Western Siberia : Tomsk Oblast : Tomsk
Located on the River Tom, the city was founded in the early 17th century as a military outpost against nomadic peoples. After that it became a place of exile, a trade and transportation center, and, finally, a university town. Today Tomsk has a population of around 500,000, of which every sixth person is a student, coming from all over Siberia, Central Asia and even the European part of Russia. Due to this fact, Tomsk probably has a bigger proportion of foreign language speakers than any other Siberian city.
Tomsk is served by Bogashevo airport, receiving flights from Moscow, Novosibirsk, Omsk and other cities. There is a rail branch from the Trans-Siberian Railway junction at Taiga, Kemerovo Oblast leading to Tomsk. Besides, you can use buses from Novosibirsk, Kemerovo, Novokuznetsk, Krasnoyarsk and other cities in the region.
Most of the city center is within walking distance. There are a lot of buses and trams going around the city — you can expect a fee of about half a euro for a ride. However, the quickest and most convenient way to get around is by taxi — there are a lot of taxicab companies most of which charge around €3-€5 to go anywhere in the city. The problem is the taxi dispatchers and drivers do not speak English, so you would have to learn a couple of key phrases. The possibility of being cheated is close to nothing if you are using a taxicab company, especially if you are using one and the same company several times.
Tomsk State University and other university campuses — Tomsk boasts 6 universities, some of them among the top 3 in Russia in their respective industries. The campuses were built in the late 1800s and are a nice place to visit.
Governor's District — the central location in Tomsk, near the Oblast Administration office, on the bank of the river Tom. It was built to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the city and reflects its history with several attractions, including the city's main cathedral and controversial and funny monument to Anton Chekhov.
Verhnyaya Yelan' — a carefully renovated and well-kept little district with wooden architecture, where old traditional merchant mansions are situated. Stunningly beautiful at night.
Lagerny Sad (Camp Garden) — a WWII monument on the bank of the river Tom which is beautiful by itself and provides an amazing view of the river and the surroundings.
Take a walk through the city center — it won't take you more than several hours to see virtually everything and the town is really beautiful May through September.
Climb the Voskersenskaya hill and go to the city viewing point — see the view the 19th century firefighters watched everyday for signs of fire.
Listen to the church choir in the Epiphany Cathedral or to the Tomsk State University capella performing at what was the University chapel — a must hear for everyone who is interested in vocal music.
Try the Siberian Pancakes (Sibirskie Bliny) with a lot of different stuffings (sold at outlets throughtout downtown).
Have a ride on the Ferris wheel in the Town Park.
Attend a Russian Premier Football League game with the local team called Tom — a great chance to see Russia's best football teams and feel the heat amongst Tomsk football fans supporting their favorite team.
Ask your local friends or guides for other things to do — there is a lot more.
A lot of beautiful souvenirs made from birchbark — from hair brushes to bottles and baskets and maps of Russia. These are characteristic of Western Siberia and you will not get them anywhere else. Also try local souvenir shops conveniently located at the airport and the main railway station for some other traditional local gifts.
The cuisine bears little, if any, difference from what you can try in Novosibirsk, Krasnoyarsk and any other city in the region. Local foods like pelmeni or bliny (pancakes) can be found in practically any restaurant around. The Coffee House and Food Master cafes on the Lenina Avenue are European-oriented and you can eat quite a decent pizza or lasagna in the latter. An average meal there costs from 6 to €10 per person excluding wine.
Want something more traditional? Go to the Korchma u Tarasa (there are several in the downtown) — originally a Ukrainian place, it features a lot of traditional Russian and Siberian cuisine. Zhili-Byli is a Russian-style place resembling a peasant's hut with local pop-music and waiters (and waitresses!) dressed appropriately. The service in both places can be painfully slow, especially on weekend evenings but you will be rewarded with good and relatively cheap dinner (6-10 Euros excluding alcohol that is quite affordable as well).
For a high-class dinner go to Vechny Zov, Slavyansky Bazar or Parmezan — for a price that starts at around €30 plus wine you will get a high-standard European or Russian meal including traditional Russian and local delicacies. Chefs are often invited from France, Italy, etc., so European quality is guaranteed — at a European rate.
There are also a lot of smaller places offering good meals for relatively low prices — ask whoever reads Russian to browse local Internet or look through the papers. Also, don't expect the restaurant staff to speak anything but Russian (except the most expensive places).
...everywhere! If it is a flat or house party — go take a couple of large bottles of Nefiltroff — the local non-filtered beer — cheap, tasty and cheerful! Local vodka is also pretty cheap and considerably well-done. Many supermarkets and small shops are open 24/7 so it's never late to go take another one, though be careful not to walk through the city at night if you are intoxicated. But according to the law they can't sell spirit during a night. That's why you will have problem to buy spirit after 11pm ( in some shops after 10pm ). With beer there is not that problem.
There are a lot of places to go in the downtown, from coffeeshops to pubs to night clubs — Teatro, Fakel, Trash&Glam, Siberian Pub, Pivlyandia (Beerland), and U Kruegera (Krueger's) just to name a few. If someone want to drink beer Krueger's (У Крюгера) is the best choice. Most of the bars offer an international set of beers and other drinks for a decent (sometimes really low) price. Nightclubs usually have pretty high entrance fees to screen out the poorest part of the population causing the most unrest, so be ready for outrageous €25-€30 in the most 'fashionable' places to about €6-€7 in the less high profile ones. Sometimes some places take no entrance fees but add €5-€7 to your bill for live music.
Drinks usually start at €2 for a beer or €4 for a coctail. Vodka's pretty cheap so enjoy your stay. Bartenders and waiters may speak English, especially in places like Siberian Pub where the small expat crowd gathers. The risk of being cheated is scarce, especially in the more respectable places — still take a look at your bill before paying.
Just in case — there is zero tolerance toward drugs, even the softest ones — so take extreme care.
There are several of hostels in the city. One of them is Taiga-hostel (Nikitina street, 56) is a cozy place close to the center of Tomsk. It is easy to get from here to all the universities and remarkable sights. There are two beautiful and clean bedrooms — for 6 and for 4 guests — made in 'green nature' style. There are all the facilities in Taiga-hostel — fridge, microwave, wi fi, lock box, dinner delivery, breakfast etc. The price of stay in hotels is usually lower than in bigger cities, except for places like Hotel Magistrat (Lenina square) or hotel Oktyabr'skaya.
The other is 8 floor hostel (Dzerzhinsky street, 56). It is a comfortable place just in the historical center of Tomsk. A common room and shared kitchen, different types of rooms including private room for 2 guests and the other 10 bed and two 4 bed rooms are all for the best of its guests. It takes about 5 minutes to get from the hostel to the bus/railway station. The hostel is also located close to the Universities, entertainment centers, trade centers, banks and medical institutions. All necessary facilities are included to the price of the places.
There are also plenty of decent and clean little private hotels converted from apartments throughout the city but they are hardly accessible for a foreigner who doesn't know Russian, so ask you Russian-speaking friends or colleagues — they can easily find one for you. Do not expect the hotel staff anywhere except the luxiry hotels to speak anything but Russian, and learn some key phrases before staying.
Tomsk is a pretty safe place in terms of crime, especially if you stay within the downtown, don't look too freaky and don't show off with a lot of cash. Still, there are some useful rules:
You are obliged to carry your passport with you — though cases when you are actually asked for it are extremely rare.
Don't take walks outside downtown at night — it is better and faster to use a taxi and watch the night city from a car. Also, try to steer clear of intoxicated people wherever you meet them.
Don't stop private taxis on the street — there are plenty of reliable taxi companies in the city that can be easily called. Ask your guide or a Russian speaking friend for a phone number.
Try not to drink on the streets — or at least not to show it to local policemen — they are usually quite tolerant and in most cases will just tell you to stop drinking, still there may be accidents.
Call your Russian-speaking friends, your country's representative or your guide immediately if you think you may be in trouble with the police or anyone else.
You can buy e-tickets anywhere through the Internet, and you can just pick them up in the airport before your flight, as everywhere else. Also, always be in the airport 2 hours before your flight.
Call a taxi to the airport, the railway or the bus station the evening before or at least a couple of hours before the departure and agree on the time — the taxi service is extremely popular with the city's inhabitants and there are a couple of times during the day when it is difficult to get one.
To get out of the country travel first to Moscow or Novosibirsk and then wherever you like.