total eclipse. The plan was to see the moon covering the sun from the banks of the Biya River, but clouds gathered in the afternoon and I had to take a decision to hire a taxi and drive towards the mountains, where there were no clouds. Then, about a minute before totality, some clouds came and I almost did not see the eclipse at all!

Published on Monday September 8th, 2008


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