The distance to Novosibirsk is about 800 km and Google Maps indicated a drive of about 11 hours. Over the past week I have come to trust the judgement of that aid because the time and distance were quite accurate. With the increased daylight hours I could leave late from Soft Hotel. It was bright and sunny by the time I had the bags in the car. Natalia, at the reception, said that she would try and read my books! She requested me to give my feedback in the visitors’ book, which I did. The road condition on the P255/M53/AH6 was alright. The highway passed through many villages, where speed restriction of 50 kmph had to be strictly observed. Moreover, since most of the route was a single carriageway the freight trucks and road works slowed down the average speed quite a bit. In fact, many road repair locations had one-way traffic control. About 60 km short of Novosibirsk I was stopped by a Police squad to check papers. The senior person was so polite that he asked me to sit beside him in the car while he examined papers of the car. He was very apologetic about his English skills. He told me that Russia is a large country to drive in and would take many days to drive through. After about 15 minutes he wished me luck and I was back in my car for the final stretch to the destination for the day. M53 stretches from Irkutsk to Novosibirsk for over 1850 km. I have just completed that. With this stretch I have also done about 60 percent of the Trans-Siberian Highway.
I could not believe the congestion in the city as I was driving to Edelweiss Hotel, where I held a confirmed booking. Fortunately, except for one hold up the movement was relatively free as the busy traffic was in the opposite direction, leaving the city. I reached what Google Maps suggested is the location of the hotel. But I could not see any sign board or indication of that building being a hotel. As luck would have it the neighboring property was a large car wash. The Champion needed to be spruced up desperately. She was all thick with dust, grime and ‘insect bites’. When the car was taken up for ‘special treatment’ because of its condition I checked out the hotel property. There was no response to the calling bell. After many anxious knocks two men came out to inform that the property was not functioning! I could not believe my ears. At this eleventh hour what could I do? This was the second time in the past week that booking.com had ‘led me astray’. What surprised me was that both in Mogocha and Novosibirsk I had confirmation of the reservations. As for Edelweiss Hotel in Novosibirsk I had changed the dates recently and got that confirmed too. I was exasperated. The owner of the car wash realized my situation and offered to take me to two other residences close by. I checked them out and decided that I would try my luck with the booking site once again. I saw a bargain offer for Marlins Park Hotel near the City Centre and decided to try my luck there once the car wash was done.
The Champion looked gleaming and happy once the special wash for 250 Rub was done. All the workers in the car wash wished me luck and bon voyage. I had explained to them, as best as I could, about the expedition. The Edelweiss Hotel experience was a sore one but soon I put that behind and the only focus was to find the Marlins Park Hotel. With all sign boards being in Russian it is a difficult task to drive and look out for a new location. Google Maps took me to the locality and suggested that the hotel could be somewhere in the vicinity. Luckily I found a free car park and took one of the slots. Soon I found someone who ‘confessed’ he knew ‘little English’. He took me around to the large hotel that was just round the corner from where I had parked the car! The receptionist said that she would not be able to accommodate the bargain room as that was only for booking via the site. However, I got a very comfortable room soon and checked in. The location of the hotel was good and the facility itself was super. With that, Edelweiss was forgotten and buried.
Food was the only thing on my mind once the bags were lodged in the room and I had freshened up. It was just after 6.30 pm local time. In fact, I had gained another hour during the transit from Krasnoyarsk to Novosibirsk. It was +6 GMT in the city. The sun was bright and harsh on the eyes. Neither my legs nor the stomach permitted me to explore much to forage for dinner. The Beerman and Grill is attached to the Hotel. I took an open air seating and promptly plonked myself on a comfortable seat. The menu was very elaborate and I could make out that it was a ‘special’ restaurant from the chef crafted items and the price! Most important to me was that the items had description in English and hence, knew what I would be ordering. It took me just a while to order a litre of Pilsner. I was parched. While that was being fetched I went through the menu threadbare and decided on a fettucine with chicken and mushroom. The cold beer was the right balm for the stresses of the past few days. All had gone well so far and only because of HIS grace and the prayers of those near and dear.
The city seemed to be under attack from some sort of fly and a pollen that were everywhere. People seemed to be so used to them that they were not even noticing them. I was terribly bothered by the flies. They seemed to have taken over the city. Millions of them everywhere. The fettucine arrived and it tasted fantastic. At first sight it looked as if the portion was small. In the end it turned out to be just right. The eating experience was spoiled by the efforts to keep the flies and pollen away from the humongous mug of beer and the rather small plate of the fettucine.
Faster than I would have loved to, I finished the meal and sauntered across to the railway station that was bang opposite the lovely hotel building. The large square in front of the railway station had a large number of eating kiosks, shops vending local stuff and apple cider, which seemed to be a favourite with the locals returning home. And being Friday night, all of them were doing good business. The railway station was a fairly large one with 17 platforms, at least that many I counted. The station premises and platforms were exceptionally neat and clean. At the entrance of the station photographs of paintings on a few themes were displayed, which looked like the efforts of precocious children. I could not make out more than that. What surprised me most was the design of the sleepers and their density. There was hardly any gap between the sleepers! That surely made rail travel more pleasant. The external condition of the passenger coaches was exceptional in comparison to what we have in India. Many of our so called premier rakes do not see water for trips on end. The railway station also has an underground metro system.
It was 9 pm and there were still no signs of the sky getting dark signaling that the day is over! I went across to a store for an ice cream dessert. It has been warm ever since Krasnoyarsk. In Novosibirsk it was 32 degrees C! The Friday night ‘fever’ was just warming up. Pairs and singles ready for an exciting evening could be seen hurrying to previously agreed upon or prospective party locations. Over the past 22 days that I have been out of India I have not seen anyone arguing, shouting or being angry in Myanmar, China and Russia. Why do we do that all the time in our country? I wondered and wonder more.