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9Jun/120

Wooden wonder of Kunary village.

Some small villages in the Urals are extremely cute. The old village of Kunary is well known in the region thanks to the house of a blacksmith.

Sergey Kirillov decorated his house with wooden carvings. He started in 1954 and finished in 1967, on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the great October Revolution.

The house is decorated with Soviet emblems, a rocket pointed to the sky. There are young pioneers on the roof releasing the white doves and a girl holding a poster with the words of a popular Soviet song: “Let there always be the sunshine, let there always be the blue sky”

The blacksmith lived in the house happily bringing up a son and a daughter and four grandchildren. Kirillov’s grandchildren still live there and the house is maintained by Yekaterinburg businessman Yevgeniy Roisman.

Getting there from Yekaterinburg: by car go north towards Nevyansk (80km) and from Nevyansk follow the sign to Shaidurikha. Kunary is 20km South-East to Nevyansk.

By bus: from Severny Bus Station take a bus or marshrutka to Nevyansk and change there for a bus to Kunary.

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

20Dec/110

Useful phone numbers, websites and addresses in Yekaterinburg

I got this question from several expats in Yekaterinburg – Are there any foreign friendly taxi companies in the city?

I’m afraid there aren’t many phone operators in the taxi companies who speak English here. However you can always order a taxi from the website, i.e. you still need to read Russian and at best have a Russian phone number as you receive a text message when your car is arriving.

Once you arrive in Yekaterinburg, you need to know about the websites, phone companies and certain addresses. And here they are:

Koltsovo International Airport

Airport Koltsovo

www.koltsovo.ru Ul. Sputnikov 6  tel. +7 434 2644202

getting there: by buses #1, 29, 67

Main Train Station (Vokzal)

Ul. Vokzalnaya 22  Tel +7 343 3583211

Getting there by trams # 3, 5, 7, 12, 21, 23, 27, 32, A

By trolleybuses # 1, 3, 5, 9, 11, 15, 17, 19

By busses # 1, 21, 23, 31

by Metro - Uralskaya Station

Nothern Bus Station (Severny Avtovokzal)

www.sa66.ru Ul. Vokzalnaya 15A   Tel. +7 343 3584168

Getting there: see directions to the Main Train Station

Taxi

TopTaxi  www.2223030.ru tel. +7 343 2223030

Automig  www.automig.su tel. +7 343 3450450

Sky www.taxisky.ru tel. +7 343 2388888

Tri Desyatki www.3101010.ru tel. +7 343 3101010

Car Rentals

Auto Plus Rent a Car www.autoplusrent.ru tel. +7 343 2647400  Ul. Bakhchivandzhi 1 (Airport Koltsovo)

Apis Auto www.apisfirm.ru tel. +7 343 2576249 Ul. Vainera 516

Imperia Auto www.imavto.ru tel. +7 343 2138585 Ul. Malysheva 53

Mobile Companies

MTS www.e-burg.mts.ru Ul. Vainera 12 (09:00 – 22.00)

Beeline www.ekb.beeline.ru Ul. 8 Marta, 8B (09:00 – 21:00)

Megafon www.megafon.ru Ul. Malysheva 122 (Mon-Fri 09:00-18.00)

Motiv www.ycc.ru Ul Sheinkmana 57 (09:00 – 20.00)

Central Post Office

Central Post Office (Pochta)

www.e-burg.uralpost.ru Ul. Lenina 39 (Mon-Fri: 08:00-22:00 Sat-Sun: 09:00-18:00)

Souvenirs

www.shop.ekburg.ru Ul. 8 Marta, 21 (Mon-Fri: 10.00-19.00)

Emergency Station (open 24 hours)

Travmpunkt #2   Ul. Bazhova 124a tel. +7 343 3503259

Doctor Plus www.doc-plus.ru/traumacenter Prospect Lenina 7, tel. +7 343 2120606

If you think of any other useful websites and directions, let me know and I'll add them here 🙂

for information on hotels and hostels in Yekaterinburg click here:

http://askural.com/2011/01/hotels-in-yekaterinburg/

http://askural.com/2010/09/hostels-in-yekaterinburg/

for eating and meeting foreigners in the city click here:

http://askural.com/2010/09/places-to-eat-in-yekaterinburg/

http://askural.com/2010/09/englishspeakers-in-yekaterinburg/

17Nov/110

Dutch Journalists in Yekaterinburg

In November 2011 the Dutch travel magazine Columbus is publishing an article on traveling by Trans-Siberian railway from Moscow to Vladivostok.

photos by Hanneke de Vries

Marina Ter Woort, a journalist from Amsterdam together with the photographer Hanneke de Vries contacted me in summer asking to show them around during their 5 hour train stop in Yekaterinburg. The lucky ladies were travelling by the Golden Eagle Express, one of the two luxury Trans-Siberian trains. The second one Zaren Gold runs from Moscow to Beijing. Both are priced from 8.000 to 26.000 US$ and both take 15 days with boat and bus tours in big cities. Yekaterinburg is the third city after Moscow and Kazan.

Main Train Station

Marina and Hanneke, however, didn’t want to go on an ordinary excursion: champaign on the border of Europe and Asia – city centre – Church on Blood. They wanted to see something off the beaten track. In Moscow, for instance, they had been to the largest city market instead of the Red Square tour. So, we went to the Uralmash district in Yekaterinburg.

Uralmash is a large industrial district in the north of the city, a ghetto for factory workers and their families. We couldn’t go to the huge Ural Heavy Machine Building Plant that had once been visited by Fidel Castro. Even though the plant doesn’t produce tanks anymore, there are still many restrictions and chances for a foreigner to sneak inside are equal to zero. At least, we managed to go to the factory canteen and Hanneke got some interesting snapshots of the locals.

Factory canteen in Uralmash

Uralmash has got a notorious mafia cemetery. The Uralmash gang had a turf war with the Central gang in 1990s. Allegedly, the gangsters invested in building the metro line connecting Uralmash with the city. The war ended when the gangsters eliminated each other. The mafia cemeteries (both in Uralmash and the central in Shirokaya Rechka) have got plenty of full sized tombstones of local gangsters.

Uralmash cemetery

Using the metro line (the only one in Yekaterinburg) my Dutch friends and I returned to the city. We did visit the place of the Romanovs’ assassination in Church on Blood with Marina while Hanneke went to the train station to take more photos in the sunshine.

Marina (left) and I (right) in the metro train

in Church on Blood

I don’t know what the article in Columbus magazine is going to be about, but here’s the link http://www.columbusmagazine.nl/

And here are the photos that Hanneke kindly sent to me

26Oct/110

Novourask, a treasure of a closed town

Every sun rise is beautiful and it’s similarly beautiful in any part of the world. I spotted my October sun rise in a strange place near Novouralsk, a closed town behind the wall 90 km north of Yekaterinburg.

The town was known as Sverdlovsk-44 in the Soviet times and it was absolutely unknown to the rest of the world until 1994. Since that year it’s not a secret town but a closed town due to the Ural Electro Chemical Plant built there during World War II.  Novouralsk had the first mountain ski track in the Urals but very few people from the outside world could go skiing there (population of the town is 85.519)

Another treasure of Novouralsk is Verkhneyvenski pond with beaches and a yacht club.

Verkhneyvenski pond

The pond is outside the town thus you don’t have to go through the control post which you won’t be able to do anyway. Boat and yacht rentals are available in summer.

Getting there: by car from Novo-Moskovsky trakt drive through Pervouralsk. By any local train bound for Nizhni Tagil. Get off at Verkh-Neyvinsk Station. Novouralsk is on the left side, you will see it behind the barbed wire. The pond is on the right side. And the sun rise is for every one!

watch the sunrise by clicking here:

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.

30Aug/110

Welcome to Cuba – a green island in Yekaterinburg

Cuba is a district in Yekaterinburg but not many citizens know where it is. It’s an unofficial name of Bolshoy Konniy distict aka Green Island to the west of VIZ (Verkh-Isetsky Factory). The nickname appeared in 1960s when the Green Island of Liberty was extremely popular with Russians. It doesn’t mean they could travel to Cuba easily but everyone knew about Fidel and ‘no pasaran’ became a Russian phrase. By the way, Fidel Castro and Che Guevara visited Yekaterinburg-Sverdlovsk in 1963. Castro gave a long speech in Uralmash Factory. He didn’t see our local Cuba but I’m sure he would have liked it!

A journey to Cuba starts on the pier of Verkh-Isetsky Pond. It was made in 1725. It’s 12km long and 2.5 km wide. The pond is rather polluted but ‘the Cubans’ don’t mind fishing there all year long. It’s about 4 km along the pond from VIZ to Cuba. You can take a bicycle or tram 11. It’s the only tram that goes to Cuba. Trams run every 20 min., get off on the last station Zelyony Ostrov (Green Island) well, technically it’s a peninsula but ‘island’ sounds more romantic, doesn’t it?

I guess Cuba is the most diverse place in Yekaterinburg. The district was built in 1920s along with a power station and it was a true working class area in the USSR. The station doesn’t work anymore and I have no idea what ‘the Cubans’ do there no – not much, judging by their houses. However, there is a luxury beach opened this year in Cuba. So, the citizens might get jobs there although summers in the Urals are very short.

As I went to Cuba in August, the beach was absolutely dead, so I walked around and took some photos of the locals. They were very friendly, by the way. I’ve never been to Cuba but I have a feeling that the atmosphere there is pretty much the same as in our Cuba. Ok, you can’t grow sugar cane here but look at those tomatoes!

Click here to see more photos with captions from the Green Island of local Cuba Libre 

9Aug/110

The oldest cemetery in Yekaterinburg

Many tourists, as I noticed, like visiting Russian cemeteries, apparently because they are so different from those in the West. Yekaterinburg is famous for two mafia cemeteries but there is also Ivanovskoye cemetery in the centre. The oldest cemetery in the city traces the history of Yekaterinburgers from rich merchants of 19th century to Gulag prisoners and the killers of the Romanovs.

Church of St, Iowan is the main church of Yekaterinburg

Ivanovskoye cemetery is hidden behind the blue church on Repina Street, 6A next to the city prison and opposite the Central Stadium. The Church of St. Iowan is the only one that worked in the Soviet Sverdlovsk. During the Second World War Stalin decided to ease restrictions on churches to appeal to people’s patriotism. So the church wasn’t destroyed but, of course, Father Nikolay, the priest of the church had to be on friendly terms with the KGB. Local merchants the Telegins built the church in 1846. The family was buried behind the church. These are the oldest tombstones here.

The cemetery is pretty much neglected. You can only walk along the main alley. The most prominent citizens were buried here in Stalin’s times. A few steps further to the bushes and you will see simple gravestones with Soviet stars – the graves of 1920s-30s. Some graves have just markers with names of the so-called ‘enemies of the USSR’, the victims of repressions.

A small square on the alley has a monument to local writer Bazhov. On the left side from it you will find a gravestone of Petor Ermakov – one of the murderers of the tsar’s family. He was the one who stabbed the children with his bayonet when they were still alive lying on the blood splattered floor of Ipatiev House. When the house became a Museum of Revolution, Ermakov did excursions there, telling people how he killed the Romanovs. No wonder that his gravestone is splashed with red paint now.

You can get to Ivanovskoye cemetery by trolley buses 3 and 17. They run past the main train station and Church on Blood. Get off at Central Stadium.

25Jul/113

Tsarina Alexandra Romanova. How she became a Saint

Monastery Ganina Yama, the burial place of the Romanovs (17km from Yekaterinburg) is changing all the time. Some of the wooden churches get burnt, then restored again. The first stone church is being built now. So, even if you have been to Ganina Yama already, there is always something new and interesting to see. Recently, a bust of tsarina Alexandra appeared on the central valley of the monastery.

  German Princess Alix of Hesse and by Rhine, a favourite granddaughter of Queen Victoria was given a Russian name Alexandra Feodorovna as she married Nicolas II.  The new tsarina was heartily disliked in Russia from the very beginning. She seemed very reserved in public, ignored Russian culture and the court in St. Petersburg. Her obsession with mysticism and relationships with a controversial ‘holy man’ Rasputin didn’t add popularity. When the Romanovs were kept in the Ipatyev house in Yekaterinburg, Alix drew swastika and other cabalistic signs for good luck, which later gave rumors that it could be a ritual murder.   

Alix didn’t manage to learn Russian, so the family members spoke mainly English in the palace. However, she was a fervent Orthodox believer. Russian Orthodox Church canonized her in 2000 as Saint Alexandra the Passion Bearer.

Interestingly, the Romanovs are now presented by the church as saints above criticism. The monastery in Ganina Yama as well as Church on Blood in Yekaterinburg offer the so-called Orthodox excursions run by special Orthodox guides. No other guides are allowed to show tourists around. But there are many good books you can read on the subject and not to be baffled. One of them is Ekaterinburg by Helen Rappaport . A vivid account of the final fourteen days of the Romanovs will give you an idea of what was going on during those days not only in the Ipatyev house, but all over Russia and abroad.

Book the tour to Ganina Yama here: http://yekaterinburg4u.ru/en/tours/monastery-ganina-yama

8Jun/111

Lake Shartash – a piece of nature in Yekaterinburg

Summer is short, so don’t miss a chance to do a short eco-tour to Lake Shartash. You can walk in the forest, climb ancient rocks, ride a bicycle, go swimming and sunbathing on the beach, what’s more it’s all within Yekaterinburg so you don’t need a car to get there!

Shartash in the east of Yekaterinburg is one of the oldest lakes in the Urals - 1 million years old. It has a shape of a bean; its area is 7 sq.km. Shartash means a yellow stone therefore don’t be afraid of the yellowish waters – it’s not dangerous for swimming. First gold in the Urals was discovered in the lake area in 1745. The bottom of the lake has granite deposits and sapropel.

Getting there: from Lenin Prospect you can go by trams 8,13,15,23,32, “A” or any mini bus that has a weird abbreviation ‘40 let VLKSM’ (in English it means ‘40 years of All-Union Leninist Young Communist League’ – it’s actually the name of a tram stop) You need to get off at Kamennie Palatki on Viysotskogo Street. Cross the street, you will see a big sign Shartashsky Les (forest of Shartash) and stone steps leading up the rock. Climb the steps and you get to Kamennie Palatki:

Kamennie Palatki - granite monuments of the Stone Age can be found only in Middle Urals

Kamennie Palatki (stone tents) is something of the same significance in Russia as Stonehenge in England. The natural monument of the Iron Age is a wall of granite formed by the volcano eruption. Granite layers look like piles of huge pancakes. Archeologists found out that ancient people used the place as an altar.

Nowadays Yekaterinburgers bring food and drinks to Kamennie Palatki too, but instead of sacrifice they make picnics.

In 1905 the place was used by Sverdlov and other Bolsheviks for secret meetings.

Get down back to the street and walk about 400 m. eastward, the forest is on your left. Turn left in front of the petrol station. Cross a railway crossing. To rent a bicycle walk straight on to the forest, the lake is on your right. Continue walking till you see a sign on your right Sportivnaya Baza. Alternatively, from the railway crossing turn right and walk to Sundali Beach http://www.sundali-land.ru

Sundali Beach

Bicycle rentals are open daily from 10a.m. to 8p.m. 1 hour is 100-200roubles. Bring a passport or driver’s license with you to rent a bicycle. Don’t worry about the passport - it’s a common practice in Russia when a rental company keeps your document while you keep a bicycle.

The cycling trail around the lake is 12.5 km. Near the village of Shartash you have to cycle about 2 km on the highway as there is no trail by the lake which is inconvenient especially with children. My favourite route is along the lake anti-clockwise to Izoplit village and back. It takes one hour and apart from peaceful nature you will see an interesting site in Izoplit:  shabby wooden huts standing next to mansions of rich Yekaterinburgers:

Houses in Izoplit on Rybakov Street

And on the opposite side of the same street...

For sale

Shartash is a closed lake. It has about 50 springs and no outflows. The lake is getting shallow; it’s now 2-3m. deep and scientists predict it may turn into a swamp in 50-70 years. I hope you will find some time to visit this beautiful ancient lake before it disappears.

Whenever I have a day off in summer I go to Shartash for a ride. You are more than welcome to join me 😉