December 01, 2019

City Spotlight: Barnaul


City Spotlight: Barnaul
A view of the city from the Barnaulka river  Alexandra Curtis

Barnaul? What's that? Well... if you're thinking about just looking it up on the internet, don't.

We'll save you the time and tell you that a quick Google search of the city doesn't yield particularly impressive results. Other than a perhaps vastly overzealous article labeling it "The City of the Future," most of the search results draw a much less glorious image. In particular, a Telegraph article titled "Barnaul, I Hated the Place" doesn't exactly inspire wanderlust.

As a modest-sized Russian city of some 600 thousand residents, the city actually has some rather unusual claims to fame. Not only is it the hometown of the Russian spy Maria Butina, but it's also the city where Russian opposition leader, Alexei Navalny was infamously dyed green when assaulted with the Russian medical cure-all "zelyonka."

Despite all of this, Barnaul residents have a lovely sense of city pride. One particularly catchy city anthem chants as its chorus the line, “Barnaul is the capital of the world!” 

So what gives? What makes this seemingly average city so dear to so many? This post offers a more personal, and perhaps fairer, travel review of the city, given by someone who spent a significant amount of time there as an exchange student.

On the off chance you ever find yourself in the less-oft visited Siberian city of Barnaul, here are some places to visit that are well worth your while.

Students pose next to big white letters which spell out "BARNAUL" in cyrillic.
Step aside Hollywood, Barnaul did it better. | Alexandra Curtis, HWS Study Abroad

1. The Park Uphill

Park "Nagorny" is the oldest and most iconic park in Barnaul. Located on the bank of the Ob River, the views are spectacular. Built in the 1960s, the most astonishing part of the park is the set of zig-zagging staircases that lead up to the top of a hill. From there you can get not only an excellent view of the entire city, but you can also pose for a photo among a Hollywood-esque set of giant white letters spelling out the city's name. During the day, the park is full of vendors and people, and at night the letters light up, creating the perfect atmosphere for an evening walk.

Students pose on a city street in front of a statue of Lenin.
Would it be a trip to Russia without a picture with Lenin? | Alexandra Curtis, HWS Study Abroad

2. Lenin Street

Most Russian cities seem to have at least one (or several) streets or public landmarks named for a famous communist leader, and Barnaul is no exception. Going right through the city center, Lenin Street is what would probably be considered Barnaul's main street. Since it is busy with cars and pedestrians, taking a walk down Lenin Street is a great way to get to know the city. Cute coffee shops, stores that sell knock-off Nikes, and various fast-food dives that specialize in shawarma line the sidewalks. In the middle of the road run the ancient but oh-so-charming red and yellow trolley-cars.

A cozy meal of pirozhki, borscht, tea, and sour cream.
A meal fit for a tsar | Alexandra Curtis

3. The Mountain Pharmacy

While a pharmacy is usually the one place a traveler hopes to avoid when traveling, The Mountain Pharmacy in Barnaul completely defies expectations. It's actually a museum about the traditional herbal medicines of the region, historical medical practices, and gastronomical culture. The attached restaurant features Siberian cuisine from the nineteenth century and a classy aristocratic vibe. It is also a real operating pharmacy, and guests can sign up to take classes on herbal and traditional medicine, as well as home crafts and culinary skills. Going to this museum really feels like slipping back in time.

A bright blue antique car and its mannequin assailant.
Cool cars, cooler weather | Alexandra Curtis

4. The Museum of Carjacking

This museum has been included on lists of Russia's most unique museums, and for good reason. This museum is truly unlike anything else in the country, perhaps the world. A little bit off the beaten track, this hidden gem has a hall full of strange instruments used for carjackings, such as Kalashnikov guns, pressure gauges, toilet plungers, and hand radio sets. As you venture further into the museum, you'll find an entire garage full of vintage Soviet cars, motorbikes, and other fun props that reflect the tone of the era. The museum grounds also feature an exhibit on traditional Russian folk culture and an adult toy shop, so there's something for everyone!

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