The Lost Capital

MT
In winter, the cold is the first noticeable thing about Omsk, where temperatures easily dip to minus 40 degrees Celsius. This is a city where people eat pelmeni for breakfast to keep the body warm and make fun of Muscovites who complain on the evening news about temperatures around minus 15 degrees Celsius.

Omsk has had its share of glory days. In the 19th century it was the unofficial third capital, the Siberian center and diplomatic headquarters for Central Asian campaigns. During the Soviet era, it became an industrial hub with a population of over a million people. But the golden years for the city came in between, during the Revolutionary turmoil.

From 1918 to 1920, Omsk was recognized as the capital by all of the country's "White" regions. By that time, the Bolsheviks had control of Moscow, but the counterrevolutionary resistance was strong in Siberia, especially among the Cossacks. Russia's 505-ton gold reserves were moved to Omsk in 1918, and the population swelled from 100,000 to 500,000: Bureaucrats scribbled in notebooks while their wives dined in restaurants. According to one legend, Alexander Kolchak, the stalwart dictator who headed the country's provisional government, frequented Omsk's theater, always taking a machine gun into his loge. The theater is one of the city's signature buildings, turning 100 this year.

In terms of other landmarks, the city doesn't have much to boast about. The historical center has preserved some pre-Revolutionary buildings, notably on Ulitsa Lenina, which is the city's main artery. The city's architectural legacy is not clear, however; Omsk is best known for Kolchak, probably the most loathed figure in Soviet history books, who was made into a universal scapegoat for the Revolution's bloodshed.


Maria Antonova / MT
Local artist Alexander Kapralov made this sculpture of Don Quixote, among others.
Like other cities in Siberia, Omsk was historically wooden. Today these houses are all but gone, though some beautiful ones remain on Tarskaya Ulitsa. The pre-Revolutionary entrepreneurial exuberance was stomped out with nationalization, and many Soviet industries have been sold or bankrupted. What used to epitomize Siberia's "go east" opportunistic spirit is currently turning into the city of Russia's lost hopes. Youth flee to Moscow, St. Petersburg and even Novosibirsk, which was previously snubbed by the locals as the cocky contender for the title of "Siberian capital."

Omsk is very spread out and divided by the powerful Irtysh River. The old city and current center of activity is on the right bank, where the small Om river flows into the Irtysh. This is where Siberia's strongest fortress was located, of which only the Tobolsk gates remain today. There are other period buildings in this area, including remnants of the famous prison where Dostoevsky served a sentence from 1850 to 1854 and wrote "The House of the Dead."

There are many recent sculptures in Omsk, such as the tandem "Dyadya Stepa and Lyubasha." Dyadya Stepa is a monument to plumbers, watching passers-by from a sewer, and Lyubasha is a girl sitting on a bench a few meters away. Both are located on Ulitsa Lenina.

How to Get There



By train: 2,700 kilometers from Moscow on the Trans-Siberian railway. The more comfortable trains are those destined for Novosibirsk and Krasnoyarsk. Both depart from Yaroslavsky station.

By air: Aeroflot, S7 and Omsk Avia all have flights between Omsk and Moscow, about 3 hours long.

By boat: There are regular trips on the Irtysh from June to September. The Omsk-Salekhard itinerary goes through Tobolsk and Khanty-Mansiisk.

What to See




Maria Antonova / MT
Several wooden buildings have been preserved on Tarskaya Ulitsa in the center.
Dostoevsky Literary Museum
Located in the former fortress superintendent's house, the exposition traces the Siberian period of Dostoevsky's life, especially his imprisonment, which some argue is what made the talented writer into a great psychologist.
1 Ul. Dostoyevskogo, (3812) 24-29-65

Vrubel Art Gallery
Open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., closed Mondays
The greatest art collection in Siberia, this museum is known for its European and Russian art (Aivazovsky, Repin, Rerich, Goncharov, etc.), and interesting Scythian golden ornaments.
3 Ul. Lenina, (3812) 24-8047/1564, www.vrubel.ru

Kondratiy Belov Museum
Kondraty Belov was a renowned local landscape painter who died in 1988. The museum is housed in a delightful classic wooden house built at the turn of the 20th century. It is run by Belov's grandson and has a warm atmosphere where visitors are served tea and Siberian pirogi after their tour.
10 Ul. Chokana Valikhanova, (3812) 31-93-22

Where to Eat



Lugovskaya Sloboda cafe and restaurant
The most well-known restaurant in Omsk with Russian cuisine and limited seating boasts an average bill per person without alcohol of 80 euros. For those whose pockets are not so deep, there is a popular bakery next door run by the same people, and a pastry shop is opening soon in the courtyard.
20 Ul. Lenina, (3812) 311-540

Where to Stay



Hotel Irtysh
Large hotel in a park zone by the Irtysh river. Rooms start at 2,000 rubles per night.
155/1 Ul. Krasny Put, (3812) 22-95-20, www.hotel-irtysh.ru

Hotel Mayak
Hotel sitting at the intersection of the Om and the Irtysh, close to the historical center. Single rooms are 2,600 rubles per night.
2 Ul. Lermontova, (3812) 50-00-75, www.hotel-mayak.ru

Out of Town



Bolsherechye Village Zoo
180 kilometers to the north of Omsk is one of Russia's most unique zoos, located in Bolsherechye village. What started in a local school with a couple of hedgehogs in 1982 is now a huge territory with over 1,800 animals, including boa constrictors, hippos and an albino porcupine.
Posyolok Bolsherechye, 67 Ul. Sovetov, (38169) 22063