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5Apr/170

Travelling in Southern Urals. Part V. Paris and Steps

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In the South of Chelyabinsk Oblast (Region) travelers may get confused when looking at the map: going to the border with Kazakhstan the road goes along Paris, Berlin, Fère-Champenoise, then it turns to Leipzig, passing Kassel etc. The villages in that area got their names in honor of the Russian victories in major battles of Napoleonic wars.

The village of Paris is probably the most popular one with drivers who stop to take pictures with a road sign saying Parizh to post it on Facebook. Apparently, some drivers were not satisfied with taking just photos so they took\stole the road sign at the entrance of the village. The police put a new one but it was stolen again. After that the authorities stopped bothering and we could only take a photo at the exit with a crossed Parizh sign. Hopefully it remains there for good.

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Paris, Varna, Berlin and other villages with exotic names are also interesting from the anthropological point of view. The citizens of that area are called Nagaybäks. This minority with the population of about 1000 people was officially recognized in Russia as a separate ethnic group.

The origin of the Nagaybäks remains unclear. They are Tatars allegedly from Kazan Khanate who for some reason adopted Christianity. Nagaybäks speak a dialect of the Tatar language but keep Orthodox traditions. They lived in the territory of Bashkortostan in the 17th century where they assimilated groups of Christians from Iran and Central Asia. During the revolts of Tatars and Bashkirs the Nagaybäks remained loyal to the Russian Tsars and were recruited to the Cossack Army. So Nagaybäk men took part in the wars against Napoleon in Europe as well.

The museum in Fère-Champenoise

The museum in Fère-Champenoise

In the 18th century the Orthodox Tatars were rewarded with new lands on the border with Kazakhstan although according to the Nagaybäks it was a forced exile to the uninhabited steps to protect the Russian borders.

In Paris we visited the local museum where you can learn about the history of the Nagaybäks and about their traditions.

In the museum of Paris a Na?aybäk woman is showing a traditional dress

In the museum of Paris a Nagaybäk woman is showing a traditional dress

Paris wouldn’t be called Paris without an Eifel Tower. A 1.5 replica was constructed in the village in 2005 and it serves as a cell network station.

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On that day travelling in the Southern steps we received text messages with a warning about bad weather conditions and blizzards in the evening. When leaving Paris the wind got so strong that our driver he couldn’t feel the road. Besides the visibility was getting worse and worse.

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The situation was becoming dangerous, we had to cover about 200km that evening but on the empty secondary roads with zero visibility there was a little chance to be rescued. I realized, why Southern Urals was another place of exile – once the driver turned off the engine in a few minutes it became freezing cold in the car. The wind was so strong that even though it was -10 outside it felt like -40. We decided to stop and look for a hotel near Paris. Besides, everybody remembered the tragic accident of last year that took place in the step of the Southern Urals.

photo from Komsomolskaya Pravda, 03.01.2016

photo from Komsomolskaya Pravda, 03.01.2016

On3d of January 2016 80 people were trapped in 30 cars on the road between Orenburg and Orsk. It took 16 hours to clean 27 km of the road to get to the trapped people. By that time their cars were fully covered in snow and they couldn’t even open the doors to get out. Though getting out wasn’t an option either. The cars got run out of gas very quickly. To keep their families warm and to survive the drivers were making fires inside the cars. Those who didn’t have paper burnt their documents, money and passports. To keep his pregnant wife warm one man burnt the upholstery of the car seats. The people were rescued after 16 hours. One man died. He was trying to walk to the other cars when the blizzard only started but got lost and couldn’t find the way back. His body was found only 20km away from his car.

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photo from Komsomolskaya Pravda, 03.01.2016

In our case the blizzard was short once the wind stopped we hurried to the North. Very soon steps changed for forests: pines along the road are a good protection in case of a snowstorm. Orenburg steps are beautiful but can be lethally dangerous in winter. When returning home I reread the Captain’s Daughter by Pushkin. Russian kids study it at school but only after visiting Ural steps you realize in what conditions people had to live there.

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14Mar/170

Travelling in Sothern Urals. Part IV. Orenburg region and Pushkin

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This winter my colleagues, the guides of Yekaterinburg and I decided to explore the Southern Urals to see its touristic potential. Within 6 days we covered over 3000km by car, visited 3 regions of Russia populated by over 100 nationalities: Chelyabinsk Region, Orenburg Region and the Republic of Bashkortostan. Almost every day we were crossing the border of Europe and Asia, got into a severe blizzard in Step and drove through the thickest fog I’ve ever seen along the river of Ural. The temperatures in January varied from – 25 in the mountains to -7 Celsius in the step areas.

100km away from Orenburg we stopped at the village of Saraktash. Apart from the local museum and ubiquitous street markets with traditional Orenburg shawls the village is proud of St. Trinity church complex.

The complex of the churches is very impressive and the construction is still going on

The complex of the churches is very impressive and the construction is still going on

The Orthodox churches as well as the priest’s huge house (Father Nickolas and his wife adopted 70 children) have been built in the recent years with the help of Orenburg sponsors. The priest, father Nickolay proved to be a very business oriented person and attracted large sums of money to the village. The sponsors were often invited to Saraktash and to the priest’s house for parties. Finally the Church dismissed Father Nickolas after a drink and drive accident with his Mercedes car involved. The video made by the road police got to youtube. Nowadays the priest is in the church again but lives a more modest and quite reserved life in Saraktash.

The house of Father Nickolay

The house of Father Nickolay

The citizens of Saraktash will also tell you about a movie shot in Saraktash in 1998. 'Russian Riot' is a film based on the historical novel Captain’s Daughter by Alexander Pushkin. Pushkin visited Orenburg region to collect the information about the Russia’s largest peasant revolt also known as Pugachev’s Rebellion or Cossacks’ Rebellion of 1173-75.

A fortress built for the film Russian Riot

A fortress built for the film Russian Riot

The Moscow filmmakers chose Saraktash village for shooting the adaptation. The remained props of the wooden fortress are now the museum of the Captain’s Daughter. The museum has a hotel in the wooden house, a restaurant and a banya.

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In his novel Pushkin describes severe blizzards in Orenburg steps. As we travelled in the Southern Urals we realized how dangerous they can be. For many kilometers you find nothing but white kurgans (hills) and when the visibility is almost zero at night and the car gets off the road chances to be rescued on time are very low.  This will be the next story on the Southern Urals.

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3Mar/170

Travelling in Southern Urals. Part III. Orenburg

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Orenburg Train Station

I was surprised not to find Orenburg in the guidebooks such as Lonely Planet on Russia. Of course, it’s far from the main touristic routes and 900 away from the Trans-Siberian railway. But if you happen to get to the Southern Urals, Orenburg is certainly worth a visit. The city with about half a million population is unofficially called the Asian Capital of Russia. It was once the capital of Kirgiz Autonomous Soviet Socialistic Republic but in 1925 remained in Russia. In 1938-1957 the city was called Chkalov, named after a famous Russian pilot who had never lived in Orenburg.

The bridge over the Ural river in the historical center of Orenburg marks the border of Europe and Asia.

The bridge over the Ural river in the historical center of Orenburg marks the border of Europe and Asia.

Orenburg was built as a fortress on the Or river on the border of Russia with Kazakhstan in 1734. The city is proud of having over 100 nationalities living together in peace. The signs of international friendship can be seen everywhere. The most interesting site in the city is the so-called National Village. It’s a walking street with 10 houses-museums on both sides representing the culture and traditions of 10 major nationalities in Orenburg.

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There you can enter a Ukrainian house with a straw roof, stay at the Tatars’ wooden home, relax in the Kazakh yurta, dance national dances with Belarusians or eat Bashkir chak-chak with honey.  By the way each house-museum has a restaurant with national cuisine!

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We really liked the Governor Museum, especially it’s room of the Sarmatians’ Gold.

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In 1986 a group of students of the Bashkir University of Ufa found several burial kurgans (burial hills) 100km away from Orenburg. All the graves contained a lot of gold. One kurgan in particular was a grave of a rich Sarmatian  female warrior. Golden coins and decoration made of pure gold were scattered all over the place. All the pieces date back to IV -II b.c. and are still in a very good condition.

photo by Bashkir TV

photo by Bashkir TV

The ornaments have mostly an Iranian influence. It’s still not clear whether the nomadic tribes of Sarmatians made them themselves or perhaps took them as trophies.

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Although most of the findings are exhibited in the Academy of Science of Ufa, a part of the collection including the treasures of the rich woman’s grave, stayed in Orenburg. The museum guide told us that it’s not allowed to take photos in the room of Sarmatians’ Gold but on the second thought ‘it’s ok if you do it quickly’

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What kind of a souvenir can one bring from Orenburg? All over Russia people know about famous Orenburg shawls. Finely knit shawls are also known as wedding ring shawls because even large ones are so fine they can be pulled through a wedding ring.

Street market of Orenburg Shawls

Street market of Orenburg Shawls

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The shawls became famous in Russia in the 18th century when Russian aristocratic women noticed that local Tatar and Bashkir country women make beautiful and very warm shawls of the wool of native Orenburg goats. Due to the harsh climate in the Ural steppes the down hair of the goats is very thin soft and fine. Attempts to breed Orenburg goats in Europe ended in a fiasco as the animals need the climate of the Southern Urals.

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Orenburg has numerous shops of shawls and all are hand-made, by the way!. Some stores  are very fancy and look more like museums. In one of them we could even have a photo-session  in traditional Russian costumes.

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The prices of shawls vary from 1000rub to 50 000 depending on the size and art work. If a shawl is under 1000rub it’s more likely to be machine-made with synthetic wool.

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14Feb/170

Traveling in Southern Urals. Part II

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This winter my colleagues, the guides of Yekaterinburg and I decided to explore the Southern Urals to see its touristic potential. Within 6 days we covered over 3000km by car, visited 3 regions of Russia populated by over 100 nationalities: Chelyabinsk Region, Orenburg Region and the Republic of Bashkortostan. Almost every day we were crossing the border of Europe and Asia, got into a severe blizzard in Step and drove through the thickest fog I’ve ever seen along the river of Ural. The temperatures in January varied from – 25 in the mountains to -7 Celsius in the step areas.

This story is about the Republic of Bashkortostan.

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As the roads get broader and better, the road signs are written in two languages and the music stations play ethnic songs in Bashkir, you immediately understand where you are. Bashkortostan is a small autonomous republic with around 30% of native population. In the course of Russian history Bashkirs were with or against Russians, therefore the Tsars considered them unreliable and they were not recruited in the Tsar’s army. But Russian Empire needed their lands full of mineral recourses and black oil besides the geographical position was important to protect the country in the South from Kyrgyz Kaganat (that was the name of the Central Asian and Southern Siberian lands before they were divided into Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan end others)

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A sign on the Museum of History of Sterlitamak in Bashkir

Bashkirs don’t like it when Russians say that they are similar to Tatars. Although both are Muslims and their languages of Turkic origin are similar, Tatars have always been traders while Bashkirs have been good hunters. Living in the Ural mountains in dense forests they developed the knowledge of using wild nature for their needs, wild bees in particular.

When in Bashkortostan (though Russians would say Bashkiria) you should definitely go to a local market. Amidst stalls with horse meat and dairy products made of horse milk one corner of the market is always full of famous Bashkir honey. Back in the days people took honey from hives of wild bees. Nowadays it’s almost a national tradition of having bees and making honey. So, as you understand honey is the main souvenir that you can bring from Bashkortostan.

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We skipped Ufa – the capital of Bashkortostan. It’s certainly worth a visit especially in summer time. But since our destination was Orenburg, we stopped in Sterlitamak, the second largest city of the Republic.

A former merchants town mainly inhabited by Tatars because they know how to trade, as you remember, today Strelitamak is a typical Ural Soviet-looking industrial city with a few old buildings in the center. Mosques and Orthodox churches alternate as you drive through the city. For over 300 years people have learnt how to live in peace and tolerance here.

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As we came to Bashkortostan on the eve of Epiphany Day (January 19th) we decided to visit Tabynsk – a resort with mineral springs not far from Sterlitamak. It also has a small convent with a famous Tabynsk icon of Our Lady. The icon dates back to X-XI century and it was found next to the mineral spring in the 1570s. Surely, then the spring became holy and hundreds of people come to Tabynsk to dive there on the Epiphany Day.

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The man in the pool said that the water was warm. +4C compared to – 20 outside, of course it was warm enough but we were not ready for a swim. Besides, that evening we had to be in Orenburg. The last 250km were very difficult as the roads along the Belaya river were covered in the thickest fog I’ve ever seen. It took us 5 hours instead of 3 but we made it to Orenburg safely though the following day there were reports about many car accidents and 3 lethal ones in the vicinities of Strelitamak.

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7Feb/170

Traveling in Southern Urals. Part I

This winter my colleagues, the guides of Yekaterinburg and I decided to explore the Southern Urals to see its touristic potential. Within 6 days we covered over 3000km by car, visited 3 regions of Russia populated by over 100 nationalities: Chelyabinsk Region, Orenburg Region and the Republic of Bashkortostan. Almost every day we were crossing the border of Europe and Asia, got into a severe blizzard in Step and drove through the thickest fog I’ve ever seen along the river of Ural. The temperatures in January varied from – 25 in the mountains to -7 Celsius in the step areas.

Here’s the first story of our staying in the land of Sinegorye (Blue Mountains).

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On the first day we drove through the mountain region of National parks Taganai and Zyratkul along the spine of the Urals. The territory once belonged to the Bashkirs, muslim Turkic people but the Russians bought this piece of land for what the Bashkirs thought was a good price. However, the land appeared to be full of mineral resources, so apart from the National Park this western corner of Chelyabinsk region has many metallurgical and nuclear plants. The area became industrial in the 18th century but preserved the Turkic names, for example, Taganai means a moon holder in the Bashkir language.

Taganai National Park

Taganai National Park

We stopped at the village of Syrostan (Yellow place) with a lovely Russian Orthodox Church.

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Between Syrostan and the town of Miass there is a Park of the Stone Age. Alexander, a local craftsman is making wooden sculptures of ancient citizens of the Ural mountains.

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Walking among the wooden people our guide dressed like a shaman told us interesting facts for example, on how to catch and kill a mammoth!

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Meanwhile, Alexander, the park owner was busy making a snow mammoth. As we came the mammoth was almost finished. So much work for one man knowing that his animal will melt down in two months!

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The western corner of Chelyabinsk region is called Sinegorye (Blue Mountains): numerous lakes and the pines have a shade of blue. It’s especially obvious on sunny winter days.

Zavialikha Ski Slope

Zavialikha Ski Slope

Crossing the border of Europe and Asia there  you get to Europe but only geographically because in fact you get to the autonomous Republic of Bashkortostan… and that will be the second story!

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From Asia to Europe

27Dec/160

Cherepanov’s House in Visim

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The house of Vitaliy Cherepanov, a local craftsman, is a famous place in the village of Visim and its vicinities. Vitaliy was a factory worker in Nizhni Tagil. When he retired he bought a house in Visim (195km North of Yekaterinburg) and turned it into a masterpiece.

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Vitaly is an amateur painter and sculptor. In one of the interviews he said that he started painting in his childhood and one of his first works was a portrait of Stalin. His mother wasn’t happy with the result as apparently the portrait didn’t look canonical. Vitaliy stopped painting but fortunately not for long.

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Working at the factory Cherepanov got interested in sculptures. During lunch breaks he was busy with wood. His wooden sculptures, mainly the characters of the Russian fairytales, are now exhibited in front of the house in Visim.

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Sometimes, if the owner of the house and his wife are at home they open the gates and let tourists in to see more works which are planted all over the garden.

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Cherepanov doesn’t sell his sculptures and he refuses to take money from visitors. To stop money talks he put a stone in front of the house with a saying: ‘God’s gift isn’t measured by money’

Vitaliy is a very hospitable artist. He likes showing his art and one day as I came with two Swiss tourists he invited us inside to show modest wooden house. As you can guess, he did a lot of interior design himself. The roof of the house was painted by Vitaliy with motives of the Ural nature near Visim.

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If you come to Visim you will find the house easily, just follow the sign ??? ?????????? (Cherepanov’s House). It’s on Kalinina st, 64

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Visim is also the place of the deer and ostrich farm, opened every Sat-Sun all year long

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11Jun/160

2 days of hiking in Taganai, Southern Urals

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In 2015 I made a post about hiking in Taganai National Park in winter http://askural.com/2015/02/national-park-taganai/

A year later a young couple from the United States Pravit and Rebecca sent a request do arrange a two-day tour to Taganai in summer time. Luckily, our local guide Ilia who knows Taganai as good as his home town, was available for the dates of the tour and I was able to join to take more photos of the Southern Urals.

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You can book this tour here: http://yekaterinburg4u.ru/en/tours/taganai

Ilia provided our guests with all the equipment, tents, sleeping bags and rucksacks. He even brought woolen socks for everyone which was very smart because the night was chilly to say the least (-1 C). Propely equipped we started our walk 8km till the first peak Mt. Perya (1034)

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In summer time Taganai looks as beautiful as in winter. We were lucky because both days were sunny. We could see the town of Zlatoust in Chelyabinsk Region and even a southern ridge of the Urals.

You can see Zlatoust in the back, the nearest town to Taganai

You can see Zlatoust in the back, the nearest town to Taganai

Compare the same place in summer and in winter...

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Another great thing was that because of negative temperature at night there were no mosquitoes, none of them for two days! Those who live in the Urals or in the similar climate zone will understand what a luxury it is.

In the evening we got to the tourist shelter.

Ilia is cooking dinner

Ilia is cooking dinner

Tourists can rent a room in the ranger’s house but our American guests chose camping in tents. Recently, a Russian banya has been built at the tourist shelter, so we asked the ranger to prepare it for us.  I didn’t take pictures in the steam bath though because it was dark, steamy and just you know, we forgot to take towels with!

The next morning we climbed Mt. Otkliknoy Greben (1155m).

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There’s something like a terrace at the top of it. So we stayed there for an hour to relax and to enjoy complete silence – no other people, no noise, no even birds singing or wind blowing. It was a perfect retreat.

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And again, compare the same place in winter time

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In case you wondered how much snow we have in winter. Enough, as you can see

In case you wondered how much snow we have in winter. Enough, as you can see

On the way back we stopped at the unique stone river. The river is 6km long, 300-500m wide. 9-tonn rocks are piled in 4 layers at the depth of 6m. The Taganai Stone River is the world largest deposit of aventurine.

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The Taganai Stone River is the world largest deposit of aventurine.

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Considering the distance from Yekaterinburg (takes about 5hrs by car to get to Taganai), a one day tour to Taganai is too hectic but possible too.

Book a two or three day hiking tour to Taganai here: http://yekaterinburg4u.ru/en/tours/taganai

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6May/160

Rafting competitions on the Iset river

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On the 1st of May we celebrated Labour Day on the Iset river observing the riffle called Revun. The place 90 km South of Yekaterinburg attracts many tourists, hikers, professional rafters and rock climbers on May holidays.

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The name of the riffle Revun means Howler. The Ural rivers become especially fast and turbulent in early May. The Iset river that flows through Yekaterinburg is considered one of the quietest however a 300 meters long riffle is located in a rocky canyon. The track is difficult due to many stones and rocks lying in the water.

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Rafting competitions are held here during May holidays and in mid. June when Russians celebrate the Day of Constitution (June 12th). The eastern bank of the river is also ideal for rock climbing.

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The Iset river carved its way through solid porphyritic rocks of volcanic origin here. Behind the rocks the river bed gets wider again.

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The area has another place of interest – Smolinskaya limestone cave only 1 km away from the riffle. The cave is 500m long. It’s one of the longest caves in Sverdlovsk region. Old believers who refused to accept the reforms of the Russian Orthodox Church and ran away to the Urals from Moscovia used to come and pray in the cave in the 18th – 19th centuries.

The cross of Old Believers near the cave

The cross of Old Believers near the cave

One grotto is a vertical lime hole called ‘Road to hell’. Tourists need a rope to get there.

Road to Hell. Photo from nashural.ru

Road to Hell. Photo from nashural.ru

We didn’t go to hell but visited other grottos instead and got out totally dirty. So make sure you take extra clothes for visiting the Smolinskaya cave.

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Getting there from Yekaterinburg:

By car: The riffle Revun is located 20km away from Kamensk Uralskiy. Go in the direction of Kamensk Uralskiy till the village Pokrovskoye. Turn right there and go to the village Beklenischevo. The riffle is at the end of the village.

By bus: take a bus that goes to Kamensk Uralskiy, Kurgan or Shadrinsk. Get off at Pokrovskoye village and walk 5km to the village Beklenischevo.

By local train. Take a train to Kamensk Uralskiy. Get off at the station Perebor or ‘78km’ walk to Pokrovskoye village then to Beklenischevo.

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2Mar/160

Ural Brewery in the atomic town

Beer is not my favourite drink at all but this post is about Ural beer. It turned out that we have a very famous Jaws Brewery in the Urals. Surprisingly, it’s well known in Moscow, Belarus and Kazakhstan but locals don’t know much about it.

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As I was going to join an  excursion to the brewery, Greg, an American tourists asked if it was Jaws. I was surprised that a visitor knew that name. Well, it turned out that he had already had a pint at the Jaws Spot in the center of Yekaterinburg. But the brewery is located in the town of Zarechniy, 54 km east of Yekaterinburg.

A tour to Zarechniy would have been impossible in the Soviet era because it’s the site of the Beloyarsk Nuclear Power Station. The town was built in 1957 to service the second power station in the USSR. Don’t expect to see the power station as it’s located outside the city. But the tour includes a visit of the Atomic Laundry!

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picture from www.jawsbeer.ru

Atomic laundry is the name of the bar. Together with the brewery they are located in the buildings of the former Soviet Laundry, hence the name.

In the bar we did beer tasting. The philosophy of the brewery is to "to bring the beer culture to people". The basic line consists of still rare in Russia types: English Pale Ale, Oatmeal Stout, American Pale Ale.

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During the tasting in a cosy bar the bartenders explained the name of the brand: Jaws are huge waves seen on the coast of the Hawaiian island of Maui in the cold winter months. No words can describe their beauty and power and just one look is enough to be fascinated for life. Jaws are often called the mother of all waves. It happened so that the brewery in Zarechniy was the first to bring the culture of the new beer movement to the Urals.

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After tasting we had a tour at the experimental brewery next to the bar. Our guide, one of the managers of Jaws explained the process of making new experimental ales.

In 2012 the company decided to put more of the American hops into the "Nuclear Laundry" - one of the first IPA in Russia (and definitely the first IPA in the Urals). To this day bitterness of 80 IBU for the majority of local people is comparable to a nuclear explosion but the owners don’t give up and try to explain that bitterness has its taste and quality.

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I was really proud to learn that we have a quality brewery in the Urals. It’s not that popular with the locals yet, but the owners seem to have high ambitions and they have all chances to succeed. They also have a good website well translated into English http://www.jawsbeer.ru/en/

So, welcome to Yekateriburg, Russia for quality beer!

28Jan/160

How to celebrate Russian Christmas in the Urals

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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 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.

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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!

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9Special thanks to my Moscow friend Katya Sverchkova for the beautiful photos.