Who said that travelling with kids is difficult. An Australian family with five children stopped in Yekaterinburg during their Trans-Siberian journey and we took them to the Euro-Asia border
Here's a very intersting travle blog that all of them have been writing: http://miliking-meanderings.com/
This story is about their experience in Yekaterinburg and our tour to the border:
You can also read more there about their staying in China and Mongolia!
To make it easy for you to decide on what tours you would like to have in the Urals, I've made these pictures with short descriptions in English and in Russian (just click on each picture to read the description)
These are 8 most popular trips in Yekaterinburg and around. Some are short and some take a whole day. So when you travel by Trans-Siberian, make sure to see one of these sights of middle Urals!
Book the tours here: http://yekaterinburg4u.ru/en/
Plus a special winter tour:
Book the tours here: http://yekaterinburg4u.ru/en/
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.
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
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.
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.
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
Yekaterinburg Museum of Local Folklore on Lenina 69 opened new exhibition dedicated to the most popular drink in Russia. On a cold December day when it’s -30 outside this drink keeps you warm and the drink is chai (tea). You could have thought it would be vodka. Well, vodka is certainly the most famous Russian brand but as for popularity here’s simple statistics: I haven’t got vodka at home (I’ve got a bottle of tequila, yes, but no vodka), my brother has only some beer in the fridge, my neighbors don’t drink alcohol at all. But I bet you’ll find at least two or three sorts of tea in every Russian home!
Tea came from China that is why the Russian name of the drink was derived from cha – a common pronunciation in Northern China. Chai traveled via Irkutsk, Krasnoyarsk, Tobolsk and Tyumen finally to the Ural town of Irbit (204 km from Yekaterinburg). The annual Irbit Winter Fair was the second largest in Russia with fur and tea brought from Siberia and Asia. It took a year and a half to deliver tea to the Ural Region on camels’ and horses’ backs then by ships. Here in the Urals tea would be packaged in finely decorated boxes and sent further to Moskovia Region. Ministry of Tourism of Sverdlovskaya oblast is now developing a new route: Great Tea Road, which will be a good opportunity to visit some off the beaten track places in the Urals and Siberia.
The symbol of the Russian tea ceremony is a big iron samovar. The whole family would gather around a hot shining samovar in winter, thus a samovar in Russia played a similar role as a fireplace in the English houses. The Russians like it piping hot that’s why they would sip tea from saucers. Gold-rimmed saucers cool down tea very quickly. Russian noblemen however found this way vulgar and inappropriate. They copied the English tea ceremonies and had their morning tea with cream.
In the Soviet times tea was delivered mainly from India when Khrushchev made friends with Indira Ghandi. Tea industry was booming especially under dry law. Young people celebrated dry weddings drinking tea. But let’s not idealize those days – vodka was often poured to the boiled water in a tea cattle, disgusting but at least alcoholic.
Before tea got to the Russian Empire people had brewed herbs and made zbiten. This traditional Russian drink is becoming more and more popular nowadays and you can find it in some cafes of Yekaterinburg or can make it yourself: for 1 big cup take 3 tbsp of honey, 3 tbsp of sugar, 2 bay leaves, 2 cloves, some ginger. Boil 10 min. Drink piping hot and -30 outside will not bother you anymore.
Note! If you want to tip a waiter in Russia, you leave na chai (it means small money for tea)
My foreign friends in Yekaterinburg keep asking me the same question about public transport. Car is not always a good option – some central streets are very narrow and they are even narrower in winter when there are only two ruts in snow. It seems that Yekaterinburg has a good transport system with many buses, trolleys and trams. But does it work well when you don’t know the city and can hardly speak Russian?
First of all, there is no determined timetable for public transport. You just go to the bust stop and hope for the best. While buses and trolleybuses stuck in traffic jams every now and then, trams are more reliable. However, Russian drivers and renowned for being terribly impatient so they often use tram tracks to overtake the others and block the traffic completely. Note that some trams have weird routs. For example, if you take Tram 3 form the train station to Lenin Avenue, it doesn’t mean that you can get back to the train station by the same tram as it runs one way in circles. Even after 10 in this city I get perplexed by their routs so it’s a good idea to ask (in Russian) people at the bus stop or a conductor in a tram where it’s heading to.
Those who have already been to Russia know about marshrutkas (minibuses). They duplicate bus routes and run quicker though not safer. Marshrutkas belong to private companies that tend to hire unqualified emigrants from the former Soviet Republics as drivers. They don’t always know Russian, let alone Russian traffic laws. Still the main problem is that in order to make more money marshrutkas drivers overwork sometimes spending twelve hours a day behind the wheel.
Let’s not forget about the metro. Yekaterinburg Metro used to be listed in the Guinness Record Book as the shortest underground in the world. Now that it’s got 7th station, it isn’t famous anymore but is very short all the same. Local metro stations are good for sightseeing. They are decorated with marble and Ural gems and they are not as crowded as in Moscow.
If you travel by Trans-Siberian and arrive at the Main Train Station you can jump into any trolleybus. They all go to the city centre and stop at Church on the Blood. Or you can use metro from Uralskaya station to Ploschad 1905.
Public transport can be complicated for foreigners. On the bright side of things it’s cheap: 18 roubles and you can pay directly to a stout lady-conductor in a bus or a tram. Besides, public transport in Yekaterinburg and all over Russia never stops functioning even when it’s -35 and roads are covered with one meter of snow!
It takes one day and a half by train to get to Yekaterinburg from Moscow. Add two more days in a rattling train if your destination is Irkutsk and Lake Baikal. So it's wise to get a break in Yekaterinburg and at least to have a shower here.
For adventurous travellers (and I assume you are very adventurous as you've chosen a Trans-Siberian trip) a shower is not enough especially if you stop in the main city of the Ural Mountains. All the guide books recommend spending at least one day in Yekaterinburg. Thus you have time to walk in the historical centre (the city was found in 1723 so it's got some history), visit Church on the Blood - the place where the Tsar's family was killed and a giant computer key board which despite the size may be difficult to find even with a map. You'll be able to have a proper dinner in one of the cosy restaurants and a drink or two in the bars. Luckily these days most of them have menues in English, don't expect much from the waiters though. Plus you have a whole night to join a party in a night club or a pub. Pubs in Yekaterinburg are something between expensive restaurants and live-music bars. There's always something going on at night except Mondays and Thursday is considered to be a gay night-out but not everywhere.
This is a standard program for one day in Yekaterinburg. Now it actually sounds too standard and doesn't give you an idea about the Urals which is certainly a shame. You see, pretty soon you will be in Siberia and it will be all very different in the vast Russian taiga. So if you are going to claim that you've seen Russia instead of rushed about Russia, consider staying two days in Yekaterinburg.
On your second day get up early in the morning, take you camera, your back pack and may be some locals you have met in a pub the night before. They can be your handy tool if you don't speak Russian. If you do know the language you can take a bus or a local train for a one day trip in the Middle Urals. However, taking a public bus or a train you waste a lot of your precious time, as they are rather slow. You may take a taxi instead (remember that from the hotel reception they charge more!) or find a local with a car or a guide. It's easier than you think. The Ural region was closed to foreigners in the Soviet times and you are still an exotic fruit for the citizens who will be happy to even take a day off at work in order to show you around and share their Ural pride with you. At least that's what my friends and me have been doing quite often 🙂
In my other posts I'll tell you what places you may visit in the Urals. For the time being take a look at the photos and descriptions of the popular Ural destinations on my Facebook page: Yekaterinburg for You
Bear it in mind that the citizens of the Ural Mountains are very much upset when somebody calls them Siberyaki (people of Siberia) because they are Uraltzy. However they will forgive you for not knowing the proper terms (though they will not forgive the ignorant Russians!)
Just remember this simple fact: the Ural Mountains is a natural boderline between European Russia and Siberia, in other words between Europe and Asia. While the Ural region is neither Europe nor Asia. It's just Ural. The ancient Finno-Ugric tribes gave it this name which means a rock. So in the old times the Russians called the western part Moskovia and everything 'over the rocks' was and still is Siberia.
Are there any differences between the citizens of Ural and other Russian? Not at all. They all look very Russian and speak Russian. It's just the feeling of identity that all Uraltzy have even though most of them came to Ural from all possible parts of the USSR: Kazakhstan, Tatarstan, Volga Region, Russian Far East or from Belarus like my family!
I've been living in the Middle Urals for 30 years and travelling around Russia I see it clearly - this relatively small region (small compared to Russian sizes as it's actually the size of Germany) is neither Moskovia nor Siberia. It's just Ural and I'm happy to be Uralochka (a girl from the Urals)