I prefer to start the day early so that I get some time for a look around in the city I arrive into. But this day I took to the road quite late. One of the reasons is the longer day. Daylight remains till after 10 pm! And I was told that it will be white nights in St Petersburg when I arrive there – there would hardly be any night hours! That apart I wanted to take to the road after a proper breakfast. When I reached the dining hall at 7 am the place was full of tourists, mostly of Chinese origin. I suspected they were domestic travelers as I thought I overheard them speak the local lingo. Novosibirsk is the largest city in Siberia in terms of population and is one of the most prosperous industrial regions in Russia.
The breakfast was a huge affair. The spread was a mix of Continental and Oriental – must have been tailored for the tourists. Yet I saw many of them shrug their shoulders to indicate that what was on offer is not to their liking. I started with a porridge of lentils into which I slipped in dried apricots, seedless raisins and pitted prunes. With a little sugar and cold milk it was the right starter. Then I picked up salami and cheese to fill a couple of croissants. The next to receive special attention was scrambled eggs and sausages. Homemade pancake and cheese cake with orange juice rounded up the morning offering. There were plenty more like fried rice, fried fish, etc which I had to sadly leave behind! A cup of cappuccino, before leaving the dining hall, was had with great relish.
The Champion was so clean after the wash the previous evening. In a way I was happy that I had to find an alternative to Edelweiss Hotel. Because of that I found the car wash and a lovely hotel. The stay in Marlins Park had been very good. I did not lose much time getting to the M51 Highway thanks to Google Maps. However, the traffic in the city was at its peak. Following the Maps and the lane discipline at the same time was a bit stressful at times. When I got to the highway the progress became considerably slow because of heavy freight traffic. The single carriageway did not help matters under the circumstances. The condition of the road was also not that great to pick up speed. To make matters worse I was becoming drowsy. I had woken up at 3 am and the more than filling breakfast combined to produce the effect. I had to stop and sleep. There was no other go. Normally I take power naps of 20 minutes or so. Today I knew that a power nap would not do. I adjusted the seat and decided to get up when the body was fully rested.
That nap lasted almost 45 minutes. I was ready to take the balance 500 km after that without any more stoppages. And that is what happened. Moreover, by the time I had woken up the traffic of freight trucks had also subsided, which permitted me better use of the highway. Driving into the city of Omsk was an experience. The Irtysh River stretched out wide at the entrance to the posh localities of the city. I was so mesmerized by the sight that I almost missed a red light and went into a car taking a left turn! But the hotel I was booked to stay in was more than 12 km away in a not so pricey locality. Google Maps deposited me in the block that contained the hotel. The absence of any English signage made it a task to identify the entrance to the hotel. I tried many doors in the building and found all of them locked. I reached the last door and pressed a calling bell. I was let in and the matronly lady at the desk confirmed that as the reception of the Den I Noch Hotel. The lady spoke only Russian and she started a lively conversation that I was only a listener of. Whenever she paused I would say apologetically that I do not understand her language. Which would only start her out on another volley that exasperated me more and more. In the end, I could make out that she wanted to know when I would check out the next day. I wrote out 5 am on a piece of paper and she had all the answers she wanted! Soon I was shown into Room 1 at the basement. The room was made small by the very large bed. It was neat and tastefully done up.
There was nothing interesting in the neighborhood but I noticed a few restaurants close to the hotel, where I could have dinner. I also noticed people going into a shop and coming out with beer. That was a possible place to explore, I thought. I went in and my eyes widened as never before. Before me, stretched out on many racks, was a large collection of liquor. I took time going over the brands and the prices, which I found very reasonable. Finally, one of the salespersons, who understood English, helped me choose two bottles of vodka. How I would take them to India had to be given a thought later! I also picked up a couple of bottles of Bud beer. The lady at the reception produced an opener and a glass for the beer.
Once that was done I decided to go to the CCCP restaurant for dinner. I walked into a fairly large dining hall that was empty except for the owner who was busy on her computer. The waitress produced a thick menu that was all Greek and Latin to me. Conversation was also not possible. In the end I told her to get me what she felt I should eat! She came from the kitchen carrying, what looked like, uncooked dumplings. I asked her to go ahead with that. Just as that was done two gentlemen walked into the restaurant and I found my messiahs for the evening. Alessio, from Milan, said that he knew English but not Russian. Alexie, his Muscovite friend, understood Italian but not English! A complex trio, but in a short while we had a lively conversation going. Alexie and Alessio together helped me order a chicken and egg dish. The conversation ranged from local politics to the situation in Europe to the expedition. Alexie and his wife are due to travel to India soon. He promised to get in touch with me soon. Alessio works for Massenza, a company that manufactures bitumen handling equipment. Gazprom is one of their clients and he was in the city to service one of the machines. Omsk has one of the largest oil refineries in Russia and that explained why diesel had been cheapest in Omsk.
The dinner went on and on in their wonderful company. On the way back to the hotel, where they were also staying, we stopped by the Champion to take a few pictures and promised to exchange them once Alexie mailed me after reaching Moscow. At the reception of the hotel the lady again offered to give an early breakfast irrespective of the time! I was really touched. I could converse with her freely now since I had the Alessio-Alexie combine to help me with the translation. I asked if she could pack me something for the way and she agreed without any hesitation. She confirmed that the pack would be ready by 4.45 am! Wonderful hospitality and I was floored.