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14Feb/170

Traveling in Southern Urals. Part II

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This winter my colleagues, the guides of Yekaterinburg and I decided to explore the Southern Urals to see its touristic potential. Within 6 days we covered over 3000km by car, visited 3 regions of Russia populated by over 100 nationalities: Chelyabinsk Region, Orenburg Region and the Republic of Bashkortostan. Almost every day we were crossing the border of Europe and Asia, got into a severe blizzard in Step and drove through the thickest fog I’ve ever seen along the river of Ural. The temperatures in January varied from – 25 in the mountains to -7 Celsius in the step areas.

This story is about the Republic of Bashkortostan.

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As the roads get broader and better, the road signs are written in two languages and the music stations play ethnic songs in Bashkir, you immediately understand where you are. Bashkortostan is a small autonomous republic with around 30% of native population. In the course of Russian history Bashkirs were with or against Russians, therefore the Tsars considered them unreliable and they were not recruited in the Tsar’s army. But Russian Empire needed their lands full of mineral recourses and black oil besides the geographical position was important to protect the country in the South from Kyrgyz Kaganat (that was the name of the Central Asian and Southern Siberian lands before they were divided into Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan end others)

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A sign on the Museum of History of Sterlitamak in Bashkir

Bashkirs don’t like it when Russians say that they are similar to Tatars. Although both are Muslims and their languages of Turkic origin are similar, Tatars have always been traders while Bashkirs have been good hunters. Living in the Ural mountains in dense forests they developed the knowledge of using wild nature for their needs, wild bees in particular.

When in Bashkortostan (though Russians would say Bashkiria) you should definitely go to a local market. Amidst stalls with horse meat and dairy products made of horse milk one corner of the market is always full of famous Bashkir honey. Back in the days people took honey from hives of wild bees. Nowadays it’s almost a national tradition of having bees and making honey. So, as you understand honey is the main souvenir that you can bring from Bashkortostan.

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We skipped Ufa – the capital of Bashkortostan. It’s certainly worth a visit especially in summer time. But since our destination was Orenburg, we stopped in Sterlitamak, the second largest city of the Republic.

A former merchants town mainly inhabited by Tatars because they know how to trade, as you remember, today Strelitamak is a typical Ural Soviet-looking industrial city with a few old buildings in the center. Mosques and Orthodox churches alternate as you drive through the city. For over 300 years people have learnt how to live in peace and tolerance here.

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As we came to Bashkortostan on the eve of Epiphany Day (January 19th) we decided to visit Tabynsk – a resort with mineral springs not far from Sterlitamak. It also has a small convent with a famous Tabynsk icon of Our Lady. The icon dates back to X-XI century and it was found next to the mineral spring in the 1570s. Surely, then the spring became holy and hundreds of people come to Tabynsk to dive there on the Epiphany Day.

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The man in the pool said that the water was warm. +4C compared to – 20 outside, of course it was warm enough but we were not ready for a swim. Besides, that evening we had to be in Orenburg. The last 250km were very difficult as the roads along the Belaya river were covered in the thickest fog I’ve ever seen. It took us 5 hours instead of 3 but we made it to Orenburg safely though the following day there were reports about many car accidents and 3 lethal ones in the vicinities of Strelitamak.

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7Feb/170

Traveling in Southern Urals. Part I

This winter my colleagues, the guides of Yekaterinburg and I decided to explore the Southern Urals to see its touristic potential. Within 6 days we covered over 3000km by car, visited 3 regions of Russia populated by over 100 nationalities: Chelyabinsk Region, Orenburg Region and the Republic of Bashkortostan. Almost every day we were crossing the border of Europe and Asia, got into a severe blizzard in Step and drove through the thickest fog I’ve ever seen along the river of Ural. The temperatures in January varied from – 25 in the mountains to -7 Celsius in the step areas.

Here’s the first story of our staying in the land of Sinegorye (Blue Mountains).

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On the first day we drove through the mountain region of National parks Taganai and Zyratkul along the spine of the Urals. The territory once belonged to the Bashkirs, muslim Turkic people but the Russians bought this piece of land for what the Bashkirs thought was a good price. However, the land appeared to be full of mineral resources, so apart from the National Park this western corner of Chelyabinsk region has many metallurgical and nuclear plants. The area became industrial in the 18th century but preserved the Turkic names, for example, Taganai means a moon holder in the Bashkir language.

Taganai National Park

Taganai National Park

We stopped at the village of Syrostan (Yellow place) with a lovely Russian Orthodox Church.

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Between Syrostan and the town of Miass there is a Park of the Stone Age. Alexander, a local craftsman is making wooden sculptures of ancient citizens of the Ural mountains.

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Walking among the wooden people our guide dressed like a shaman told us interesting facts for example, on how to catch and kill a mammoth!

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Meanwhile, Alexander, the park owner was busy making a snow mammoth. As we came the mammoth was almost finished. So much work for one man knowing that his animal will melt down in two months!

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The western corner of Chelyabinsk region is called Sinegorye (Blue Mountains): numerous lakes and the pines have a shade of blue. It’s especially obvious on sunny winter days.

Zavialikha Ski Slope

Zavialikha Ski Slope

Crossing the border of Europe and Asia there  you get to Europe but only geographically because in fact you get to the autonomous Republic of Bashkortostan… and that will be the second story!

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From Asia to Europe

27Dec/160

Cherepanov’s House in Visim

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The house of Vitaliy Cherepanov, a local craftsman, is a famous place in the village of Visim and its vicinities. Vitaliy was a factory worker in Nizhni Tagil. When he retired he bought a house in Visim (195km North of Yekaterinburg) and turned it into a masterpiece.

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Vitaly is an amateur painter and sculptor. In one of the interviews he said that he started painting in his childhood and one of his first works was a portrait of Stalin. His mother wasn’t happy with the result as apparently the portrait didn’t look canonical. Vitaliy stopped painting but fortunately not for long.

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Working at the factory Cherepanov got interested in sculptures. During lunch breaks he was busy with wood. His wooden sculptures, mainly the characters of the Russian fairytales, are now exhibited in front of the house in Visim.

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Sometimes, if the owner of the house and his wife are at home they open the gates and let tourists in to see more works which are planted all over the garden.

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Cherepanov doesn’t sell his sculptures and he refuses to take money from visitors. To stop money talks he put a stone in front of the house with a saying: ‘God’s gift isn’t measured by money’

Vitaliy is a very hospitable artist. He likes showing his art and one day as I came with two Swiss tourists he invited us inside to show modest wooden house. As you can guess, he did a lot of interior design himself. The roof of the house was painted by Vitaliy with motives of the Ural nature near Visim.

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If you come to Visim you will find the house easily, just follow the sign ??? ?????????? (Cherepanov’s House). It’s on Kalinina st, 64

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Visim is also the place of the deer and ostrich farm, opened every Sat-Sun all year long

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2Aug/160

How I met a Romanovphile from Canada

This summer I was lucky to meet a very interesting tourist from Canada - Paul Gilbert, the founder of Royalrussia.org. Paul is Russophile and Romanovphile, his publishing house in Canada specializes in books on Imperial Russia and the Romanovs.

It was Paul’s second visit of Yekaterinburg. Obviously, he knew much more about Nicholas II than me. Apart from visiting the Monastery Ganina Yama and the actual place of the Romanovs’ burial place found in 1978, Paul wanted to go to the town of Alapayevsk.

with Paul Gilbert in Alapayevsk

with Paul Gilbert in Alapayevsk

Alapayevsk is a small town 180km North-East of Yekaterinburg. Romanovs-wise, the town was the place of the detention of the Grand Duke and Princes Romanov, the elder sister of the Empress Alexandra. The relatives of Nicholas II were imprisoned in a school building of Alapaevsk. On July 18th  1918, the following night after the execution of the family of Nicholas II his relatives in Alapayevsk were taken to a nearby forest and thrown into an old mine when they were still alive. Unlike in Yekaterinburg, the bodies of the Grand Dukes and Elizabeth were found a month later  by the White Army.

Construction of the church in the Convent of St. Elizaveta

Construction of the church in the Convent of St. Elizaveta

Today Alapayevsk has a monastery of the New Martyrs of Russia on the site of the mine and a convent of St. Elizaveta . Elizabeth was canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church like the family of Nicholas II. Today the relics of St. Elizaveta are in the Russian Orthodox Church of Maria Magdalena in Jerusalem.

The school in Alapayevsk where the Romanovs were kept is still a secondary school. One of the classrooms has a memorial wall with the photos of the Royal prisoners.

The school still works in Alapayevsk

The school still works in Alapayevsk

It took us a whole day to explore the sites of Alapayevsk with Paul. The priest of the local church was very kind to take his time and to tell more about the days of the Romanovs in Alapayevsk.

I’m sure Paul will write about his experience in one of the next magazines he publishes twice a year. I was honored to receive two of the latest magazines with very interesting articles on the Romanovs.

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In 2013 Her Imperial Highness Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna had elevated "Paul Gilbert" to the Imperial and Royal Order of St. Stanislav, III Class.

"The Order is being given in recognition of a lifetime of service to the Russian Imperial House. Gilbert is best known for his Royal Russia web site and blog, the publisher of more than 30 books and magazines on the Romanov dynasty, his support of the Russian monarchy, and his personal dedication to distributing accurate information about the House of Romanov and to highlighting the importance of the Russian Imperial House in today's Russia."

extract from http://www.angelfire.com/pa/ImperialRussian/royalty/russia/introduction.html

photo from http://www.angelfire.com

photo from http://www.angelfire.com

 Living in Canada Paul is a true Ambassador of Russia in the West and in his blog he keeps on reminding people that the way western media portrays Russia is far from reality and to understand the truth one should go and see Russia.

You can read more on Paul Gilbert and Imperial Russia here: www.royalrussia.org

11Jun/160

2 days of hiking in Taganai, Southern Urals

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In 2015 I made a post about hiking in Taganai National Park in winter http://askural.com/2015/02/national-park-taganai/

A year later a young couple from the United States Pravit and Rebecca sent a request do arrange a two-day tour to Taganai in summer time. Luckily, our local guide Ilia who knows Taganai as good as his home town, was available for the dates of the tour and I was able to join to take more photos of the Southern Urals.

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You can book this tour here: http://yekaterinburg4u.ru/en/tours/taganai

Ilia provided our guests with all the equipment, tents, sleeping bags and rucksacks. He even brought woolen socks for everyone which was very smart because the night was chilly to say the least (-1 C). Propely equipped we started our walk 8km till the first peak Mt. Perya (1034)

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In summer time Taganai looks as beautiful as in winter. We were lucky because both days were sunny. We could see the town of Zlatoust in Chelyabinsk Region and even a southern ridge of the Urals.

You can see Zlatoust in the back, the nearest town to Taganai

You can see Zlatoust in the back, the nearest town to Taganai

Compare the same place in summer and in winter...

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Another great thing was that because of negative temperature at night there were no mosquitoes, none of them for two days! Those who live in the Urals or in the similar climate zone will understand what a luxury it is.

In the evening we got to the tourist shelter.

Ilia is cooking dinner

Ilia is cooking dinner

Tourists can rent a room in the ranger’s house but our American guests chose camping in tents. Recently, a Russian banya has been built at the tourist shelter, so we asked the ranger to prepare it for us.  I didn’t take pictures in the steam bath though because it was dark, steamy and just you know, we forgot to take towels with!

The next morning we climbed Mt. Otkliknoy Greben (1155m).

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There’s something like a terrace at the top of it. So we stayed there for an hour to relax and to enjoy complete silence – no other people, no noise, no even birds singing or wind blowing. It was a perfect retreat.

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And again, compare the same place in winter time

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In case you wondered how much snow we have in winter. Enough, as you can see

In case you wondered how much snow we have in winter. Enough, as you can see

On the way back we stopped at the unique stone river. The river is 6km long, 300-500m wide. 9-tonn rocks are piled in 4 layers at the depth of 6m. The Taganai Stone River is the world largest deposit of aventurine.

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The Taganai Stone River is the world largest deposit of aventurine.

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Considering the distance from Yekaterinburg (takes about 5hrs by car to get to Taganai), a one day tour to Taganai is too hectic but possible too.

Book a two or three day hiking tour to Taganai here: http://yekaterinburg4u.ru/en/tours/taganai

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6May/160

Rafting competitions on the Iset river

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On the 1st of May we celebrated Labour Day on the Iset river observing the riffle called Revun. The place 90 km South of Yekaterinburg attracts many tourists, hikers, professional rafters and rock climbers on May holidays.

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The name of the riffle Revun means Howler. The Ural rivers become especially fast and turbulent in early May. The Iset river that flows through Yekaterinburg is considered one of the quietest however a 300 meters long riffle is located in a rocky canyon. The track is difficult due to many stones and rocks lying in the water.

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Rafting competitions are held here during May holidays and in mid. June when Russians celebrate the Day of Constitution (June 12th). The eastern bank of the river is also ideal for rock climbing.

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The Iset river carved its way through solid porphyritic rocks of volcanic origin here. Behind the rocks the river bed gets wider again.

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The area has another place of interest – Smolinskaya limestone cave only 1 km away from the riffle. The cave is 500m long. It’s one of the longest caves in Sverdlovsk region. Old believers who refused to accept the reforms of the Russian Orthodox Church and ran away to the Urals from Moscovia used to come and pray in the cave in the 18th – 19th centuries.

The cross of Old Believers near the cave

The cross of Old Believers near the cave

One grotto is a vertical lime hole called ‘Road to hell’. Tourists need a rope to get there.

Road to Hell. Photo from nashural.ru

Road to Hell. Photo from nashural.ru

We didn’t go to hell but visited other grottos instead and got out totally dirty. So make sure you take extra clothes for visiting the Smolinskaya cave.

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Getting there from Yekaterinburg:

By car: The riffle Revun is located 20km away from Kamensk Uralskiy. Go in the direction of Kamensk Uralskiy till the village Pokrovskoye. Turn right there and go to the village Beklenischevo. The riffle is at the end of the village.

By bus: take a bus that goes to Kamensk Uralskiy, Kurgan or Shadrinsk. Get off at Pokrovskoye village and walk 5km to the village Beklenischevo.

By local train. Take a train to Kamensk Uralskiy. Get off at the station Perebor or ‘78km’ walk to Pokrovskoye village then to Beklenischevo.

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2Mar/160

Ural Brewery in the atomic town

Beer is not my favourite drink at all but this post is about Ural beer. It turned out that we have a very famous Jaws Brewery in the Urals. Surprisingly, it’s well known in Moscow, Belarus and Kazakhstan but locals don’t know much about it.

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As I was going to join an  excursion to the brewery, Greg, an American tourists asked if it was Jaws. I was surprised that a visitor knew that name. Well, it turned out that he had already had a pint at the Jaws Spot in the center of Yekaterinburg. But the brewery is located in the town of Zarechniy, 54 km east of Yekaterinburg.

A tour to Zarechniy would have been impossible in the Soviet era because it’s the site of the Beloyarsk Nuclear Power Station. The town was built in 1957 to service the second power station in the USSR. Don’t expect to see the power station as it’s located outside the city. But the tour includes a visit of the Atomic Laundry!

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picture from www.jawsbeer.ru

Atomic laundry is the name of the bar. Together with the brewery they are located in the buildings of the former Soviet Laundry, hence the name.

In the bar we did beer tasting. The philosophy of the brewery is to "to bring the beer culture to people". The basic line consists of still rare in Russia types: English Pale Ale, Oatmeal Stout, American Pale Ale.

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During the tasting in a cosy bar the bartenders explained the name of the brand: Jaws are huge waves seen on the coast of the Hawaiian island of Maui in the cold winter months. No words can describe their beauty and power and just one look is enough to be fascinated for life. Jaws are often called the mother of all waves. It happened so that the brewery in Zarechniy was the first to bring the culture of the new beer movement to the Urals.

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After tasting we had a tour at the experimental brewery next to the bar. Our guide, one of the managers of Jaws explained the process of making new experimental ales.

In 2012 the company decided to put more of the American hops into the "Nuclear Laundry" - one of the first IPA in Russia (and definitely the first IPA in the Urals). To this day bitterness of 80 IBU for the majority of local people is comparable to a nuclear explosion but the owners don’t give up and try to explain that bitterness has its taste and quality.

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I was really proud to learn that we have a quality brewery in the Urals. It’s not that popular with the locals yet, but the owners seem to have high ambitions and they have all chances to succeed. They also have a good website well translated into English http://www.jawsbeer.ru/en/

So, welcome to Yekateriburg, Russia for quality beer!

28Jan/160

How to celebrate Russian Christmas in the Urals

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On January 9th 2016 our international team of tourists went to the village of Kostino (130km East of Yekaterinburg) where we celebrated Svyatki. Svyatki or saint days is a mixture of pagan believes and Christian traditions celebrated between Ortodox Christmas (Jan.7th) and Epiphany (Jan. 19th).

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The first week of Svyatki is called a saint week and includes celebrating of Christmas. The second week is called "scary". Slavic people believed that evil forces are particular dangerous during that week.  It includes fortune telling at night, carroling and playing outdoor games.

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Fortune telling is one of the traditions in January. Young girls got together in a banya at night to find out who they would marry and how soon. But first a girl had to take off her cross. Christian and pagan rites had to be separated.

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In Kostino we used candle wax and a bowl with water to predict the future. You can guess the meaning of the shapes made by the drops of wax.

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 When carrolling people wear masks of animals (bears, goats, bulls or geese etc) so that they can't be recognized   and one man should be dressed as a goat. If a host refuses to share drinks and treats with carrol singers, the goat can do some mischief. That's why we were treated well and our ‘goat’ – a French guest Gerard got a lot of drinks.

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We all agreed that Kostino is worth coming back in summer. So on July 9th we'll have another weekend tour to the village to celebrate a pagan slavic day of Ivan Kupala!

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9Special thanks to my Moscow friend Katya Sverchkova for the beautiful photos.

17Jan/160

Ice Town 2016

Happy New Year 2016, dear readers! And traditionally I'm happy to share the pictures of our ice town in the Square of 1905 of Yekaterinburg.

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This winter the recession in Russia affected everything including the Ice Town. There were no foreign sculptors invited this year only local. However the ice town is as specatcular as usual!

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In 2016 the theme is Russian Fairy Tales.

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The Square of 1905 is not the only place to see ice sculptures in Yekaterinburg. The contest 'Star of Bethlehem' for best ice sculptures started in front of the Church on the Blood on Christmas day (January 7th).

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 Click at the gallery to see more photos:

6Dec/150

Yeltsin Center and the Museum of the First Russian President

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On November 25th 2015 the street of Boris Yeltsin in Yekaterinburg was closed for traffic. Even pedestrians were not allowed to walk there in the evening and the owners of the appartments were asked not to look out of the windows as snipers were sitting on the rooves. All the precautions were made for the openning of the Yeltsin Center. The fact that President Putin and Prime Minister Medvedev as well as other polititians of the past and the present were invited to the opening had made so much fuss in the city.

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The next day the center was opened for public. Despite the apparent lack of interest in Yelrsin in Russia, the museum has become the most visited place in the city with over 5000 visitors over the first week after the opening. The Yeltsin foundation hired Ralph Appelbaum Associates, the company that designed the William J. Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock, Ark., and the new Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center in Moscow.

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A replica hall of the Parlament in Moscow

The center includes a research center, conference halls, an art gallery and a museum that depicts the sweep of history during Mr. Yeltsin’s life — from the Gulag (Yeltsin's parents were repressed and exhiled to the village of Budka 150km east of Yekaterinburg) to World War II, from perestroika to Mr. Yeltsin’s resigning on 31.12.1999, a few minutes before the millenium.

Nuclear weapon breifcase (with electronics removed)

Nuclear weapon breifcase (with electronics removed)

Yeltsin’s daughter, Tatyana Yumasheva, one of the organizers of the center said that it is aimed “to tell the truth about the 1990s”, from the constitutional and economic crises of the day to the first Chechen war.

Empty shelves of Russian supermarkets during the perestroika

Empty shelves of Russian supermarkets during the perestroika

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Empty shelves of Russian supermarkets during the perestroika

Yeltsin Museum is very interactive. One can give a speech from the Parlament stage, sit on the sofa in the Yeltsins' living room and watch TV or get on a real trolley bus that Yeltsin used when he was a Moscow official.

A trolley bus and Moscow of the 1980s

A trolley bus and Moscow of the 1980s

In the trolley bus (Mr Putin, Mr Medvedev, Naina Yeltsina in the back) Photo by 66.ru

In the trolley bus (Mr Putin, Mr Medvedev, Naina Yeltsina in the back) Photo by 66.ru

The museum is divided into seven zones – "seven important days in the history of the country": the August coup  of 1991; unpopular economic measures; the birth of the Constitution; Yeltsin's second election campaign; Yeltsin’s farewell to the Kremlin.

Yeltsin's office in the Kremlin with authentic furniture. 5 minutes before resignation

Yeltsin's office in the Kremlin with authentic furniture. 5 minutes before resignation

Yeltsin's phrase 'I'm tired, I'm leaving

Yeltsin's phrase 'I'm tired, I'm leaving" before New Year of 2000

The museum already has audio guides in English and is preparing to translate them into Spanish, French and German.

Opened: Tue - Sun 10.00 - 21.00

Admission: 200rub