Mother Russia and Soakin’ Siberia

After travelling through so many ex-Soviet countries from Georgia to Kazakhstan, it was crazy to finally get to the mother of it all–Mother Russia.  I don’t have too much time to write, but I wanted to share some photos. This series is called:

“You know you’re in Mother Russia when…”

1) …when shortly after the border, friendly police officers give you a HUGE CHUNK OF SMOKED PORK FAT (called sala)…

Last winter I went hiking in the White Mountains with a group of Russians and they had introduced me to sala, so I knew what it was. Thank you Russian friends back home for preparing me well!

Also the police officers were so nice they invited me for tea in their little van, printed maps for me, let me use their internet, and even gave me toilet paper. So helpful!



2) …when the houses and villages are just so darn cute!



3)…when you find on the side of the road things such as rubber face masks.



4) …when you see large eerie concrete buildings



5)…when you hide from the cold, wet weather by having a hot bowl of borsch in a roadside stolovaya



From Oskemen heading north, everything just got more and more Russian until I entered the country itself in Siberia. At the border, the officer asked me “Ni holodna? Not cold?” “No, I have warm clothes and sleeping bag” “Znayesh, zdes Siber. You know, this is Siberia”. I guess we’ll see how I fair!

I didn’t really know what type of landscape to expect, but it turned out Siberia largely lives up to its reputation of large open spaces that are cold and wet. The landscape was mostly just agricultural fields; it rained everyday and some days I woke up to frost covered fields. Most people would find such a place depressing, but there was a calm, serene atmosphere about it. And really, the villages are too cute–with little wooden houses of bright colors, duckies and farm animals roaming about in the streets, and gardens filled with beautiful flowers. Also sometimes for clouds would clear for an hour or so to reveal blue sky and sunshine that feels brighter than ever!

Out of Kazakhstan on the way to Russia (Oskemen -> Shemonaikha -> border):

P1030270P1030275P1030279P1030281P1030282P1030285P1030294P1030295many sunflower farms P1030300

After crossing into Russia:


P1030310Breakfast of Champions: cookies, butter, instant coffee (loaded with extra sugar), honey, and hard-boiled eggs. Most of these things I would never eat for breakfast at home, but bike traveling is a different life. And in biking life, this is what I call a DELICIOUS breakfast!

P1030311Zmeinogorsk town (where there were many helpful people!)


P1030324P1030325waking up to a frosty sunrise  P1030328P1030330eating potato chips is a great way to kill time when the road is flat, asphalt is smooth, and there’s not much to see on the road

P1030333also eating chocolate. Kazakh chocolate is famous in Russia.


Entering Barnaul city:


When I was deciding which route to take through Russia, I ultimately chose a longer, more roundabout route on the main road through the city of Barnaul. I had messaged several couchsurfers, and one of them responded “I love Americans and my parents love Asians, so you would be the perfect guest!” With such a warm invitation, how could I refuse? But it would mean I would have to hitch a ride or take a bus for part of the way to Mongolia. Russian visa expires Sep26 which means 800km in 5 days. I’m a superwoman, but not super enough to average 160km a day!

When I arrived in Barnaul, I didn’t have a map of the city, so I stopped to ask for directions. That’s how I met Alena. She worked as a journalist in a nearby office building, and she was so wonderful that she took me back to her office to look at the map on the computer. In the meantime she gave me hot tea and pirishchki since it was wet, cold, and rainy outside.

Eventually I made it to the home of my Couchsurfing host, Alex, where his parents greeted me warmly. In the end I stayed in Barnaul for 3 days because Alena, Alex, and Alex’s friends and family treated me so well (and also because figuring out tourist registration in Russia was an adventure). It’s so hard to leave warm, cozy places with friendly people!

P1030346a bliny cafe

P1030344Olga (also couchsurfer who lives in Barnaul) and Alena (the journalist)


P1030347my hosts Alena, Olga, and Alex take me to “Anticafe”, a hangout place with coffee, tea, and boardgames. Instead of paying for food and drinks like a normal cafe, you pay for the time you spend there and you can eat and drink as much as you want and play boardgames or foosball or just lounge on the couches.

P1030348 P1030349Alex and his parents host me in their apartment. Alex’s mom makes piroshkis!

2 Thoughts on “Mother Russia and Soakin’ Siberia

  1. Alexander on September 25, 2013 at 2:44 pm said:

    It’s just wonderful!!!!!
    Be careful! And welcome back to Barnaul!

    • minimousetrap on September 28, 2013 at 7:32 am said:

      Hey Alex! Just wanted to tell you I made it out of Russia safely…was very rushed to get to the border, but I made it! Will write more later…I’ll email you. -mw

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