I realized that we live in a small world when during my vacation in Kerala, India I met a local man who had lived in Yekaterinburg for 2 years. Joshy (that was his name) had worked as a chef at an Ayurvedic Spa hotel near my home city!
India is now much closer than it seemed to be. To be precise it’s only 30 km South-West to Yekaterinburg in Kungurka village. IndRa Spa hotel is an ideal get away for yoga lovers with authentic Indian food and Ayurvedic massages. And because I got hooked on Indian massages in Kerala my friend and I went out on retreat to Kungura. Besides, Rimma Ozorina who runs the place was kind enough to show us around.
Accommodation prices range between 2 and 5 thousand rubles (incl. three meals at an Indian vegetarian restaurant). IndRa has also got two designer rooms: “Maharaja” and “Indian Princess” suitable for honeymoons and special occasions for 8500 rubles.
Body massages start from 2000 rubles. It’s not as cheap as in India, but definitely more affordable compared to Moscow saloons. No wonder, the hotel has become popular with Moscow businessmen who come on business to Yekaterinburg but prefer to stay in a quiet place overnight. It takes about 40-60 min by car to get from Yekaterinburg to Kungurka.
After a delicious lunch and a massage session we were way too relaxed to try other activities that IndRa offers: tennis court, sauna and horse riding at local stables.
Kungurka is not only an Indian Spa retreat. First of all, it’s a traditional Russian village that has a certain rustic charm: old wooden houses with banyas and Orthodox churches with golden onions.
Getting there: From Yekaterinburg drive down Moskovskaya Ul. To Polevskoy Trakt (P-355). Pass Kurganovo and after the bridge turn right to Kungurka. Follow the sign “IndRa”
p.s. Good news for expats in Yekaterinburg. Some of you asked me about yoga classes in English: IndRa has Yoga and Ayurveda center on Belinskogo, 54 with English-speaking teachers from India.
More information (in Russian): http://indra-ayurveda.ru
I made this video two years ago. It looks like I've put on a few kilos since that while the city hasn't changed at all. Enjoy and come for a visit this summer!
This Sunday is the last day of the Pancake week also known as Maslenitsa. Maslenitsa is a pagan sun festival in Slavic mythology, celebrating the end of winter. The weather in Yekaterinburg didn’t indicate the imminent end though. It was -7 with heavy snows in the morning. But colorful Maslenitsa in Kharitonovsky Park (entrance on Shevchenko street) was in full swing.
Maslenitsa is celebrated here every year at the end of February - early March. It’s not only about eating pancakes – symbol of the sun. Maslenitsa also suggests snowball fighting for children, fist fighting for grown up men, sleigh riding and sledding. At the end of the party the straw effigy of Maslenitsa is put to the flames of a bonfire. The main events were held on the ice of the lake in Kharitonovsky Park. The ice is still very thick and it will remain so untill April.
This Sunday is also called Sunday of Forgiveness, so don’t be surprised if a stranger comes up to you and says ‘Forgive me for everything’.
Enjoy the photos and forgive me for not sharing the tasty Altay honey with you that I’ve bought there!
Living on the border of Europe and Asia, Yekaterinburgers tend to look westwards. Though sometimes it’s worth taking a look to the east to arrange a weekend in cold Siberia. Namely, in the mineral hot springs outside Tyumen.
Tyumen is the nearest Siberian city – 340 km from Yekaterinburg (about 4.5 hr by car if you do 120km/h) Take Sibirski Trakt (sometimes it’s also called Tyumenski Trakt) and simply drive straight on all the way. Tired of partying in the Urals my friends and I decided to take a trip to heat up our bones on January 3. Frankly speaking, the only thing that could lure me to Siberia in the middle of winter was the fact that their springs are hot, I mean really hot +45C all year long. We, however, took an old longer road to Siberia. It was bumpy but our first stop in Nizhnyaya Sinyachikha was definitely worth it.
Nizhnyaya Sinyachikha is a small village and an open-air museum of wooden architecture. Local carpenter Ivan Samoylov gathered abandoned chapels all over the Urals and restored them in his native village
Our next stop was in Irbit - the only town on our way where we could have a lunch before submerging in healing mineral waters of Tyumen. Irbit was a disappointment both culture- and food-wise. What was once the biggest fair ground in Imperial Russia trading with tea and furs, is now a row of grey shabby houses with no infrastructure. All eateries were closed because of winter holidays. After New Year celebrations local supermarkets looked like in the worst times of war starvation: empty counters with only frozen vegetables to offer. Meanwhile we were frozen too. Siberian frost was getting more and more apparent: if it was -10 in Yekaterinburg, closer to Siberia it was already -22. Interestingly, the shelves with vodka were all full of bottles. Probably, the citizens of Irbit drink something else, but we chose vodka as the only remedy to get warm, animated and to forget about hunger. No wonder, the only photo taken in Irbit is a bit of a blur:
Honestly, we wanted to have a sober day but Irbit forced us to drink and apparently this is the only way to finally enter Siberia. In the old times Siberia wasn’t only an exile but also a symbol of freedom to runaway surfs and to the persecuted in Moscovia old-believers. There is an old Russian saying: Good bye Russia, I’ve crossed the Urals, I’ve run away! With the same feelings we crossed the marked border between Ural and Siberia and also between Sverdlovskaya Oblast and Tyumenskaya.
We did find a nice café near the border. Café Ogonyok provided tasty meal, welcome prices and interesting (Siberian?) ambience:
And finally hot springs!
Directions: before entering Tyumen at roundabout take exit to Roschino. In 3-5 km watch for a sign on the left “Verkhniy Bor” Hot springs are outdoors swimming-pools with mineral water springing from 1.233 m depth. Mineral water contains bromine and sodium chloride. Water temperature is +45. Hot springs are open daily until 4 a.m. Entry fee - 200R. There are indoor changing rooms, cafes and saunas. However, the place may be packed during public holidays. Then you can drive further down the road (20-25km) to get to the second larger pool near Pionerski Lager (Children Camp). That’s where we went to. There is no infrastructure though, so pull up to the pool as close as possible. You’ll have to change clothes in a car and what’s more to run good 30 meters to the water in your bathing suit! That was a challenge with outside temperature -25. What’s more, one of my friends left slippers home and had to run barefoot. Needless to say, he sobered up immediately!
Useful tips: - bring your towel, slippers and a woolen hat if the air temperature is -10 or lower
- stay in the water for 15-20 min. then take a break before bathing again
- you will feel very relaxed after bathing so a driver should consider having some rest before driving back
Hotels to stay:
Istochnik Hotel (3.000R a night, includes entry fee to the hot springs)
Sosnovaya Hotel (1.600R a night, 3.100 for a cottage for 3 persons)
Baza Zeya (860R for a 3 persons bedroom)
plus you can book any hotel in Tyumen
A new delicious exposition is opened now in the Museum of History of Yekaterinburg. It's called The Journey of Sverdlovsk Gourmet: culinary adventures in the Soviet Urals. The word gourmet sounded somewhat ironic in the Soviet times of food shortages. Still Soviet cafes and restaurants were interesting and exotic places in terms of ideology and red propaganda.
Factories in the Urals had no canteens until 1930s. Workers went home for a dinner break. - A good communist must spend all his day working for Mother Russia! - the government said and established a new institution - a canteen where a worker spent 2 minutes of his working time instead of 2 hours. If you think it's impossible to finish a borsch, chicken Kiev and a glass of juice within 2 minutes, you'd better believe it. There was special person who timed you break. At the beginning the factory canteens in Yekaterinburg (Sverdlovsk those days) were very fancy. They had fountains and even libraries with endless volumes of Marx and Lenin works. After Nikita Khrushchev visited the Uralmash factory, all the canteens lost their glamorous touch - Khrushchev was very stingy with government money and despised luxury. Thus canteens were turned into regular fast food cafes in an American self-service manner with typically unfriendly Soviet service.
Everyone who lived in the USSR remembers that Thursday was a fish day. Fish was cooked in all canteens, cafes and restaurants all over the country. This way the government tried to support and develop fish industry. Thursday was not randomly chosen. Factory workers who never opted for dieting weren't at all happy about fish days and preferred more substantial meat. Thursday (and that was proved by a careful scientific anlysis) was the least irritating day for serving fish - one day until Friday and the weekend mood was already there.
Soviet children enjoyed visiting ice-cream cafes, again thanks to the USA. The first equipment for making ice-cream was bought by the Bolsheviks in America in 1932. Since that time the USSR has been the major ice-cream producer making 25 tons a day!
A restaurant was a dream place for many Soviet citizens. Ordinary people couldn't afford it, but once in a life time a relative of a high rank would invite you to a wedding or birthday celebration. Getting there you got into a different world. Yekaterinburg restaurants like Big Ural or Cosmos were known for a special Unsoviet atmosphere, i.e. no self-service, waitresses in shamelessly short skirts were ready to serve you, a music band could play your favourite song for 3 rubles, more than that some male customers paid a certain some of money to certain people and all of a sudden beautiful women came in and joined their table!
The exhibition of culinary adventures to the Soviet past is opened until 3d April 2011. Every visitor gets a free icecream - the most popular and delicious plombir! The Museum of History of Yekaterinburg 0n Karla Libknekhta st. 26 open daily from 10:00 to 18:00 except Mondays.
According to this year statistics, more than 420.000 foreigners have visited Yekaterinburg so far, twice as many than last year. Among them 43% come to work, 31% are private visitors, 19% come on business, 3% are tourists and 2% study here.
If you are tired of the Russian language and want to speak English for a change, to meet English speakers in Yekaterinburg is easy. Just look for a place that has loads of booze, Russian girls and music (not necessarily in this order)
Everjazz, Lunacharskogo 137, www.everjazz.ru A new jazz cafe has just opened in the building of Dom Kino cinema and promises to become a top place for jazz lovers from the Urals and abroad. Foreign and Russian live bands play here every night from 8p.m. Note that you will have to pay an entrance fee from 500 to 1.500 roubles depending on the act and it's a good idea to book a table beforehand if it's the like of All Foster Quartet playing.
Alibi Bootlegger's Booze Bar, Malysheva 74. This bar is the newest fad in Yekaterinburg - fun atmosphere with booze (a large variety of whiskey), girls and dancing thus a foreign friendly place. I've personally hold a grudge against it though since last time the bouncer didn't let me in with my female friend. When I asked if he would let us in with male companions he genuinely said - Yes. I understand that there is a disproportionate number of men and women in Russia but it doesn't mean that being a woman I can't get to the bar in my city. Being a foreigner however you will be welcome in any bar, so don't worry about it.
Dr. Scotch pub, Malysheva 56a. A pub in Yekaterinburg means something between a disco bar and an expensive restaurant. Dr Scotch is not an exception. With two large areas for eating and for dancing it attracts a lot of party lovers both locals and foreigners. One Friday night (that was exactly the night when we were rejected in Alibi then fortunately hit Dr. Scotch) I spotted there a teacher of English from the UK, a guy from South Africa, an Italian tourist and two workers from Spain. So the statistics didn't lie about purposes of foreign visitors.
Rosy Jane pub, Lenina 32. Another English pub that isn't quite English but is popular with foreigners in Yekaterinburg. There is not enough space for dancing but there are many TV screens to watch football or hockey matches plus live music at weekends.
Rancho restaurant, Gogolya 36, www.theranch.ru The restaurant is located next to USA General Consulate, so you can often meet its employees there. Rancho holds Cinema Nights once a month when you can watch American movies with Russian subtitles.
Yellow Submarine bar, Lenin ave 46. The Beatles themed live music bar. Local bands play there every night. The bar is open from 6p.m. to 6a.m. however live music starts only after midnight which is OK for the Russians but is rather late for the foreigners who got used to the early parties.
You can also meet English speakers in the English Club in Keeer Restaurant-Brewery, Mamina Sibyarika 36, every Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. Those who study English join the club on Wednsday nights for a drink and a chat in English only!
An owner of a Moscow restaurant chain said once that food is not important in a Russian restaurant because the Russians do not come to eat. They come to have fun. In the course of history people in Russia have developed a tradition to use restaurants as a place for meeting up with friends and socializing, for relaxing after a hard day, for dancing and singing, for showing off or getting drunk. Of course, somewhere in between they order food and eat. So you've got the idea already - the atmosphere of the place is essential, food not so much.
Yekaterinburg being a large city (3d capital of Russia, as the locals put it) has many lovely cafes and restaurants. You can see that the owners spend enormous efforts and money on interior design to make the place cosy and special because the customers appreciate ambience. Don't forget to visit a restroom, even if you don't really need to, sometimes it can be a masterpiece itself! This is, by the way, another reason why eating out in Yekaterinburg is more expensive than in many European cities. Before I realised this mentality difference, good European restaurants had been a disappointment to me because they had looked like regular student canteens although with delicious food. In Yekaterinburg you can be disappointed vice versa - grand interior may imply plain meal, especially if we talk about international cuisine. Irish, Italian, Mediterranean and other exotic cooking is relatively new to us and nobody knows how it should taste in reality. So made-in-Russia-pizza is usually something far away from real Italian pizza, let alone Mexican-Russian burritos or Russian sushi. Japanese cuisine has lately been a fad all over Russia but in the Urals far away from the sea we only have frozen fish thus it can hardly be sushi (some local cooks manage to stuff Japanese rolls with our favourite mayo!)
All said above leaves you one but a very good option - when in the Urals, choose cafes and restaurants with Russian cuisine, firstly you have nothing to compare it with, secondly it's really tasty. Here's a list of central places in Yekaterinburg with ambience as good as menu and no intentions to rip you off (all have English menu):
Uralskie Pelmeni, Lenina 69/1 It used to be a posh Soviet restaurant - favourite place of Boris Yeltsin. Now it's a budget cafe with traditional Ural pelmeni (meat ravioli) and other Russian dishes. Good for foreigners as it has a buffet on the ground floor. Just get a tray and take what you fancy.
Stolle, Gorkogo 7a; Lunacharskogo 82; 8 Marta 123; www.stolle.ru (in English) Cafe-pie network started in St. Petersburg, now bakes pirogi (pies) in Moscow and in three places in Yekaterinburg. Their meat, fish and sweet pirogi are always fresh, delicious and very filling. Friendly service, cosy atmoshere for very good prices.
Mama's House, Lenina 26; www.mammas.ru The cafe has a very central location and is popular with young people because it's opened 24 hours. Mama offers everything from pizzas to Russian solyanka soup and German strudels. Menu is only in Russian so go with a dictionary. Every table is supplied with sticky paper and pencils to write your messages and stick them all over the place.
Pozharka, Malysheva 44; Lunacharskogo 128 www.cbr-group.ru/pojarka Pozharka is a beer-restaurant designed as a fire station with a full-sized fire-truck inside used as a bar. Cuisine is mainly Russian with Soviet odour. You can order a huge beer pitcher and listen to live music every weekend.
Podkova, Lenina 28/2 www.podkowa.ru Podkova means a horse shoe. It's a restaurant with traditional Russian cuisine, designed as a Ural merchant house of the 19th century. Pricey but once in a life time everyone should try blini with caviar and a so exotic sturgeon!
Dacha, Lenina 20 a This restaurant has the ambience of a Russian dacha (country house) and Russian cuisine. Marked in Lonely Planet Guide, however it's not very popular with the locals (probably they prefer their real dachas instead) so the place is always half empty, which can be a good point too.
Restoran CCCP, Pervomayskaya 27 www.cccp-r.ru A typical Soviet restaurant for nostalgic Russians and curious foreign tourists. At the entrance you will confront a Russian bear (a stuffed bear). The toilet design is particularly interesting, at least in a ladies' room for all I know. At weekends you can enjoy live Soviet music and Disco of the 80's which is not really an enjoyment, frankly speaking, unless you are totally drunk.
Ratskeller, 8 Marta St. 8b. www.ratskeller.ru The German restaurant is a foreigners-friendly place to sit & eat located in the downtown area. They hold German movie nights with friends from the Consulate General of Germany. You can enjoy a football (soccer) game on a big screen with your friends, and, of course, wonderful & delicious German food and the world-famous German beer! English menu. English-speaking staff.
Additionally there are many cheap Uzbekh cafes all over Yekaterinburg with tasty Asian food. Uzbechkas, as we call them here, are very popular with those who reject diets. Among the most beloved in the city are Nigora on Kuybysheva 55 and the Uzbekh cafe on Meteogorka (weather station hill)
And the last very important question I'm often asked: what do the figures next to dishes in the Russian menu mean? For example, Blini with strawberry jam 150/50 200p
150/50 means dish weight in grams where blini weigh 150grams and strawberry jam - 50 grams, so that you can imagine the size of the portion and decide whether it's a too small or large portion. 200p is a price in roubles.
Ural cuisine is not something special, firstly because Middle Urals is a multinational place, secondly because of the harsh climate (it's the so-called territory of risky farming) the number of products is limited. Overall, local cuisine is nourishing and substantial just like everywhere in Russia.
Uralskie pelmeni - Ural dumplings or ravioli usually with meat are supposed to be a local speciality although they don't differ from Siberian pelmeni and you can eat them in any Russian place. Besides, the Chinese state that they invented dumplings (like everything else in the world) and of course, it's difficult to disagree with them.
Autumn is a lovely season for all types of mushroom dishes. Russians love mushrooms, more than that they like to pick them up in the woods. Early in the morning on a bright autumn day you can see how gribnyaki (mushroom pickers) queue on the bus or train station with large plastic buckets. Rummaging about in the Ural forests can be fun especially if you find eventually a few mushrooms. Every babushka can instruct you what mushrooms are safe for eating. Usually they are easy to differentiate. Poisonous mushrooms smell nasty and grow big. If you don't like the idea of walking in the woods possibly meeting up with a bear, there are long lines of gribnyakis with buckets full of mushrooms along the roads. Now I should explain a very important thing: the mushrooms I'm talking about are not the ones sold in Amsterdam. So the Russians who sell their mushrooms on the roadsides are not some kind of drug dealers, they sell tasty things. Then you can fry them with potatoes or cook a mushroom soup or preserve in marinade, the letter is good with vodka.
As for other little specialities, Russians like to put mayo in every dish, so Yekaterinburg mayonnaise manufacture Provansal' is considered the best. Don't be afraid of mayo that much because in general Russian mayo is much lighter that the western versions and is a good cold dressing for salads. If you have a sweet tooth you should definitely buy some chocolate candies made in Yekaterinburg confectionery SladKo. They are delicious and it's not an advert, that's what my friends from Siberia and western part of Russia say when they get here. These candies are slightly more expensive than other brands because contain more chocolate.
Sometimes it's hard to predict what foreign visitors may take a liking to. My ex boyfriend from the UK bought here packs of smoked salty cheese to take home on the ground that it was good with beer and there was nothing like that in the UK. May be you should try it too. The cheese is called Kosynka means a plait for it looks like thing stripes done in a form of a plait and it's really good with beer.
When I was little, when Yekaterinburg was still called Sverdlovsk, there was such thing as pyshki - a Soviet version of donuts. The Soviet donuts were only glazed with powdery sugar, no jam, no chocolate. They were something to die for. When my family moved to the north to Nizhni Tagil, we sometimes drove 140 km to Yekaterinburg to buy hot pyshki. Unfortunately, the last cafeteria that sold pyshki on Sverdlova Street was closed down a few years ago. It gave place to another shiny mobile shop.
Anyway, there are many nice cafes and restaurants in Yekaterinburg some of them are very unique. I'll tell you about them in my next posts. Meanwhile, Priyatnava apetita! (bon appetit!)