There are few places on this earth where you can feel truly alone. Siberia is one of them. In the middle of the taiga or tundra, at the top of its mountains and along its rivers, the Siberian space provides a feeling of solitude and freedom. If you have exhausted the catalogue of "nature holidays", Siberia is for you. Track skiing, dog sledding, river cruises, helicopter flights over volcanoes or simple meditation in front of so much beauty, this immense territory reveals its charms to anyone who wants to cross the Urals. It takes seven days by train to cross this country, 500 kilometres is a healthy walk and some northern regions are cut off from the world several months of the year. But it is well worth it.
The culture shock :
The impression that these spaces provide as far as the eye can see is so strong that you feel uncomfortable when you return to the city after a few days of hiking or trekking. But this feeling of discrepancy quickly passes: the Siberian cities have a sense of welcome and are of a comforting tranquility. Far from being architectural ugliness, the oldest ones are even very beautiful such as Irkutsk or Tomsk.They are also an opportunity for the traveller to observe the Siberian melting pot. Russians, Ukrainians, Poles, Caucasians, Asians... Siberia is the birthplace of about thirty ethnic minorities who have absolutely nothing in common with the Russians and who are divided into several linguistic families: the Ugrian peoples (cousins of the Finns... and Hungarians!), the Uralic peoples (cousins of the previous ones), the Tungus, Mongolian and Turkish peoples belonging to the Altaic family, not to mention the hyperborean peoples who have not finished enraging linguists. Siberia is also this mixture of peoples and cultures, at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, as a question mark on Russian identity.
Unfortunately, travel to Russia is often limited to its European part, the most populated, the oldest, but also the least representative of the Russian space. While the Muscovites are restless and the people of Petersburg are constantly looking at Europe, Siberia is imposing a different, slower, even contemplative pace. It is difficult to state generalities about the economic situation of the Siberians: some regions benefit from significant investments (gas, oil, mining, etc.) while others are left to be abandoned. However, a trip beyond the Urals may allow you to appreciate the situation of contemporary Russians more accurately than a stay in Moscow. Moreover, the Siberians have the reputation (perfectly justified) of being very hospitable and delighted to introduce foreign visitors to their country. More than anywhere else in Russia, you will feel this tradition of welcoming a foreigner as a prince and taking him in hand when he is lost. As a space of solitude, Siberia is also a place where solidarity is a word that takes on its full meaning.
© Dominique Auzias & Jean-Paul Labourdette