Omsk was founded as a fortress in 1716 by a cossack unit led by Ivan Buchholz, to protect the expanding Russian frontier along the Om and Irtysh rivers against the Kyrgyz and Dzungar nomads of the steppes, and by 1850 it had become the capital of Western Siberia. With the construction of the Trans-siberian Railway, the city developed, becoming the gateway to Siberia and the Far East. During the White Army’s resistance against the Bolsheviks, Omsk was named “capital of Russia” in 1918-1919 by anti-Soviet Admiral Kolchak. Almost as a punishment for such “treachery”, the newly-established Soviet regime then preferred Novosibirsk as the administrative center of Western Siberia and ordered the transfer of administrative, cultural, and educational functions out of Omsk, which struggled to grow and stagnated at least until WWII, when it was made a major industrial center, leader in Soviet military production and later home of oil-refining complexes. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Omsk then experienced political instability and economic stagnation, mostly due to internal competition over the previously state-owned large local businesses.
Why you should stop there
Well, well, well, let me think about this one, why should one stop in this godforsaken, ugly, desolated shithole… still thinking.. Okay, I think I got it! Cause it’s the first major city in Siberia! Duh.
Still not enough? Stop here, and you’ll get to experience the loss and desolation of the real Russian city, that feeling of Nabokovian “toska” that no other place can give you better than Omsk. If you don’t know what “toska” means, check it out here.
Fine! Still not enough?! What can I say, the locals we met here were actually incredibly nice and pleasantly down-to-earth, welcoming, genuinely interested in why, why would any foreigner visit their town. It’s not something you can give for granted in Russia you know.
And alright, if you really don’t wanna stop there, don’t, it’s not like you’ll regret it for the rest of your life. But if you do have time and are eager to really understand the Russian mind and culture, it might be worth the “ostanovka”.
Still undecided? Here is a link with a bunch of images that will give you the right idea about this lovely town. The choice is yours.
UTC +6 (= Moscow +3)
How to get around
There is no subway in Omsk, but plenty of buses and marshutki (minivans), running along the two main streets around which the city is structured: Karl Marx Street and Lenin Street (you don’t say!). Once you get to Tarskie Vorota, you can easily walk to wherever you want (or don’t want) to go: the Irtysh embarkment, the Cathedral, the parks (do not enter the grass, it’s full of ticks, some of which carry encephalitis), etc. etc.
What to see
Uspensky Cathedral. Probably one of the few spots in Omsk worth seeing, the church is really beautiful and original to a foreigner’s eye. It was rebuilt after the USSR collapse, as the original one was destroyed by the Bolsheviks.
Lyubinsky prospekt. Right at the confluence between the Om and the Irtysh, it represents the historical part of the city and is lined up with somewhat old buildings of former residences, merchants and government establishments.
A bunch of statues: Lyuba, Plummer… not that they’re actually worth a watch, but if you happen to stumble of them, they might represent a reasonable pastime by taking funny pictures of them or with them, if you’re into this sort of things.
Military Museum. If you’re interested in war stuff, especially WWI, the Afghan or Chechen conflict, it may be worth a visit.
Achairsky Monastery. It’s about at 40 minutes drive from the city, you can take a marshutka from the train station to get there, and one of its interesting features, apart from the fresh air, is a baptistery filled with warm mineral water flowing up from the ground. Believers claim the water has healing powers and flock to the monastery from the whole Omsk region. Any visitor is free to soak in, and you may find it pleasant, as the water stays warm at 36 degrees even in the cold Siberian winters, when everything else gets frozen.
Tomsk. You could take the overnight train and explore this old commercial capital, which is way more charming than Omsk, with is cute wooden houses, high terrain and vibrant youthful atmosphere of Siberia’s oldest universities. As the main transportation routes originally bypassed it, the town remained quite small, avoiding the typical Soviet development, and retaining its unique character.
Other: nope, that’s pretty much it.
Eat, Drink and Sleep
Sleep: We stayed at Dostoyevsky Hostel (22 Pavlova Street), located near the train station. Cheap, clean and had great youthful atmosphere. Totally recommended.
Eat: Any “stolovaya”, a.k.a. the local canteens, are all over the city center, and the prices are so ridiculously cheap it would be a shame not to save money you could otherwise usefully spend on much needed alcohol. Also, they’ll give you a taste of what Russians actually eat. And it honestly ain’t that bad.
Drink: don’t really know about that one, we didn’t go clubbing or anything, but there’s plenty of 24/7 liquor stores if you feel like you can’t take the Siberian “toska” any more and really need a bottle of vodka to make your night meaningful.