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15Apr/130

Domino Hostel. Budget accommodation in Yekaterinburg

It’s always nice to report that a new hostel is opened in Yekaterinburg. Hostels here open and close so quickly that I don’t have time to write about them. The reason for this – Russians haven’t developed the habit of staying at hostels yet and prefer to pay more for apartment rental while backpackers from abroad come to Yekaterinburg mainly from May till September. So if a local hostel has been working for already a year, it’s quite an achievement. And I’m sure, Domino Hostel is certainly going to last!

Domino Hostel: 6 beds, free WiFi, tea and coffee

I learnt about Domino Hostel from Daniel, a German tourist. He contacted me asking to pick him up from Chelyuskintsev Street, 60 for an excursion. To be honest, it took me a while to find the entrance as there are many entrance doors and no sign of the hostel. So look for the entrance with a big lamp above the door! Otherwise the location is very good: it’s only a 10 min walk from the train station, a few min to get to Dynamo Metro station and about 10 min to the Church on the Blood and the city center.

Look for the entrance with a big lamp above!

Domino hostel has 6 beds for 600 rubles (at least it was the price during the low season) with free WiFi, tea and coffee. Vasily, the owner of the hostel has created a nice Facebook page, so go to Domino Hostel on Facebook or find it at booking.com. By the way, they accept Visa and Master cards.

See the hostel on the map:

http://dominohotel.ru/contacts

Domino guests: a Russian music band Est-Est-Est

 Travelers who stay at Domino Hostel have special discount prices for Yekaterinburg tours by askural.com! Ask Vasily to show you our photos of Yekaterinburg tours with descriptions and a price list.  

29Jun/120

Kungur ice caves and air baloons

Kungur is a popular tourist destination all year long but it attracts even more people from 30th June to 7th July when the city hosts a festival of air balloons. Last year my friends and I attended the last day of the festival. I was very impressed by the Mediterranean-like life of this old Ural town.

Lonely Planet guide book on Russia says: ‘Between the blandness of Perm and the blandness of Yekaterinburg, Kungur is like ice cream in a biscuit’. Well, we were certainly longing for an ice cream as we entered the city on a hot July day. Kungur looked like one of those Russian resorts on the Black Sea. People were swimming in the Sylva River in the center of Kungur, sunbathing on the benches of the main street and walking lazily back and forth in shorts and flip-flops with beach towels on their shoulders.

Locals are having a picnic on the river

The Sylva River is a real pearl of Kungur. It’s very pure and slow enough for easy rafting. We rented a motor-boat and noticed that for the locals a boat or a raft is the main mean of transport and also the way of spending a weekend. Picnics onboard are as ubiquitous here as in Amsterdam.

Others, who weren’t lucky to be born in Kungur, come with their tents and spend weekends outside Kungur a few km down the city. By the way, you too should go 5 km out of town to visit the famous Kungur Ice Cave!

The passages stretch for over 6 km and only a small part has been explored so far. 1.5 km will be enough for you to explore. The grottos are "adorned" with columns of stalagmites and icicles of stalactites up to two meters in height. The best time to visit the cave is beginning of spring. That’s the time when icicles are especially big. We didn’t go inside because on that hot day I completely forgot about taking warm clothes and comfortable trainers. So these photos are from the Internet:

The cave is open daily 9am-4pm. Group excursions start every two hours and cost 600Rub. You can have an individual excursion for 1000Rub. An excursion lasts 1hr 20min.

Kungur was founded in 1663. The town is proud of its museum of tea, and old churches. To get a bird view of the city, you should climb the bell tower of this church:

As it got dark, the public in the center changed dramatically and we realized that Kungur is a very working-class town. In other words, to see the balloon show at night one had to be drunk on not to be there at all.

Accommodation: Kungur has two decent hotels which are always totally booked during the first week of July. Iren hotel is on Lenina st 30 in the center. Stalagmit Complex is outside the town but it’s just next to the entrance to the ice cave. However, many Russians prefer to stay in their tents on the banks of the Sylva.

Getting there: from Perm it takes about 2 hours by bus or suburban train. From Yekaterinburg – about 5 hours by bus from Yuzhniy Avtovokzal ( Bus Station) on 8 Marta st. 145

Click on photos to see more sights of Kungur and the river

2May/120

Indian Spa in Yekaterinburg

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!

IndRa Spa Hotel 30 km to Yekaterinburg

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.

with Jaimy, a new cook at IndRa

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.

Indian Princess room ideal for newly-weds

a bath in Maharaja room

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.

with massage therapists Jeemol and Jiny

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.

Kungurka village

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

27Dec/110

Meet Russian Father Frost in Abalak, Western Siberia

Every Russian child knows that Father Frost (Ded Moroz) brings New Year presents. Most of us were very much disappointed in our childhood, when we found out that Father Frost was in fact your dad or a family friend. In 1990s when the borders were opened, Russian kids could go to Finland to meet Santa Clause in his residence in Lapland, but they got no clue where a tall red-nosed Father Frost with his beautiful granddaughter Snegurochka (their family relations are still arguable) come from.

The government of Moscow initiated building the official residence for Father Frost in 1998. The residence is in Veliky Ustyugin of Vologodosky Region (1568km from Yekaterinburg) has since become a popular destination for children from all over Russia during winter holidays. A four day trip for two persons by train will set you back from 15000 roubles to 25000 roubles. The official website  http://www.dom-dm.ru is a big surprise as it has only an English version.

But let’s be realistic, a real Father Frost should be living somewhere amidst the snow of Siberia. It’s too warm in Veliky Ustyug and together with the Moscow government’s involvement the whole story sounds fishy even to a 7 year old.

Siberian Ded Moroz in Abalak

Another residence of Father Frost is set in Abalak near Tobolsk, western Siberia. Fortunately, it’s much closer to Yekaterinburg. The distance between Yekaterinburg and Tobolsk is 536 km. The Abalak tourist village is built in the Siberian style of wooden architecture in the area of Abalaksky Monastery. The wooden village tells the story of the first fortresses built by the Cossacks in the 16th century when they were conquering the Urals and Siberia.

Besides, Abalak is inhabited by the characters of Russian fairy tales. Baba Yaga, a witch, lives in Abalak in her chicken-legged cabin and treats guests to hot piroggi and bliny. Father Frost is greeting children there from 24 December to 8 January. Meanwhile Russian beauties in the White Owl tavern offer tasty Siberian dishes and drinks made of Siberian berries. Guests can also go sleighing, skiing or riding. Father Frost’s residence has a farm with horses, deer, cows, sheep and raccoons.

The website of Father Frost’s Siberian residence: http://www.abalak.su (in Russian)

The price list is modest (payment per person upon arrival)

Entrance - 50 roubles

Meeting Father Frost - 100 roubles

Lunch - 300 roubles

Sweet gift from Father Frost - 250 roubles

You can stay overnight in the hotel of Abalak with finely carved wooden furniture. A room for two persons costs 5000 roubles from Mon. to Thu. and 6000 roubles at weekends.  Alternatively, there is Slavyanskaya Hotel in Tobolsk that will hit your wallet for 3000 roubles per person.

Getting to Abalak: From Yekaterinburg take the road via Tymen in the direction of Tobolsk. Before entering Tobolsk go down the bridge across the river Irtysh and turn to the right following the sign to the village of Probrazhenka and the village of Abalak.

There are many trains bound for Tobolsk. I suggest taking train #310. This night train is convenient as it leaves Yekaterinburg at 22.16 and arrives at 8.28. A 10 hour sleep in a train will cost you 800-1500 roubles. Note, that Tobolsk and Abalak are not on the Trans-Siberian route!

All photos by Alexey Kolmakov, courtesy of www.nashural.ru

20Oct/111

Is it possible to travel in Yekaterinburg in a wheelchair?

As a freelance guide I got a request from a Moscow travel agency to arrange a city tour for two German women who came by Trans-Siberian train. One of them was in a wheelchair. The agency asked me to call a local social taxi service to order a special minivan for a handicapped person. Good to know that we have such a service at all and it’s very reasonable – 80 roubles per hour. However, as with any social service, they don’t work on weekends (the tour was on Saturday) and they don’t go outside the city, i.e. a visit to the Europe-Asia border was out of the question.  - If you have any complaints, send them to the city administration, – a man on the phone said politely before I began even to think of complaints. – Besides, we don’t have enough vehicles to transport the sick to hospitals, - he continued. – How can you ask for a 5 hour leisure trip? -

Plotinka - the historical centre on Lenin St. is not the best place to visit in a wheelchair

For a second he made me feel guilty but then again, a woman in a wheelchair has the right to enjoy her day traveling around Yekaterinburg. So I called an ordinary taxi and asked how much it would be to hire a minivan with an extra man so that he and the driver could carry the German lady in and out. 16 grand for 5 hours was the answer.  - Men cost a lot in this city, you see – the manager told me. The next taxi company was a little less pricey. They were okay with 15.000 roubles. But it wasn’t okay for the German tourist as even in overpriced Moscow a vehicle with a ramp (we don’t have them here at all) is maximum a thousand roubles. Finally, I found Victor, a private driver who was strong enough to carry my client on his own and charged an ordinary fare for taxi companies. Hail to Victor who proved that some men in Yekaterinburg do not live just for quick money. But I still don’t know what we would do if it had been a heavy man in a wheelchair. By the way, two expensive men from the first taxi company showed up on the train platform to greet the tourist just in case.  Even though they had been denied, they still hoped the foreigner was ready to splash out with her plastic card.

Church on the Blood is well equipped with ramps and an elevator

On the bright side of things, I found out that the city is not that bad for wheelchair travelers. Of course, one can forget about visiting Plotinka with its numerous steps on both sides. But the second main attraction, Church on Blood, is well equipped with ramps and an elevator. Grand Avenue Hotel on Lenin Street is also convenient for wheelchair travelers. My German client (with a Russian name: Katya) looked happy. She had already traveled through North America and South Africa and was covering the Trans-Siberian route. She only regretted that the Kremlin in Moscow had a single but very large step, and she hadn’t had Victor there to help her.

German tourists on the border of Europe and Asia

Social taxi in Yekaterinburg is located on Mashinnaya ul. 9A.

Tel +7(343)2604444 Monday – Friday from 8 to 17. To make a reservation call five days prior to the needed date.

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!