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June 11, 2013

Today was our real first day in Siberia after 2 days travelling. We were all pretty punchy at the Moscow airport before we left. Then we arrived at the Abakan airport and I felt as if we had been transported in time to the Soviet era. The airport must have been built in the immediate post-War period and has not changed at all. They directed all the passengers on the flight (and we were clearly the only people who were on the flight who did not live here) to a concrete block room in the large building. Then they shut the door and we waited and looked around at each other for 20 minutes until the luggage came off.

We got on our bus, a really well-decorated one with curtains and fabric trim around the top of the luggage racks. We got to our hotel, ate at the cafe across the street and took naps. I slept for about three hours and then got up to walk around the city with Mary.

The city has some 19th century buildings and I did see a few Russian wooden buildings, but the majority of Abakan was built by the Soviets during the 1950s and 1960s. I got some good photos of some of the decorations from that era that are still on the buildings, really good examples of Soviet propaganda through decorative features in architecture. The city itself is built on a grid, with wide boulevards lined with trees. It is actually very lovely and green and I counted a half-dozen parks in the 1/2 mile radius we covered today. The parks are not manicured, but more wild (or neglected as another member of our group pointed out). We saw a lovely amusement park for children as well.

The markets we found were a combination of Turkish markets (particularly the spices) and Asian markets with cheap goods. Counterfeit Addidas seems to be hot items here. Part of the market was for flowers, plants and herbs. A special highlight for me was the food market, the only part that was inside. The meat was laid out in the open, non-refrigerated. There was lots of dried fish, some vegetables and prepared salads, eggs, and spices. The Azeri men at the market who wanted to talk with us. One of them was grinding up a spice mix for another customer when we came up to the counter and he let us smell it. I asked if I could take a photo and he said yes and then the older man behind the counter demanded that we come behind the counter and had the younger man take our photo with him. We talked for a while and they encouraged us to visit Azerbaijan, assuring us of its beauty. They gave Mary some spice mix and me some nuts and dried fruit. It was such a happy experience and a fantastic start to the trip.

I have found myself thinking about what an interesting interplay of visual images there are in the landscape here. In some ways, I almost feel lost in time, like I could be here in the 1970s or 1980s. The urban landscape and layout, the architecture, the feel of the place itself. At the same time, it is almost as if that were hundreds of years in the past. The free market has clearly taken over here as I saw in bright, shiny new stores here and children on new shiny tricycles and the clothes many people are wearing and the cars they are driving. It is almost as if the command economy never existed here.

Since I haven’t had much sleep in the last few days, I am going to do that now so I can make sense tomorrow. I should be able to post over the next couple of days until we get to the yurt camp. I am trying to balance taking photos with the camera and the iPad so I can post some of them online as I go.


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