Thursday, June 25, 2015

Ten Reasons I Love Novosibirsk

Kids Riding Bikes Down the Street - 10 Reasons I Love NovosibirskI'm not calling it "Top Ten" because as soon as I post it another reason will occur to me that would rearrange a Top Ten list.  And because except for one, I can't really say which is most important to me.  So this isn't a count-down, and it's not all-inclusive: just a list of things I love about Novosibirsk.

1. Novosibirsk has four distinct seasons.  Four incredibly different experiences of weather to embrace and love.  Most of the places I've lived have had two seasons - maybe three at best, which were mostly defined by what color the trees were, the amount of flowers and if it was chilly or hot. 
But here I get to experience each one (for three of them the experience is brief!).  Budding and new life and warming temperatures in the spring, hot in the summer (yes, it does get hot here), chilly with changing leaves in the fall, and VERY COLD with all the snow I could ask for in the winter.  

2. Which brings me to winter.   Maybe I'm a glutton for
Winter - 10 Reasons I love Novosibirskpunishment.  Maybe it's because I dreamed about a real winter all my childhood and youth and now I'm still relishing it (as I have been for twenty years now).  Whatever the reason, I love the winters here.  Even when it's 40 below.  (Yes, you read that right.) 

I love cross country skiing and the ice sculptures and the crunch of my boots in the snow.  I love the little caps the snow makes on top of trees and bushes and flower pots and I love the frost on on the windows.  I love the way the city keeps on going, taking the winter, the cold, the dark, and the snow and ice, in stride.

I will admit, though, that winter could stand to be a little shorter.

3.  In Novosibirsk we have all the perks of a large city with a small town feel.  Groceries a five minute walk away from the flat, public transportation that takes you pretty much anywhere you want to go, parks, various museums, a renowned zoo which is very much a park in it's own right, ballet, concerts, symphonies, and so on.  At the same time, there are open spaces.  You can see the sky.  The city is very green (in the summer, that is).  Trees stand at attention everywhere you look, even marching down the center of the main street (Krasny Prospect).  And the crowds at rush hour do not rival the crowds during a lull time in New York City or Moscow.  In the summer fountains bubble in both large and small parks and in front of stores. In the winter ice sculptures parade in those same parks and in unexpected places. 

Green in Novosibirsk - 10 Reasons I Love Novosibirsk4. The layout of the city, particularly the flats.  The buildings housing flats are usually arranged in a square with a courtyard in the middle.  This works itself out a little differently in different places depending on what else is around, but the idea is the same.  The courtyards vary in sizes, and can have a playground (sometimes elaborate, sometimes simple), benches for sitting, trees, flowers (often cultivated flower beds) and grass.  Paths cross through the courtyard allowing you to exit in different places on to the street.  The buildings along main streets often have shops on their first floor, that are entered from the street.  Entrances to the flats are usually from the courtyard, not the side.  So within the courtyard there will not be any visible shops, even if one is in the building.  This also adds to the effect of not being in a large city, together with the fact that there's always a playground of some sort nearby, usually several to choose from, and a place to sit in the shade and read or chat, even if you are not close to one of the many parks.  

5. Novosibirsk has a rich emphasis on music, art, and culture. It's easy not only to see a ballet, symphony, concert, dances, works of art, but also to be involved in them - to take art or music or dance lessons - and not too cost prohibitive - it's all accessible for folks like us.  Mostly for kids, if we're talking about taking lessons, but there are also affordable classes and groups for adults.  People are encouraged to develop in the arts.  My daughter was able to be involved in a Russian folk dancing group (kids and teenagers, mostly), and a friend of mine - in her forties - has just signed up for an artistic development group. 

6. Russian folk dancing.  Did I mention that my daughter was part of a Russian folk dance Ensemble?  I love Russian folk dancing.  Novosibirsk has some great Russian Folk Dancing Ensembles, including professionals that have toured in other countries. On the right is a video of Aleicia, together with her ensemble Lubava, performing the dance Березка (Beryozka -  Russian name for the white birch tree).

 7. Reading.  I love to read, and Russians are readers.  Maybe as whole they were more so when I first arrived 20 years ago, but Russia is still a reading culture. When you see people with devices in their hands on the metro (subway) or other forms of transportation, they MIGHT be playing a game - but more often than not, they are READING.   Bookstores and libraries are important, and both are available in what they are now calling "brick and mortar" stores and for reading online.   It's harder to get books in languages other than Russian, but it is possible.  I have bought English classics and others in some of the large bookstores here.  But I like reading in Russian, too.  And reading in Russian improves my language skills. 

8. Which brings us to ...Russian language. I love language in general - and I do love Russian.  I'm fascinated by the different ways of expressing yourself.  All languages have rules and limits (or no one would ever understand anything), but many Russian language rules are quite different from English language rules, and so the words and sentences are free to express in different ways than English.  (The reverse is also true, of course.) 

Russian Table - 10 Reasons I Love Novosibirsk9.  Russian food - yum!  in many ways it's not drastically different from the food I grew up with, but there are some significant differences.  Russians eat a lot more soup.  They tend to use more fresh dill - in soups, on baked potatoes, and I've found that I love dill, even on my pizza!  We also have a wider variety in our cultured milk products -  many of which I have learned to love.  There are several drinks I love that all I can say about them is well - it's sort of like plain unsweetened kefir (but not kefir) (although we do have kefir) and sort of like plain unsweetened yoghurt (but not yoghurt) (although we do have yoghurt).  Sorry, but for now that's the best I can do.  I also have learned to love kvas.  I admit I did not like it at all the first time I tried it, but I've developed a taste for it.  Russian bread, chocolate, cheese, the different soups and salads and pelmini and vareniki - love them!  I miss them all whenever I'm in America.  Russians know how to set a table!

10. But most of all - the people of Novosibirsk.  A city, town, country - it's always a product of the people who live there. None of the things I listed above would mean very much without people.  My experience of Novosibirsk is directly proportional to my relationships with people in Novosibirsk.   I have many dear, close friends here - that's the real reason I love Novosibirsk.    

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  1. We were recently near Russia, and I wished we could have gone into Russia! Thanks for sharing these interesting facts - love your positivity about living there!

    1. If you ever get a chance to visit, I recommend it. We love it here. Where were you, Julie, that was nearby?

  2. Yes! I agree on all of these, even though I haven't been to Novosibirsk (except the airport). They apply to all the small-city Russian/Ukrainian life that I enjoy so much.

    You and I are apparently winter buddies. I don't know many people who love it like I do.

    The video is lovely, especially the costumes! And I know that song. :-)

    1. Yes, I imagine that they do apply to most small cities in this part of the world. :-) I love it.

      Oh, fun that you love winter, too! I know a FEW people who also like winter, but not many.

      Thank you for liking the video, of course you have endeared yourself forever to my mother's heart. (that is, my heart, which is a mother's heart, since my daughter is in the video.)

      When were you in the airport in Novosibirsk, Phyllis?

    2. I was trying to figure out which was your daughter in the video, but I didn't have any way to know. The whole thing was beautiful.

      It was a long time ago. :-) Summer of 1999. I can't even remember which leg of the trip it was, but on either Moscow-Irkutsk or Irkutsk-Moscow, our plane had to make a stop because of bad weather.

    3. She's the first one who comes out on the right in front. but it would still be hard to keep track of her through the dance.

      Yep, summer of 1999 was a long time ago. We were here, though. Too bad we didn't know, could have had coffee together. :-)

    4. that is, she comes out on OUR right, from the perspective of the one watching.

  3. It is wonderful to hear you perspective Michele. I was born in Novosibirsk and lived there until the age of 13. And now have lived 22 years in the US. It warms my heart to know that someone from across the world can love a place that I enjoyed so much as a child.
    I'm sure your work and contribution in your church there is extremely valuable - people there need it, as we all do!