The day before yesterday the couple from Belarus made an excellent dinner and I washed up, also singing some songs for my CS host.
Yesterday I spent time with a couple from Belarus on their way to Altai, and uploaded some photos. In the evening, I went to the house of some relatives of friends in Australia (thanks for the tip!), and we had the most amazing dinner. Baked potatoes and chicken, tomatoes with eggs and cheese, more tomatoes, dill, and cucumbers, olives, beef and pork, and then fruit and coconut icecream with chocolate and wafer for dessert. My goodness me. Their house/flat is very tastefully renovated, and we discussed all sorts of stuff. They are highly trained professionals and seem to be making a good living! After dinner, the son, who is a few years older than me, drove me around to Rayon Lenina to see the river bank, the bridges, the river, and the war memorial, all of which were very interesting. On the way back, he told me about the phenomenon of the 'gopnik'. A gopnik is a man who wears cheap tracksuits, sits on his haunches rather than a chair, eats sunflower seeds and beats up weak people for alcohol money. We then drove to the other side of town, keeping an eye out for gopniks. We agreed that my less than flashy appearance would be good insurance against them!
Today after a slow start I went to drop keys off to my host, who is leaving for Moscow this afternoon, and then walked to the Novosibirsk zoo. It is, by reputation, the best in Russia, with over 4000 animals. Particular highlights were the many cats, polar bears, other types of bears, many monkeys, and other strange things which inhabit these parts. The aquarium was quite small, and the 'night world' section remains a mystery to me, as my ability to see in the dark is limited. Somewhere in the middle were a couple of wallabies - my first fellow Australians in some time. They seemed rather confused as to how they'd wound up in the middle of Siberia, rather like me. I think Taronga is probably better still, though I haven't visited for about 10 years.
After a while I'd seen most of the animals so I left - walking back towards the house (and net cafe). During this walk, I reflected on what I'd been told the previous night about driving in Novosibirsk. The drivers seem quite adept, yet crashes are frequent, with an average of 4 or 5 pedestrian deaths a day. Yesterday this was very nearly me, as a car shot out of a driveway unseen, finally giving me the sort of shave my 2c bic razors had fantasized about for weeks. Later on this walk (it's about 5km), I actually witnessed a crash, which I would classify as a 'serious fender bender', with noone seriously hurt. Such occurences would account for the fact that many cars here lack bumpers, probably having lost them in minor crashes. Replacements from Japan are, I'd imagine, pretty pricey.
I have uploaded a BUNCH of new photos, taken through Mongolia at least up until our arrival in Olgii, the westernmost large town. After this we spent 10 days in the mountains, but I don't have time to sort 700 photos right now. Try the link in the previous post.
Tonight I'll be taking a train to Krasnoyarsk (which I previously visited in mid December 2006), and hopefully thence to Bratsk the same day.