A tired day in Tomsk or ‘What time is it?’

The Siberian heat (yes, you read that correctly) in combination with light or no curtains and little or no ventilation has made sleeping difficult. We spent a strange, drowsy day walking through the student town of Tomsk, which has “half a dozen major academic establishments,” according to Lonely Planet. The guidebook praised its old wooden architecture, which was lovely, but we didn’t manage to give the town the attention it deserved.

Tomsk has the usual Russian features: A river, pretty old architecture mixed with horrible concrete blocks, a football stadium (which we obviously visited), a city park complete with fun fair for the kids and a Lenin statue. There’s always a Lenin statue.

We arrived at the Oppression Museum, located in an old NKVD building used for interrogating and holding prisoners, 20 minutes before closing time. Too bad, as it would have been very interesting to have a closer look. As the cashier had left and time was running short, the English speaking (!) guide let us walk around for free and wrapped the visit up with a good chat and lots of answers. Turns out, his grandfather was born in a prison camp in northwestern Russia. The family was later sent to a gulag camp in Kazakhstan, after which the grandfather could attend university in Tomsk, where he settled down. The guide told us big groups of descendants of former gulag prisoners still live in Tomsk and the town sees relatives living abroad visit to restore old crosses on the graves of those who perished in the area.

Being a lot younger than the museum guides we’ve seen so far in Russia, he also directed us to the Tomsk beer brewery for another one of the town’s specialties.

It was at the brewery we finally got an explanation to why time had been so confusing that day. Our phones didn’t agree with the clock at the hostel and around town we saw two types of time showed. The guidebook (and Google, for that matter), said Tomsk should be in the same timezone as Novosibrisk, so Moscow+3, but when asking a waitress for the time she quoted Moscow+4, the same as in Krasnoyarsk. Had we missed some crucial time debate? What did that mean for our train that was already due to leave late at night? And how to ask in Russian: “What time is it? Are you really sure?” We tried the last question at the brewery and were told Tomsk recently moved from one timezone to another. “It’s Russia,” the guy said, shrugging and smiling. We added another hour of midnight waiting at the train station.

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