In November 2011 the Dutch travel magazine Columbus is publishing an article on traveling by Trans-Siberian railway from Moscow to Vladivostok.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
He took part in a car rally Paris-Tashkent with a stop in Sochi in 1964.
Finally, the French photographer travelled by Trans-Siberian railway from Vladivostok to Moscow in 1975. Has Russia changed since those days? You decide...
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
Address: Prospect Lenina 69\10
Tel: +7 (343)376-47-78
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.
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:
A farewell to arms? Well, certainly not in the Urals. The region has always been a large industrial centre and it’s due to many defence plants that the Urals had been closed to foreigners until 1991.
VII International Exhibition of Armament, Military Equipment and Ammunition ‘Russian Expo Arms’ was traditionally held in Nizhni Tagil in 8-11 September. Nizhni Tagil (140 north of Yekaterinburg) is known in Russia as a homeland for tanks. UralVagonZavod is the factory that started producing T-34 tanks in 1941. The latest model T-90C was shown in action on the training field. It was impressive and very loud, just what the public likes.
Prime Minister Putin, who visited Expo Arms and checked out the T-90 tank, said that the exhibition should draw attention of international specialists and promote development of the international military-technical cooperation. The countries especially drawn to big machines were Vietnam, India, Zambia and Uganda. There were also producers from Ukraine, Belarus, France and Italy this year.
Russian Expo Arms is an open event – no passport controls for foreigners. Tickets cost 300-500R and it was easy to get free VIP tickets especially if you know someone in Nizhni Tagil. As I was leaving the premises, a TV reporter was interviewing visitors asking what they thought about event. A local man’s reply was obvious yet very absurd: “I feel so proud of my country, I’m proud of how strong Russia is”. Surely, there is nothing wrong about being proud of the country that can make a big toy able to destroy hundreds of people at a time. But it was said on September, 11, that’s why his comment sounded bizarre to me…
However, there was something for pacifists too – KAMAZ and Ural trucks were my favourite: they can work at -50 and +55C, climb steep hills and swim in lakes. This car is worth buying for those who dream of traveling from Moscow to Vladivostok and back!
Unlike Mr. Putin I visited Russian Expo Arms on the last day and missed a demonstration of air weapons – launches and bombing from helicopters and planes (not that I really regret it). The weather on that day was gloomy so my photos are a bit dark but it adds to the ambience of Russian military pride. There are also sunny photos by Benjamin Gaillard, a French expat in Yekaterinburg. Enjoy!
p.s. ExpoArms is held in early September every second year. The next one is in 2013
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
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.
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.
Although the landmark of Yekaterinburg is supposed to be Church on Blood, built on the site of Tsar’s murder, there is another famous construction in the city - the unfinished TV tower, aka fun tower or suicide tower. It is now a symbol of Soviet Sverdlovsk.
Construction of the tower began in 1981. The plan was ambitious: to erect a monument of technological progress which would be the tallest TV tower in the Asian part of the Euro-Asian continent with a height of 440 meters, with a restaurant and a viewing platform. There were no technological reasons to build a tower like this but it was to make a statement like Ostankino TV tower in Moscow.
In 1991 the tower was only half-finished (220m) but with the collapse of the USSR the project came to a halt. The unprotected building site was discovered as an adventure playground by base jumpers from all over Europe. One could reach the top by the left over scaffolding inside the tower. Those days in 1990s the tower was called ‘a suicide tower’. Officially, three people died from accidents or suicide at the tower, but the citizens say there were more than twenty. Since that the building site has been closed and the unfinished tower has become an eyesore surrounded by the new shiny skyscrapers.
In 2007 the city government initiated an investor competition for the completion of the tower. The future investors were permitted to erect a cultural and entertainment center with hotel and conference rooms. But the economic crisis that began in 2008 made the European investors change their minds.
The future of the tower is uncertain. Meanwhile, the citizens got used to it and it's a good mark when looking for directions. As for me, I would be very upset if the tower was demolished. There is something symbolic, beautiful even about this grey unfinished construction that reminds me of Sverdlovsk, the city I was born in.
On March, 8th local base-jumper Ratmir parachuted from the tower and landed near the circus with flowers for his fiancée. He got the official permission to do this. Watch his video here: http://www.e1.ru/news/spool/news_id-345421-section_id-124.html
p.s. If you scroll this page down, at the very bottom of it you will see the top of the unfinished TV tower 😉