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5Jul/110

Charity Sand Festival in the centre of Yekaterinburg

You might have wondered why the area in front of Kosmos Cinema is enclosed by walls this summer, obstructing the view of the city pond. It doesn’t look like a café and the entrance fee is 120 roubles. Actually, I got there accidentally - because Mr. Putin was in the city many central streets were closed even for pedestrians. A lady at the entrance promised me uplifting experience like back in childhood, meanwhile my money will go to the local charity for children with cancer. That was enough to convince me to buy a ticket to the sand world.

The project is called Sand Festival (www.sand-festival.ru). It was created by professors and students of the Ural Academy of Architecture in Yekaterinburg. They made 14 sand sculptures of popular Russian and foreign cartoon characters.

 

The sand box is opened until August 31 daily from 10 to 23 and there are workshops for children at weekends. Entrance fee: 120R for adults, 90R for students, 50R for school children, free for children under seven.

23Mar/110

Unfinished TV tower – a landmark of Yekaterinburg

Although the landmark of Yekaterinburg is supposed to be Church on Blood, built on the site of Tsar’s murder, there is another famous construction in the city - the unfinished TV tower, aka fun tower or suicide tower. It is now a symbol of Soviet Sverdlovsk.

Construction of the tower began in 1981. The plan was ambitious: to erect a monument of technological progress which would be the tallest TV tower in the Asian part of the Euro-Asian continent with a height of 440 meters, with a restaurant and a viewing platform. There were no technological reasons to build a tower like this but it was to make a statement like Ostankino TV tower in Moscow.

In 1991 the tower was only half-finished (220m) but with the collapse of the USSR the project came to a halt. The unprotected building site was discovered as an adventure playground by base jumpers from all over Europe. One could reach the top by the left over scaffolding inside the tower. Those days in 1990s the tower was called ‘a suicide tower’. Officially, three people died from accidents or suicide at the tower, but the citizens say there were more than twenty. Since that the building site has been closed and the unfinished tower has become an eyesore surrounded by the new shiny skyscrapers.

In the year 2005 when skyscrapers were being built in the center

 In 2007 the city government initiated an investor competition for the completion of the tower. The future investors were permitted to erect a cultural and entertainment center with hotel and conference rooms. But the economic crisis that began in 2008 made the European investors change their minds.

The future of the tower is uncertain. Meanwhile, the citizens got used to it and it's a good mark when looking for directions. As for me, I would be very upset if the tower was demolished. There is something symbolic, beautiful even about this grey unfinished construction that reminds me of Sverdlovsk, the city I was born in.    

     On March, 8th local base-jumper Ratmir parachuted from the tower and landed near the circus with flowers for his fiancée. He got the official permission to do this. Watch his video here: http://www.e1.ru/news/spool/news_id-345421-section_id-124.html

p.s. If you scroll this page down, at the very bottom of it you will see the top of the unfinished TV tower 😉

25Jan/110

Hotels in Yekaterinburg

Questions about Yekaterinburg hotels remain popular although there is a lot of information you can get on the Internet. Of course, you’d like to have reliable opinions on comfortable and affordable accommodation. Lonely Planet’s reviews are quite sound. Though, as a local citizen I feel that some things should be updated.

Here’s my list of Yekaterinburg hotels based on my own experience, on my Russian and foreign friends’ impressions as well as the positive reviews of the tourists I was happy to meet in Yekaterinburg. This list only includes the hotels located in the city centre or very close to it so that you don’t have to use a taxi or public transport to do the sightseeing.  I divided the list into two categories: affordable and pricey. ‘Affordable’ could still cost less considering the European standards. But this is Russia – not the cheapest country to travel. As for ‘Pricey’ category, they are worth every rouble. At least, Russians know how to treat their guest s in terms of luxury!

 

Kristall Hotel is budget and hard to find

Affordable hotels

 

Kristall Hotel (avg/night from 20$ to 85$) Ul. Korolenko, 5 www.kristall-ekb.ru ( in Russian only, no English speaking staff in the hotel)

It's a combination of a hostel and a hotel. You can get a single bed in 3-bed dormitory equiped with a TV-set and a fridge for 550R =20$ or an Economy Double room for 500$ In both cases you have to share a toilet and a shower (tourists say everything is clean). By booking a suit for 85$ you get a private bathroom.

Kristall is 10 min walk from the train station or from the city centre. It can be difficult to find, so at best find Ul Lunacharskogo 31 on your map. The building is behind it in the yard. It has a sign Korolenko5. Facing the building turn right and walk through the parking place. The hotel entrance is on the other side of the building it has a small sign in Russian. Press the security button and climb the stairs to 3d floor (there is no elevator)

 

Hotel Iset, an example of 1930s constructivism shaped like a sickle

Guru Hotel (avg/night 94 US$) Ul. Repina, 22 http://guruhotel.ru/en

Guru is a small cosy and relatively new hotel. David, a British tourist pointed out the staff’s good command of English. It’s located in a 20 min walk from the center but it’s got some interesting sights near it, including a church, an old prison and the Central Stadium which is supposed to become one of the host pitches for World Cup 2018.

Hotel Iset (avg/night 114 US$) Prospect Lenina, 69/1 http://www.hoteliset.ru/

The rooms may be a bit small and the corridors are tight and dark but the history behind the building makes your stay very exciting. It was built in 1934 as a hostel for KGB members. The hostel was a part of infamous Chekistsky Gorodok (KGB residential complex) which is shaped like a hammer and sickle.

Green Park Hotel (avg\night 130 US$) Ul Narodnoy Voli,24 www.greenhotel.ru

The hotel is located in a quiet area between Novo-Tikhvinsky Convent and the old stadium which is used as a public skating rink in winter. Stefano, an Italian designer praised the friendly staff and lots of greenery around the place.

Grand Avenue Hotel (avg/night 140 US$) Prospect Lenina, 40  http://avenuehotel.ru/eng

It’s difficult to find a more central location. The hotel is situated next to the Opera Theatre and is only 10 min. walk from Church on the Blood.

Pricey hotels

Novotel (avg/night 200US$) Ul. Engelsa, 7 http://novotel-ekaterinburg.ru/en

Opened on 2010 Novotel was opened in 2010 and already gained a good reputation for quality service and modern design. Manfred, an architect from Germany was especially surprised by separated shower and toilet facilities. The modern building of Novotel is surrounded by a number of old, pretty wooden houses on Engels Street which usually remain unnoticed by the tourists.

Hotel Onegin (avg/night 200US$) Ul. Rozy Luxemburg,49 http://www.hotelonegin.com/?lang=en

The hotel is situated on 9th floor of Onegin Plaza Business Centre with a good view to St. Trinity Cathedral. The morning and evening chimes of the Cathedral add to the bourgeois atmosphere of Onegin. But if you don’t like the ringing sound, there is live piano music in the lobby bar in the evening.

Hotel Voznesensky (avg/night 170 US$) Ul. Mamina Sibiryaka, 52 http://v-hotel.ru/?lang=en

Voznesensky has a nice location at the foot of Voznesenskaya Gorka (Ascention hill) right behind the 19th century Rastorguyev-Kharitonov park with impressive Church on the Blood across the street. Voznesensky is a good family hotel. It is also popular with celebs of all types: from ballet divas of Bolshoy Theatre to the rockers of Uriah Heep and Bloodhound Gang.

Park Inn (avg/night 217US$) Ul. Mamina Sibiryaka, 98 http://www.parkinn.ru/hotel-ekaterinburg

Park Inn is located behind the Opera Theatre not far from the Zoo. It’s one of the largest hotels in Yekaterinburg. With all the amenities you can imagine, it pays off the price. Pets are accepted too!

5Jan/110

Ice Town 2011 in Yekaterinburg

Every winter right before New Year holidays the main square of Yekaterinburg turns into an ice town with a tall Christmas Tree and a skating rink in the middle. Little Yekaterinburgers go riding, skating, taboganning  while adults take photos of magnificent ice sculptures.

This year the theme of the ice town is Cosmos as 2011 is 5oth anniversary of the first flight into outer space.

On April 12, 1961 Yuri Gagarin, a citizen of the Soviet Union piloted a successful flight into outter space that lasted 108 min. Gagarin and his famous smile (above picture) became the simbol of all that was good about the USSR. The other symbol is an apple tree from the popular Soviet song on cosmos invasion: 'Apple trees will soon bloom even on Mars' Many apple trees are already blooming in the Ice Town of Yekaterinburg.

The bitter Ural weather doesn't scare anyone (it was -20 when the photos were taken). Just put on a warm parka and a thick woolen scarf to make sort of a balaclava like these little tiwns below. By the way, look at the glistening things on the snow sculpture behind them - those are coins!

It's a new tradition - people stick  five or ten copeck for good luck and wish to have a prosperous new year. You can stick one too! There's plenty of time as the ice town is open until mid. February.

 Here are more photos and more ice sculptures created by sculptors from all over Russia. Welcome to outer space!

 

 

 

14Dec/100

The most beautiful house in Yekaterinburg

I’m often asked about a beautiful green three-storey building in the historical center of Yekaterinburg. What is there in the building and what is the story behind it?

The building is definitely the most beautiful in the city. It is Sevastyanov’s House. Nikolay Sevastyanov was a successful businessman. He made a fortune during Gold Rush in Yekaterinburg at the beginning of 18th century. Just like other merchants of provincial Yekaterinburg, Sevastyanov felt envious of his counterparts from Moscow and St. Petersburg. The Ural oligarchs might have more money but they didn’t have fame and nobility the Muscovites enjoyed. I should add here that Yekaterinburg residents have inherited the competitive spirit and still live with it. For example, Yekaterinburgers have a firm belief they live in the third major city in Russia (after Moscow and St. Petersburg of course). Despite the fact that Kazan officially patented the name of ‘Russia Third Capital’ in 2009, we still tend to call Yekaterinburg the third capital or at least the Capital of the Urals.

So Sevastyanov’s kitschy eclectic house was to make this statement – Yekaterinburg is not a provincial Godforsaken place. And speaking about God, Sevastyanov even sent a request to the Tsar to get permission to cover the roof with gold. That was too much, as only Churches in Russia may have golden domes so that God can notice them. For his daring intentions Sevastyanov was ordered to go to church every day wearing heavy iron-cast boots. Luckily for him, the church of St. Yekaterina was just across the street from his beautiful house.
Another interesting fact: the owner had never lived in his house. Sevastyanov rented it to rich visitors. He himself preferred a modest life-style and had a small wooden house behind the mansion. However, every day he would sit outside on a bench facing the big green house and watching passersby who would inevitably stop and gaze at his creation. Neither Sevastyanov nor the bench is no longer here but passersby continue gazing at the house with admiration.

And guess who was the last visitor to stay in Sevastyanov’s House? Mr. President of Russian Federation was the one. The house had served as president Medvedev's residence until summer 2010 when a newly built residence was made for him. People from the president’s circle stated that they had liked Sevestyanov’s House better.