On January 9th 2016 our international team of tourists went to the village of Kostino (130km East of Yekaterinburg) where we celebrated Svyatki. Svyatki or saint days is a mixture of pagan believes and Christian traditions celebrated between Ortodox Christmas (Jan.7th) and Epiphany (Jan. 19th).
The first week of Svyatki is called a saint week and includes celebrating of Christmas. The second week is called "scary". Slavic people believed that evil forces are particular dangerous during that week. It includes fortune telling at night, carroling and playing outdoor games.
Fortune telling is one of the traditions in January. Young girls got together in a banya at night to find out who they would marry and how soon. But first a girl had to take off her cross. Christian and pagan rites had to be separated.
In Kostino we used candle wax and a bowl with water to predict the future. You can guess the meaning of the shapes made by the drops of wax.
When carrolling people wear masks of animals (bears, goats, bulls or geese etc) so that they can't be recognized and one man should be dressed as a goat. If a host refuses to share drinks and treats with carrol singers, the goat can do some mischief. That's why we were treated well and our ‘goat’ – a French guest Gerard got a lot of drinks.
We all agreed that Kostino is worth coming back in summer. So on July 9th we'll have another weekend tour to the village to celebrate a pagan slavic day of Ivan Kupala!
On August 22nd we went to the annual fair in Irbit. Irbit is a town on the Eastern slope of the Ural mountains 200km east of Yekaterinburg. Back in the days Irbit was a gateway to Siberia. Thanks to its favourable location, the town became an attraction for Russian merchants who came to buy and sell goods from Siberia at the fair.
In 19th century Irbit Fair was the second largest in Russia after Nizhni Novgorod. The fair was famous for fabrics, Siberian furs and tea from China. In the Soviet period the fairs were not held in the Ural town but the tradition came back in 2002.
In the past the fair took place in winter and lasted for a month. These days the fair is held every 4th weekend of August from Friday till Sunday. Irbit Fair is an exhibition of various crafts in the Urals from making feltboots valenki to baking gingerbread. Local craftsmen invite you to the workshops. The guests are treated with tea and blinis.
Irbit is also famous for its Motorcycle Museum as the town is the home of the IMZ Ural motorcycle factory. In the USSR Ural bike was a very popular transport but in the 1990s the factory went bankrupt.
Fortunately deallers abroad were found and today Ural bikes are craftwork. The factory produces 1200 motorcycles a year, 95% of them are exported. One of the Ural bikes with a sidecar belongs to the Hollywood actor Brad Pitt.
Irbit has the Motorcycle Museum but thanks to the Center of Tourism Development of Sverdlovsk Region my colleagues and I were lucky to get to the factory.
By the way, the Ural factory has a nice website in English, in case you decide to buy one http://uralmoto.ru/en/
Click the gallery to see more photos from the motorcycle factory and of the fair
On March 2 we organized a one day tour to the country to celebrate the pre-lent pancake festival called Maslenitsa. Maslenitsa is probably the only pagan celebration in Russia that has survived until nowadays with all the rites and traditions. After Christianity of Russia the Orthodox Church had to change the dates of the Lent so that people could eat pancakes and go crazy on Maslenitsa. As for the Russian Tsars, they liked to have fun too. Even the Soviet regime couldn’t change Russian habits.
To have a proper Maslenitsa fest it’s a good idea to go to the country. Our group of Russians and expats from Italy, France, USA, Serbia and India went to the village of Kostino 130km East of Yekaterinburg. Kostino is one of the most prosperous villages in the area thanks to the Kolkhoz (a collective farm) which is still active. Our Maslenitsa began in the local museum where we were greeted with bread and salt (a Russian tradition of greeting special guests) – everyone has to try a bit of bread with salt before entering the house.
After the excursion in the museum we had a workshop – learnt how to make an obereg – a special maslenitsa talisman that symbolizes the sun and protects from the evil spirits. Considering the fact that we met no spirits on that day, the talisman worked!
The folk performance in the museum consisted of songs and blinis. Some of the maslenitsa traditions were quite brutal. A son-in-law would beat his mother-in-law with a wooden stick thus wishing her good health and longevity. Another tradition was a mass fist fight of men. It was called a-wall-to wall fight. The most dangerous one was a fight with a bear. Surely, such fights involved drinking including drinking vodka with a bear!
Fortunately, there were no bears in Kostino and instead of vodka we were treated with a local liqueur. The main part of the festival was held outside. Having dressed up a little bit all the guests took part in fun skiing and horse riding competitions, a race with a frying pan full of pancakes etc. Finally we burnt down the maslenitsa doll saying farewell to the winter.
Even though we are still having minus temperatures in March in the Urals, the spring has come to the people who follow the traditions of their forefathers. Well, except for beating your mother-in-law!
special thanks to Irina Loktionova and Venu Panicker for the photos!
On August 17th Yekaterinburgers celebrated 290s Birthday of the city. The Jubilee attracted half a million people (one third of the city population). Probably the number of people was so big due to the weather: +30 Celcius. Occasional rains during the day were a relief for many. In my opinion, the next step for the government should be – to clean the city pond so that we could bathe right in the city center!
The so-called City’s Day (Den Goroda) is celebrated in Yekaterinburg on the third weekend of August. Although, officially it’s November 17th. On this date in 1723 the State Iron Factory of the future Yekaterinburg was put into operation. Well, the history is the history but November here is bitterly cold so let it be August!
If you asked the locals what they usually do on the city’s Birthday most of them would say “Oh, we go to datcha to stay away from the crowd” or something like “I never go to the city center on this day, who wants to see all those drunk slobs from Uralmash and vicinities”. So the general opinion is that the City’s Day is a chaos when Lenin Street is occupied by the chaffs from the industrial neighborhoods. Frankly speaking it used to be so even 5 years ago but things are changing. The alcohol ban in the city center helps a bit but most importantly, the people’s mentality is changing. Young people prefer dancing on the streets to drinking on the corner.
Alyona Grigoryan, my Facebook friend posted the other day the following comment:
“This year, the City’s Day was a nice surprise. The festival itself wasn’t a surprise, it was just very good!!! I was surprised to see so many happy people who really enjoyed the holiday. The people were so beautiful, well-dressed like in a summer resort. So many people came with the families, with children and grannies. Lots of people came with little kids and babies and nobody was afraid of a crowd. There were many policemen, all dressed in white, they were friendly. May be that’s the reason why everything was quiet, nobody tried to make a row. I hardly saw any drunk people, even those with beer were stopped by the police. I saw how the policewomen came to men with beer and asked to take it away. And there were many nice intelligent faces. 6 years ago it was impossible to see. So beautiful! People were sitting on the lawns just like in Europe. They were enjoying their time and having fun. The city is really improving. I wish it were always like that!”
click on gallery to see more faces of Yekaterinburg and the fireworks:
Last Saturday the regional Ministry of Tourism invited the travel agencies of Yekaterinburg to the Festival of Church Bells to the city of Kamensk-Uralski.
Kamensk-Uralski is the third largest city in Sverdlovsky Region (Middle Urals). I doubt it will ever become a popular tourist destination but it has beautiful river sceneries around and the festival is worth seeing too. The city of metallurgists holds the Festival of Church Bells every year in July. A local citizen Mr. Pyatkov opened his bell foundry here in 1991. Now it’s the largest bell producer in Russia and abroad.
Our visit started at the bell foundry. There are excursions to the foundry held daily Mon-Fri. You can see how the church bells are made and of course try to make it ring!
The festival held in front of the chapel included dancing, singing and lots of ringing.
They say that bell ringing has an ability to heal people. Bell towers of Russian Churches are always located in the western corner. It is believed the bells can scare evil forces that always come from the west. Just like the communists used to say!
On that hot summer day not every one chose to listen to the bells
photos by Irina Loktionova
Last weekend (March 16) we gathered an international team of expats and travelers from the USA, Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland and Russia to go to the village of Aramashevo (110 km of Yekaterinburg) to celebrate Maslenitsa (Pancake festival before the Lent)
We’d chosen the village as my colleagues (other guides in Yekaterinburg) recommended it as the best place for Maslenitsa. And even though the pancake feast is celebrated in every village and in many parks of Yekaterinburg, I’m sure we were at the right place for a true folk fest!
Aramashevo was founded in 16th century by the Cossacks. The village is located on top of the cliff on the bank of the Rezh River. It’s worth coming here in summer to enjoy a wonderful view from the cliff. The river is also god for rafting. The Museum of the History of Rural Life in the Urals will be an interesting visit any time of the year.
The best thing of the museum is that you can touch everything, put on the clothes of the farmers or play the music instruments. For the guys from New Zealand and Australia it was a true fun to play a babushka and dedushka:
Meanwhile the Russians rally enjoyed the Soviet room of the museum:
We also had a workshop and made vesnyanochka – a doll, the symbol of the coming spring
After energetic dances we got to the main part of the festival – burning down Maslenitsa which symbolizes farewell to winter.
The weirdest thing about the Maslenitsa in Aramashevo was that there were no pancakes! We expected lots of pancakes but instead got pirogi (pies) and shashlik (BBQ). The local sbiten – a honey alcoholic drink was nothing but herbal tea with vodka in it. Nonetheless, we had a lot of fun and did the main thing – said good bye to the winter. As we returned back to Yekaterinburg in the evening, it was + 10!
We'll fill you in with history of the Urals, Russian drinking traditions and of course different types of vodka. You will learn Russian toasts and sing Russian drinking songs with us!
January 20 at 14.00
Meeting point: 51, Lenina, in front of the University
price: 950 rub
please, confirm that you are coming and pay in advance
In August 2012 I had a chance to visit a famously mysterious place called Arkaim. The archeological site of an ancient city of Arkaim (17th century b.c.) is in Southern Urals 432 km of Chelyabinsk near the northern border of Kazakhstan.
The place was discovered in 1987 by the scientists from Chelyabinsk. Presumably the people who lived in Arkaim in 17 century b.c. belonged to Iranian or an unknown branch of Indo-Iranian culture. Their settlement for approximately 1500-2500 people was protected by two circular walls. The ancient town covered 20 000 sq meters. The people lived there for 300 years then the settlement was burned and abandoned by its dwellers for unknown reasons.
All this you can learn in a local museum. However, today Arkaim is known as a ‘place of power’ is believed to be enigmatic and it attracts hundreds of pilgrims and esoteric organizations. Some people call it Swastika city or Mandala city. Others compare it with Stonehenge. Those who visited it (including my friends in Yekaterinburg) claim that they felt positive vibes and even healing effects. Obviously I had to go there to see and hopefully to feel something extraordinary!
A camping for pilgrims is located near the archeological site but not quite close to it. The guides say that there’s not much to see there in terms archeology though whilst the nearby mountains are much more interesting for they are the true places of power. In fact, the camping looks very much like a hippy village. Honestly, If you miss the 1970s, you should pay a visit to Arkaim. The flower children of Russia on tops of the hills, talk to ancient stones and sell souvenirs (probably drugs too) from India and China.
An ordinary day in Arkaim is as follows:
6 a.m. climbing one of the mountains (they are hills actually) to see the sunrise.
7 a.m. doing morning exercises with a local trainer who also sells herbal medicine made of Arkaim herbs, of course.
9 a.m. – till the sunset: climbing the nearby mountains\hills of different significance: mountain of love, of wealth, of making wishes etc. The mountain of atonement is the most popular one as people crowds were walking there in circles (that’s what you are supposed to do to say sorry for your deeds). Surprisingly enough the mountain of love was the least popular that day. But then I understood why – it’s the highest and the steepest one.
Alternatively one can stay in the camp to listen to lectures given by various esoteric gurus, go swimming in a small river or riding horses in the endless steppes.
The night time goes more or less traditional in Arkaim: it involves drinking and eating shashlik in a local café. Alternatively one can go meditating on top of a hill.
My personal opinion is that Akaim is an amazing place for someone who arrived from Yekaterinburg surrounded by dense woods. The steppe looks beautiful and exotic, especially when you meet local Asiatic people selling fresh milk and herbal tea from samovar. The climate is fantastic (while it was miserable +16 in Middle Urals, it was +35 in Arkaim). As for the power I didn’t feel anything weird but it felt like a good day off. And the hippies, well they are quiet and harmless anyway, just like their American counterparts. So the place is worth visiting even though it’s 634km of Yekaterinburg.
On last Sunday of August the anual Baby Buggy Parade takes place in Mayakovskogo Park. All Russia and Yekaterinburg in particular is experiencing a baby boom at the moment. So it’s not a problem to find buggies but for the parade they should look extraordinary as well as the baby and its parents.
This year there were 112 participants. Yekaterinburgers were really creative. A few themes very especially popular: pirates and boats, princes and princesses and Yemelya, a lazy character of a Russian fairy tale who is sleeping on top of a hot oven all the time.
I didn’t stay till the end of the parade, so I don’t know which baby buggy won the first prize in 2012. All of them were charmingly beautiful and funny. Click on the gallery to see more babies, buggies and scrap sculptures in between.
8th of July is a new celebration in Russia –St. Peter and Fevronya’s Day, the day of family, love and faith. A brand new monument to patron saints of marriage and family was opened in Yekaterinburg near the Church on the Blood and it immediately became a popular spot for newly-weds.
Originally, it was a Russian Orthodox celebrated only in the town of Murom as Peter was the Prince of Murom. The day of love and family was proposed by Russian Orthodox Church as opposed to St Valentine’s. The church doesn’t like that young people in Russia celebrate a Catholic Day. In 2008 the Russian Government accepted the proposal of a new celebration and it was actively promoted by Svetlana Medvedeva, the wife of the former president D. Medvedev.
Interesting facts: In spite of the fact that Peter and Fevronya symbolize traditional Orthodox values, Peter, the Prince of Murom didn’t want to marry Fevronya. She was a commoner who cured him of leprosy. In return, Fevronya asked Peter to marry her but he refused. However, he later suffered a relapse and came to Fevronya again. After that he had to marry Fevronya. The couple was childless which isn’t a good example of a good Orthodox family either. At the end of their lives they both joined the clergy. He became a monk and she was a nun and both prayed to die on the same date which they did on July, 8th 1228.
When speaking about love and faith, it’s worth mentioning some statistics here. According to Demoscope Weekly, every second marriage ends in divorce in Yekaterinburg. The average age of newly-weds in Russia is 26-27 for men and 24-25 for women. Only 30% of Russian women and 56% of men marry for the second time after a divorce. As for faith, 90% of men and 85% of women in Russia think that adultery is a good reason to get a divorce.
There are no special traditions yet about buying chocolate or flowers on this date. But considering the statistics, it’s probably a good thing that we have a day in summer when people can think about the family values.