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5Apr/171

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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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.

17Jan/160

Ice Town 2016

Happy New Year 2016, dear readers! And traditionally I'm happy to share the pictures of our ice town in the Square of 1905 of Yekaterinburg.

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This winter the recession in Russia affected everything including the Ice Town. There were no foreign sculptors invited this year only local. However the ice town is as specatcular as usual!

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In 2016 the theme is Russian Fairy Tales.

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The Square of 1905 is not the only place to see ice sculptures in Yekaterinburg. The contest 'Star of Bethlehem' for best ice sculptures started in front of the Church on the Blood on Christmas day (January 7th).

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 Click at the gallery to see more photos:

11Nov/150

All winter long – Husky dog sledding and deer farm

Photo by Venu Panicker

Photo by Venu Panicker

Dear readers, this winter you can join our amazing huski dog sledding tours and visit a deer farm in the Northern Urals for only 2000rub!

Tour dates:

December 13th, 2015

January 4th, 24th, 2016

February 21st, 2016

March 5th, 2016

Photo by Venu Panicker

Photo by Venu Panicker

Itinerary: 

8.30 Meeting at Dynamo Metro Station, Yekaterinburg

We are taking a comfortable bus or a mini-van to get to the village of Visim

11.00 Visiting a deer farm near the village of Visim (195km of Yekaterinburg). You will be able to feed Siberian deer and Yakut horses. There are also three African ostriches in the farm. Learn from the farm workers how the ostriches live through Russian winters.

Take some white bread, cabbage or other vegetables to feed the animals!

12.00 Lunch in a cafe in Visim

13.30 Belaya Mount ski resort. You will be able to get to the top of Mt. Belaya (705m) for a beautiful view of Northern Urals.

15.00 Dog sledding in the village of Chernoistochinsk.

19.00 Arrival to the city back to Dynamo Metro (arrival time is approximate)

Price per person:

Adults 2000rub; Children 1800rub

The price includes a transfer in a bus, entrance to the deerfarm, lunch, chairlift at Belaya Mt resort, dogsledding.

Book the tour here: http://yekaterinburg4u.ru/en/weekend-tours/dog-sledding-tours

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2Feb/150

National Park Taganai

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National Park Taganai in the Southern Urals, Chelyabinsk region is a popular place with hikers from all over the Urals. It’s easy to access, the tracks are not difficult and the highest point is 1178 m. above sea level, so you don’t have to be a professional climber to ascend the mountains of the Southern Ural ridge.

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Taganai means a’ holder of the moon’ in the Bashkir language and there’s a romantic Moon river (the river Ai) flowing near the park. Total area of the park is about 568 square kilometres (219 sq mi), it stretches for 52 km (32 mi) from north to south and about 10–15 km (6.2–9.3 mi) from east to west.

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I joined a weekend tour to Taganai organized by my colleague Ilia Gerasimov in December 2014. We left Yekaterinburg on Saturday at 7am and arrived in the park by noon. The distance from Yekaterinburg is about 270km, from Chelyabinsk 150km. The cars were parked at the entrance to the park, now we had to carry our rucksacks and sleeping bags to the nearest tourist shelter which was 10km away.

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On the way we stopped at the foot of Perya Mt. That mountain was difficult to ascend in winter because the path leading to the top is very slippery. It took us over one hour to get up there. However, getting down is easier, faster and more fun in winter time as you simply slide down on your bottom – 10 minutes and we were back on the track where we’d left our luggage.

Finally at the top

Finally at the top

Our tourist shelter that should be booked beforehand was a simple room for 10 people in a wooden house with 5 wide berths, an oven in the middle for heating and cooking and a big table. We cooked pasta and after a very late dinner (because it takes hours to boil water on the oven) went to sleep. The next day there was another mountain to climb.

our tourist shelter

our tourist shelter

after a Russian banya one can walk naked

after a Russian banya one can walk naked

Otkliknoy greben is 1155m high but it turned out to be hard to climb mainly because we didn’t find the trail under the sick snow  and had to make our own path. The weather was splendid on that weekend -10C, sunny and no wind at all.

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 From there we could see the highest peak of the National Park Kruglitsa Mt. But for climbing the peak one should plan a 3-day trip in Taganai.

The white cap at a distance of Kruglitsa Mt  1178m above the sea level

The white cap at a distance of Kruglitsa Mt 1178m above the sea level

My friends say that in summer time Taganai is also beautiful, so we are planning to go there again although sliding down on the bottom won’t be an option anymore.

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Getting there from Yekaterinburg by car: go to the south down Chelyabinsk road and then turn to M5 highway towards Zlatoust. Use the main road in the town of Zlatoust in the direction of Magnitka village. As you leave Zlatoust there is a road sign Lesnichstvo (Forest area) and the road turns right to the park entrance.

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9Jan/150

Ice Town in Yekaterinburg 2015

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Traditionally after Christmas I’m posting the photos of the ice town of Yekaterinburg. In 2015 the theme of the ice town is the 70s anniversary of the victory in the Great Patriotic War. The ice figures in the Square of 1905 were made by an international group of sculptors.

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The Brest Forest is the pavilion in the center of the ice town. 3D films about the Second World War are played inside.

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'Mystical animals - world protectors' by Japanese sculptors

'Mystical animals - world protectors' by Japanese sculptors

Of course, you will find an ice tank T34 in the ice town as the Soviet tank was produced in Yekaterinburg at the Uralmash Factory.

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Other ice sculptures are located in front of the Church on the Blood. Every year sculptors create here religious-themed figures for Orthodox Christmas on the 7th of January.

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This year the ice town works till January 25th only. So hurry up to see the ice beauty!

28Nov/140

Weekend trip to the deer farm and huskydog sledding on Jan 24

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Dear friends and travellers,

on Saturday January 24th 2014 we are off for a one day trip to visit huskies, Siberian deer and ostriches in Northern Urals!

Visit a family of huski dogs and Siberian deer. Try dog sledding and climb Mt. Belaya to see a beautiful landscape of Northern Urals

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Itinerary: Jan 24

 

8.00 Meeting at Dynamo Metro Station, Yekaterinburg

We are taking a comfortable bus or a mini-van to get to the village of Visim

11.00 Visiting a deer farm near the village of Visim (195km of Yekaterinburg). You will be able to feed Siberian deer and Yakut horses. There are also three African ostriches in the farm. Learn from the farm workers how the ostriches live through Russian winters.

Take some white bread, cabbage or other vegetables to feed the animals!

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12.00 Lunch in a cafe in Visim

13.00
Belaya Mount ski resort. You will be able to get to the top of Mt. Belaya (705m) for a beautiful view of Northern Urals.

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Dog sledding in the village of Chernoistochinsk.

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Arrival to the city back to Dynamo Metro (arrival time is approximate)
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Price per person:

Adults 1800rub

Children 1700rub

Book the tour here: http://yekaterinburg4u.ru/en/weekend-tour

4Mar/140

Maslenitsa in an old style in the village of Kostino

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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!     

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special thanks to Irina Loktionova and Venu Panicker for the photos!

17Jan/140

Epiphany in the Ural village: crazy Russians and Scotts bathe in freezing water

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January 19th is known in Russia as the Epiphany. The blessing of the waters takes place in the middle of winter when temperature drop dramatically however, it doesn’t prevent many Russians from cutting holes in the lakes to bathe in the freezing water.

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This period around January 19th is called Epiphany Frosts (Kreschenskie morozy). Somehow the weather worsens exactly for the Epiphany as if to test Russians’ bravery. This week has been very warm in Yekaterinburg -2 -4 but exactly on Jan 19th we expect -20 in the city and around – 30 in the north of the region.

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Last winter I was invited to the village of Chusovoye for the Epiphany by the organizers of the Ural-Scottish Festival. Tommy Beavitt, a Scottish musician and translator, came to Yekaterinburg to perform at the concert "Burns & Vysotsky. One soul - two poets" and to try the ritual of the Epiphany.

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First the Orthodox priest has to bless the water. After that it becomes holly and people take the water home to drink. Those who have guts dip themselves three times under the water to wash away the sins of the past year and to experience the spiritual rebirth.

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 Alex Izmalkov, the author of these photos only took pictures of men but there were women and yong boys who tried it too.

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Tommy Beavitt proved to be a tough Scot

Tommy Beavitt proved to be a tough Scot

After jumping in the water everybody gathered in the local church for hot tea and for a conversation with the priest.

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Special thanks to Alex Izmalkov for the photos

5Jan/140

Ice town of Yekaterinburg 2014 is about Olympics

Happy New Year, dear readers! And welcome to the ice town of Yekaterinburg!

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This winter the ice town has palm trees and dolphins made of ice which means it’s about the Winter Olympics in Sochi!

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All the ice sculptures in the Square of 1905 are dedicated to winter sports or Olympic winners:

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Some sculptures were very particular about who is winning the Olymics:

Russia vs USA. Ice-cold war continues!?

Russia vs USA. Ice-cold war continues!?

This year we have a few innovations about the ice town. Firstly, there is a skating rink in the middle of the ice town. The rink is free but you should have your own skates. Also, the ice town has got two snow hills which that symbolize the mountain ski resort Krasnaya Polyana in Sochi.

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These hills were immediately nick-named – gigantic breasts. There are two bars inside the hills-breasts. Prices are very high but people go inside not for drinks - if you get cold you can always get inside as it’s much warmer there.

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The main Christmas Tree of Yekaterinburg is also gigantic. With the height  46 meters it was supposed to be the tallest Christmas Tree in Russia but the record was broken somewhere in Siberia. But we don’t really care because the ice town 2014 is very beautiful.

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Check it out in the Square of 1905 on Lenin Ave. or see the photos here: