Western Siberia : Omsk Oblast : Omsk
Founded in 1716 as a fortress on the Imperial Russia's expanding southern frontier, by 1850s Omsk grew to become the capital of Western Siberia and parts of Central Asia. The construction of the Trans-Siberian Railway in the late 1890s brought a rapid development boom, culminating in an extravagant 1910s World Fair, around the time of which Omsk acquired much of its neoclassical architectural heritage. Largely due to its strategic importance as the gateway to Siberia and the Far East, Admiral Kolchak of the anti-Soviet White Army chose Omsk as his base and "capital of Russia" in 1918–1919.
Today, Omsk is Russia's seventh largest city with a population of over 1.1 million. An Omsk visit is one of the highlights of a trip to Siberia for the city's attractive and bustling 19th century center, and its numerous cultural opportunities. Literature lovers will find a special interest in Omsk, as it was Dostoevsky's home during the majority of his exile from Saint Petersburg.
The southern and northern branches of the Trans-Siberian Railway converge here, so a multitude of trains arrive from Moscow (40 hrs) and the Far East (4-5 days) daily. Aeroflot , Transaero , Siberia (S7), fly to Moscow daily (3 hrs). Less frequent flights connect to Saint Petersburg (3 hrs), Krasnoyarsk (2 hrs), as well as Frankfurt, Hannover, Köln in Germany (5 hrs).
There is plenty of public transport along the curved main artery prospekt Marksa — ulitsa Krasny Put' — prospekt Mira, and to the airport, bus/train stations and the river terminal. Trolley N4 & N7, and buses N50, 60 and 69 are particularly useful. The abundant minibus taxis "marshrutka" are an even faster (if at times hair-raising!) way to get around cheaply. A ride on a mashrutka costs exactly 12 RUR regardless of the length of the trip.The city center around Lyubinsky prospekt is easily walkable and in fact best explored on foot. Taxi service are still underdeveloped but "Taxi VIP"(tel.(3812)700-700) are quite usable. Be careful in the airport to order the "taxi" from the men who hang about the exit gate even they have cars with chequered pattern. They could charge 500 — 1500 RUR though the transfer to the city center is not a longer than 15 minutes. They could also say that it would cost 200 RUR but when you are arrived to the hotel you will be known that the price is much larger. The good price to the city center isn't above 200 RUR but you should call the legal taxi, for example +73812606060.
The historical part of town is centered on Lyubinsky prospekt, near the confluence of Om and Irtysh rivers. It is lined with century-old buildings of former merchant salons, residences, and larger commercial, government and religious establishments. The area now has some of the poshest shopping and the best nightlife in the city. The ornate and, upon closer inspection, cutely small Drama Theater crowns the district and is somewhat of a city icon.
The Historical museum is in the former West Siberian Governor's mansion — look for the ebony Kalmyk throne and the outfits of the local nomads before the Russian colonization. Admiral Kolchak, the head of the White government, lived here in 1918-19, supported by the Western powers and the Russian gold reserves, briefly placing Omsk in the heart of Russia's history.
The Vrubel Art museum is in the former bourse building, across the street from the Drama Theater, and houses an interesting collection including a few Rerikhs. A couple of other art galleries, Liberov-Center and Belov Museum, are located in carved-wood historical houses a little further away from the center.
A few churches, notably the Cossacks' St. Nicholas Cathedral, Krestovozdvizhenski on ulica Tarskaya, and St. Nicholas on ulica Truda, may be of interest. The first, St. Nicholas, was used for other functions during the Soviet era: a movie theater, a Young Pioneers' club, a warehouse, and a Pipe Organ Hall (look for the musical door handles). It is now converted back, and contains one of Siberia's Cossacks' most treasured relics: their centuries-old "conquest" banner.
Ulica Krasnyh Zor' (aka Nikol'skij prospekt) leads from the Cossacks' cathedral to a few blocks of historical carved-wood houses. This street can give an idea what Omsk and Siberia used to be like for centuries before industrialization. Unfortunately, these houses are not yet protected as cultural heritage, and may disappear before the authorities realize what has been lost.
The Military Museum is a must. With exhibits on WWII , Afghanistan as well as Chetchen conflict
Omsk is rich in shopping. There is a vast contrast of rich and poor people living in Omsk- which is shown through it's shopping malls. There are shops with extremely cheap goods. On the other hand, there are modern shopping malls where every shop is completely expensive, for example, a simple shirt would be £100 and a handbag would be £200; half the average yearly wage in Omsk! Nevertheless, Omsk Offers great shops with lots of goods to offer.
Omsk is a convenient hub for several regional attractions. Remember that the distances are large in this part of the world, and a city 700 km away is readily considered "nearby" by the locals. In their defense, the transportation is usually good and can make destinations seem closer than they are.
Tobolsk and Tomsk, the oldest cities of Siberia, are within easy reach. Because the main transportation arteries originally bypassed them, the towns stayed small, avoiding the typical Soviet development, and retaining their unique character.
For northwestern Tobolsk, take the overnight train, or, better in the summer, take a speed jet boat along the Irtysh River (10-12 hrs). Tobolsk is the picturesque and best-preserved first Siberian capital, with the region's only surviving stone kremlin on the hills overlooking the damp serene flatlands.
Take the overnight train east to Tomsk, Siberia's charming old commercial capital, with its gingerbread wooden houses, hilly terrain and vibrant youthful atmosphere of Siberia's oldest universities.
With time on your hands, consider the biweekly tourist-class river cruiser that goes north to Tobolsk, Khanty-Mansiysk and on to Salekhard beyond the Arctic circle (7 days). It stops in several towns on the way, and there is hardly a more upclose way to see the vast sleepy West Siberian terrain, grand rivers and the rural lifestyle. Yet the surreal settlements will surprise you with their quirkiness when you are least expecting it!
Barnaul, the gateway to the Altai mountains and national parks, is 16 hrs by train, and 1.5 hrs by flight. Northern Kazakhstan is accessible by train: Petropavlovsk (4hrs), Astana (12 hrs), or bus: Pavlodar (8 hrs).