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.
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...
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.
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 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.
Getting there: by car or taxi for about 500R from the city centre
Of course there are many more marks all along the Ural Mountains:
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.
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.
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.
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
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)
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)
The border of Europe and Asia is one of the must-visit sights in the vicinity of Yekateriburg. To get there you will need a car as it's right on the highway. Buses don't stop there and there are no trains.But it's only 17 km west from Yekaterinburg so you can take a taxi even. Beware, taxi drivers may try to charge you more because you are a foreigner so don't agree on more than 500 roubles (12 euro)
The border mark is on the right side of Moskovsky trakt (highway) that used to be Great Siberian Road. Russian Tsars (including the present ones) had a habit to exile their political foes and other convicts as far away from the capital as possible i.e. to Siberia. Hundreds of exiled would pass Yekaterinburg in shackles everyday down the same road that you will go to the border. Think about it when you travel by Trans-Siberian from Moscow to Yekaterinburg. That's only half way the others had to walk!
Back to the border mark. It's relatively new. The monument was erected in 2004 and represents two interwined letters A and E. There you can happily put one foot in Europe and other in Asia while your friend or a driver takes a picture of you.
Is there anything else to see on the border? Yes, there is. Russian weddings! If you go there on Friday or Saturday you are sure to spot many of them. It's a tradition in Russia that newlyweds hire a limo and cruise around the city visiting the sights where they can take nice pictures for their wedding albums. At the same time they continue drinking so don't be surprised to find a lot of empty champagne bottles on the border and locks with newlyweds' names. That's a new wedding tradition that came from Italy, I believe. A bride usually doesn't mind being photographed by everyone so you can easily take some pictures of Russian weddings for your album. And if you are lucky they may even invite you to the evening party. Don't say No. It's quite an experience, a lot of food and drinks guaranteed! Tourists usually wonder what it is that guests chant that causes a newly married couple to kiss in public. They chant Gor'ko! (bitter) meaning life is bitter, show us something sweet.
Now, there is a bitter side of the story. Every second wedding in Russia ends up in a divorce. It's not the case of the couple on the picture though. Those guys are happily married and have a child.