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16Dec/130

Trip to Altai. 10 Day Horse-Back Tour in June 2015

Dear friends,

it's time to plan summer holidays 2015. If you'd like to experience something unusual for a very reasonable price, then join the horse-back tour in the beautiful Altai Mountains.

Experience 10 days of living in the wild, riding horses, eating at the camp fire without the Internet and mobile phones!

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If you are an inexperienced hiker and have never ridden a horse, live a city life and tired of urban environment -  the tour is ideal for you!

This trip has an average fitness level. Children can join from the age of 9.

We are going to one of the most beautiful places of the Altai Mountains – the Iolgo Ridge. You will see all the beauties of the ridge: caves, waterfalls and mountain lakes. We’ll get to the top of Mt. Akkai and Mt. Kylay to have a stunning panoramic view of Altai.

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Dates: The best time to go to Altai is end of June – beginning of July. Therefore the trip is scheduled for June 23th – July 3th. 
However we can still change the dates if the majority of the group decides so.
Other options: June 28d – July 8th or July 3d – July 13th

Price for a 10 day trip without transfers to the tourist shelter in the mountains : 410 euro

For detailed itinerary and information on getting there click here yekaterinburg4u.ru/en/special-tour

I did this trip in Altai last summer and it was one of the best holidays I've ever had. So I've decided that foreigners should discover this place as well!

Our base-camp will be at Arkadia tourist-shelter which is a big wooden house with rooms for 3-6 people and a Russian banya. The owner of the house and the horse farm is a tiny woman Irina from Yekaterinburg. She got to Altai in the 80s, fell in love with it bought the land and horses there it and started to organize horse-back tours in 1991. First they were tours for her friends from Yekaterinburg but now people arrive to the tourist-shelter from all over Russia. However there have been no foreigners yet.

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Arkadia tourist-shelter is located in the remote area. It's a very peaceful place 25km from the nearest village. You can get there only in a big truck or on a horse.

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Horses from Irina's farm

We stayed two days at the tourist-shelter and this is how much time you have to learn riding a horse. Surprisingly, two days were enough for adults and kids to learn it. Altai horses are a special breed: they are very quiet and smart and do all the job themselves, so all you have to do is just to sit in a saddle. Irina has managed to create a very cosy atmosphere at her farm. I felt like staying at my grandma's in the country and was ready to stay there for all 10 days. But it was time to start the trip..

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We only had two rainy days during the trip. The locals said we were very lucky. We were 15 people in our group including a cook and two instructors - the local horse-men and hunters who did almost everything for us: made fire, did all the cooking, helped us to equip the horses etc. All we had to do was to pitch the tents.

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and help a little bit

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Men decided to make us a table out of an old cedar log

So we could have quite a civilized lunch in taiga

So we could have quite a civilized lunch sitting at the table in taiga

The instructors were true Altai characters - they were telling us stories about their encounters with bears. Apparently such encounters happen here frequently. During our trip we only met chipmunks and some lonely hikers though. By the way, in Altai the hikers who walk on foot are called the lower class. Therefore we were the upper class because we were sitting on horses :))

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Thanks to our instructors we had one extra stop for banya in the middle of taiga.

This banya was built by hunters who spend weeks in the Altai Mountains

This banya was built by hunters who spend weeks in the Altai Mountains

Otherwise, there are numerous springs and mountain rivers at your disposal

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In the evening our instructors told us local legends ( they weren't very talkative men, as a matter of fact, until one guy mentioned that he had a bottle of vodka with him). The creepiest one was about the Castle of the Mountain Spririts about the hikers who disappeared from the tents there. Something similar to the Dyatlov Pass story in the Urals, only the bodies of the hikers in Altai were never found.

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The Castle of the Mountain Spirits.

We were really lucky to climb the rocks of the castle when it was sunny. Once we returned back to the camp, thick fog covered the rocks. It would have been really hard to find the way back. Probably that's what had happened to the hikers.

Overall we spent 8 night in taiga. For 8 days we didn't see other people (except for two hikers), didn't hear any urban noise. We got used to this indigenous life style so everyone was a bit sad that it was over. It was time to return back down to the tourist-shelter...

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But  your ordinary life only begins once the truck brings you to Elekmonar village - that's where your mobile phone works again after 10 days of silence and you realize that you are back in civilization. To be honest, I didn't see anyone who was really happy to realize that. Needless to say, we all promised to come back because it's contagious, you know. I hope Altai remains a wild territory and I'll be able to bring my kids there one day to show them what it's like to live naturally.

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For detailed itinerary and information on getting there click here yekaterinburg4u.ru/en/special-tour

20Jul/120

Trans-Siberian trip by Dutch travelers. Video

This video made by Dutch tourists Serge Kapitein and Bas Derkink in May is a MUST for everyone who wants to see REAL RUSSIA!
From Moscow to Vladivostok and Yekaterinburg is on the third minute. We drank champagne on the border of Europe and Asia the I took the guys to the Mafia cemetery and Mayakovskogo park.

Komrads on the Transsiberian Railway 2012 from Serge Kapitein on Vimeo.

28Feb/120

How to meet a shaman in the Ural forest

Nature park Bazhovskie Mesta is one of the largest in Middle Urals. It is also the nearest to Yekaterinburg (60km) that makes it attractive for tourists. At the end of February the managers of the park invited Yekaterinburg guides including me to check out their new route: a hiking tour with a local shaman down to the woods and to the believes of the ancient Ural tribes.

As we got to the park in an authentic Russian UAZ jeep, we were greeted by a shaman by the fireplace. We expected to share a peace pipe but he offered us herbal tea which was a good idea, considering it’s still winter here. Having put on something like Mansi overcoats we followed the shaman to learn what our ancestors believed in.

We weren't alone in the forest, the prints belong to a marten

The tour lasts about three hours. It can be longer if you wish to go swimming in the lake in summer time. We learnt about bad and good spirits that inhabit forests, thanked the god of the winds for guiding us and found out that Mansi newly-weds had a honeymoon too..in a very transparent shelter.

a 'honeymoon' hut

The tradition of tying colorful ribbons on a tree can also be found in Siberia and Nepal

The tour with a shaman is 6000rubles (200$) for a group of 6-10 people. You can also have it at night! In this case you walk with flaming torches which makes a whole experience very exciting.

At the end I could try on the shaman's outfit

Going back to civilization in UAZ

I’ll definitely go there in summer to try out a night tour. If you are interested too, just let me know 🙂

For more summer activities in the park click here:  http://askural.com/2011/06/sysert-eco-tour-on-horseback/

25Jan/121

Tobolsk. A step down from the Ural Mountains to real Siberia

Every Russian knows about the Siberian town of Tobolsk from the history books but very few visited the town. These days tourists choose other routes to the South and it’s rather far for foreigners: Tobolsk is not on Trans-Siberian route. However, this Siberian pearl does its best to attract different travelers and it’s worth coming in summer and in winter.

Tobolsk is 536km to the north-east of Yekaterinburg in Western Siberia. It is in Tyumenskaya Oblast, the neighboring region to Sverdlovskaya Oblast. So, in terms of Russian distances people in the Urals may say that it’s just around the corner. Tobolsk is very old compared to most of the Ural and Siberian cities. It was founded in 1587 on the place where the Tobol River flows into the Irtysh. Very soon Tobolsk became the center of political, economical and cultural life of Siberia.
The main place of attraction is a breathtaking white Kremlin in the upper town. I couldn’t stop taking photos of it:

The downtown is located down the hill on the river bank.

They say that Siberia gave Russia many prominent people and most of them were born in Tobolsk. The most known name in the world is chemist Dmitry Mendeleev, the inventor of the periodic table . Tobolsk also became the land of prisons and exile. Russian Tsars were deporting political prisoners to Tobolsk for centuries. A short excursion to the old cemetery will tell you more about it.

Of course, Russian exiled aristocracy changed the habits and lifestyle of Tobolsk. I was very much surprised to meet many teenagers in the local museum dressed as ladies and gentlemen of 19th century. They came to an annual ball arranged here on the eve of Christmas.

Ironically, the Bolsheviks decided to exile the last Russian tsar to Tobolsk as well. Nicolas II and his family had lived in Tobolsk from August 1917 till April 1918 before they were sent and murdered in Yekaterinburg

The house requisitioned as the Romanovs' detention place in Tobolsk

Study room of Nicolas II in Tobolsk

Tobolsk has always been a spiritual center of Russia. There are 16 churches in the town including a Catholic Church in downtown. You can also arrange a tour to Abalak monastery (30km from Tobolsk)

Outside the monastery there’s a lovely Abalak tourist center with a wooden hotel, bars, skating rinks and the home of Father Frost.

Find more about Abalak here: http://askural.com/2011/12/father-frost-in-abalak-siberia/

Tips for travelers: Most of the museums, cafes and souvenir shops are located in the Kremlin area. Tobolsk is famous for muksun – a type of fish that you can try in local eateries. Smoked fish is available at vendors’ right on the train platform.

The train station of Tobolsk is outside the town. There are several buses to take from the station, but if you are arriving early in the morning or late at night, it’s wise to order a transfer beforehand. The local travel agencies arrange transfers and tours but they don’t have English-speaking guides, so bring your own interpreter.

A woman is selling local fish at the train station

One day is pretty much enough for Tobolsk. There are several decent hotels in the city but I chose to arrive by train at 7.30 am and took a train back at 9pm. Thus you can sleep two nights in a train and spend a whole day in Tobolsk.

Getting to Abalak: by car: from Yekaterinburg take the road via Tymen to Tobolsk
by train: There are many trains bound for Tobolsk. I suggest taking train #310 from Yekaterinburg. 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.

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

30Oct/111

What museums to visit in Yekaterinburg?

Sverdlovsk Regional Museum of Local Lore (Kraevedcheski Muzey) is probably the largest Yekaterinburg. It has four halls which tell the history of the Urals from the ancient tribes to the Romanovs and Second World War. A new photo exhibition ‘Les Voyages in URSS’ tells about the so-called “Zastoy” era – years of stagnation in the USSR.

Red Square, Moscow 1956

Jacques Dupaquier is a French photographer who visited the USSR during the times of Khruschev and Brezhnev. Dupaquier first came to the USSR in 1956 as a member of the Society of French-Soviet Friendship.

Park Pobedy and a kiosk in Moscow, 1956

He took part in a car rally Paris-Tashkent with a stop in Sochi in 1964.

A beach in Sochi, 1964

Those days Sochi could hardly believe it would host the Olympics in 2014..Winter Olympics!

Finally, the French photographer travelled by Trans-Siberian railway from Vladivostok to Moscow in 1975. Has Russia changed since those days? You decide...

Sverdlovsk Train Station in 1975

Taiga, a town in Siberia

Chita, 1975

The exhibition ‘Les Voyages in URSS’ is open till 21st December 2011

Sverdlovsk Regional Museum of Local Lore is located in the centre next to the Iset Hotel. The museum has a hall of ancient history of the Urals with the Big Shigir Idol, the oldest wooden cult statue known in the world history (9.5 thousand years old).

Make sure you get to the Hall of the Romanovs on the top floor. It contains an interesting collection of letters, documents and personal belongings of the last Russian Tsar. The collection gives a better understanding of the unhappy events than a visit to Church on Blood or Ganina Yama Monastery

The hall of the Romanovs

Address: Prospect Lenina 69\10

Tel: +7 (343)376-47-78

25May/110

Europe-Asia border. Is it worth it?

This post is for Don, Michael and many others who asked me if it’s worth going to the border between Europe and Asia and what you can see there, apart from the obelisk.

Honestly speaking, I’ve been there so many times that I take it for granted. But I haven’t seen yet a single tourist who regretted about going there. So, look at the pictures and decide yourself whether you want to go there or not...

Obelisk near the town of Pervouralsk (40km from Yekaterinburg)

The most interesting obelisk is near Pervouralsk (40 km from Yekaterinburg) on Beryozavaya gorka (birch hill). The obelisk was made in honour of Tsar Alaxander II who was traveling to Siberia in 1837. He stopped there and opened a bottle of wine. Since that we have a tradition to drink on the border – one glass in Europe and one in Asia.

The place attracts newly-weds as there is also a tree of wishes where couples hang their padlocks and make a wish sitting on a bench.

Book the tour to the Europa-Asian border here: http://yekaterinburg4u.ru/en/tours/europe-asia-border

German couple under the tree made by local blacksmith Pastukhov. Similar tree grows in London

What to do: drink, make a wish under the tree, take photos of village people

Getting there from Yekaterinburg: by taxi (about 1.000R) or by bus or marshrutka (minivan) to Pervouralsk from bus stop Institut Svyazi on Repina street. Bus fare may vary from 20- to 40R Note: buses stop in different parts of Pervouralsk, so it’s wise to ask the driver how to get to the obelisk.

The simplest obelisk but closest to the city (17km from Yekaterinburg)

The most popular place on the border is 17 km from Yekaterinburg one NovoMoskovski trakt.

What to do: continue drinking, buy souvenirs, tie a ribbon on a tree to make a statement that you’ve been there, take a photo of yourself clad as Tsar or Tsaritsa.

Book the tour to the Europa-Asian border here: http://yekaterinburg4u.ru/en/tours/europe-asia-border

Of course there are many more marks all along the Ural Mountains:

21Feb/110

Open air museum in Nizhnyaya Sinyachikha

There is a village in the Urals that can be called an open-air museum-village. Nizhnyaya Sinyachikha (yep, it's a tricky tongue twister)  is 180 km from Yekaterinburg on the way to Siberia. The settlement is 330 years old. There along the Siberian road you can see the examples of wooden architecture of the previous centuries. It’s always a good idea to park your car and to walk around. You can also buy a ticket to get inside the wooden chapels and houses to see more of the local naïve art, so characteristic for the Urals.

I got to Nizhnyaya Sinyachikha in August with a group of my fellow architects and designers. They chose the trip to celebrate Builder’s Day (it has been celebrated in Russia since the Soviet times by everyone involved in construction works)

The highlight of the village is Saviour Transfiguration Church. The locals say it was built by an Italian architect and it does look very Italian. Historians are skeptical about it and believe the architect was Russian as the church is typical for Siberian Baroque style. The church was largely destroyed by the Bolsheviks. The building was used as a social club and a library the Soviet era. It is now a part of the museum and that’s where you buy the entrance ticket for something like 200 roubles (7$).

 The church-museum has an interesting collection of bells from post cabs. There is an interesting exhibition of interior and exterior design on the second floor of the building. Rich villagers would hire a designer to paint the walls of their houses. Bright and happy colors were very popular with the Ural dwellers.It is probably because the natural scenery was not colorful at all. These days the scenery is the same - gloomily grey-and-white for at least 6 months a year. Local designers did their best to please the clients. They painted exotic animals or things they had heard about but never seen. Take a look at how people imagined elephants or locomotives – those are priceless images.

Book a tour to Nizhnyaya Sinyachikha here: http://yekaterinburg4u.ru/en/tours/nizhnyaya-sinyachikha

Sinyachikha river

a house of 18th century

There is only one man behind the whole project - Ivan Samoylov. He was a local activist who loved his village and dedicated 40 years of his life to create the open-air museum. With a few fellow-carpenters he started to restore the Savior Church in 1967. It took them 11 years to complete the restoration but that was only the beginning. Samoylov then started to collect old neglected houses from the nearby villages. He brought them log by log to Nizhnyaya Sinyachikha and built them anew. It was easy to do as wooden houses in Russia used to be made without a single nail. So he only had to pile the logs in the correct order.

Chappels in the Urals had brightly painted iron roofs and golden crosses

Samoylov preserved 20 buildings including the unique wooden chapels of 18th century. As he worked in the Soviet era, he was many times confronted by the local communist leaders who didn’t like the idea of saving churches. Samoylov didn’t concede and kept on working for his Motherland. He was never paid a rouble for what he had done but was awarded a medal by Yeltsin in 1990s. Sadly, after Samoylov’s death there are no volunteers to continue his work though there are still many historical objects in the decaying villages all over the Urals.

Today houses haven't changed much

A local wedding

Nizhnyaya Sinyachikha is worth visiting during the first week of March when Maslenitza (a pancake carnival) is celebrated. The museum workers arrange a special program with pancake tasting. There is also a nice cafe in front of the church but sometimes it is closed in the afternoon for wedding parties

The museum is open daily 9a.m.-4p.m., Wed 9a.m-8p.m; telephone: (34346) 75-1-18, 75-2-37

Book a tour to Nizhnyaya Sinyachikha here: http://yekaterinburg4u.ru/en/tours/nizhnyaya-sinyachikha

Getting there

by car: take Yekaterinburg - Rezh highway until Alapayevsk then down Ul. Lenina follow the directions to Nizhnyaya Sinyachikha. The main road leads exactly to the Church.

public transport: there are buses and marshrutkas to Alapaevsk from Yekaterinburg Severny Avtovokzal (near the train station). Busses run daily 3-4 times a day and take 3 hours. Alternatively go by electrichka (local train) to Alapaevsk. It takes 4 hours. In Alapaevsk take bus 103 from the bus station or hitchhike (about 2 km)

19Jan/110

Hot springs in cold Tyumen. From the Urals to Siberia

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.

Saviour Transfiguration Church in Nizhnyaya Sinyachikha was built in 1823 in Siberian baroque style

    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:     

Although Irbit is not worth a visit, there is one thing to attract foreign tourists: famous bike Urla is still being manufactured at the Irbit motorcycle factory.

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.      

Typically Ural faces: where Asia meets with Europe. Larisa of semi-Asian Bashkir origin (left) and me with Belarusian roots (right)

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