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5Jan/130

Ice town 2013 in Yekaterinburg

In the winter I’m getting even more proud of living in Yekaterinburg because now I can show tourists Ledovyj Gorodok (the ice town) in the Square of 1905. Unfortunately, there are very few foreign tourists in winter – people are afraid of the cold weather… It’s only -15 today and the ice town is packed, so make sure to come next year! Meanwhile, I can share these amazing photos with you.

The theme of the ice town is ‘Global Mind’ this year. The slogan is taken from the bid of Yekaterinburg Expo 2020.

The Eifel Tower is here to remind us that Expo 1900 was held in Paris. That year Yekaterinburg’s Kasli iron cast Pavilion won Grand Prix. The elaborate pavilion is now exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts and the ice version of it was made in the square.

Eifel Tower in front of the Shopping Center 'Europa'

the pride of Yekaterinburgers: Kasli Pavilion made of ice

inside the pavilion

Click to the gallery to see the ice scuptures made by the international team of scuptors:

 

2Dec/120

Videos about Yekaterinburg and Expo 2020

This week I've found two interesting videos. The first one is a timelaps project by Dmitry Krylov. If you've never seen Yekaterinburg at night in the mid November, here you are:

The second video is made by the Yekaterinburg Expo 2020 team. The Ural city is competing with Sao Paulo and Dubai
Last week in Paris, Russia submitted its bid to host the World Expo 2020 and showed their video presentation 'Global Mind Adventure'. Obviously, lots of money was spent on the video. I only hope it's going to work! The winner city will be announced in 2013. Meanwhile, the global-mind project of the Ural students:

Global Mind Adventure - World Expo 2020 Russia from Adore Creative on Vimeo.

29Mar/120

Dyatlov Pass. Hollywood interested in the Urals’ mystery

Every Yekaterinburg citizen knows about a mysterious Dyatlov Pass incident and everyone has his or her own version of what could happen to 9 students in Northern Urals in February 1959. Now it looks like Hollywood got its version as well. Local Mass Media wrote that  Renny Harlin, director of films like “Die Hard 2”,“Cliffhanger” and “5 Days of War” about the Russian-Georgian war in 2008 is going to shoot a thrilling movie on Dyatlov Pass. So far he has only revealed that the plot is going to be set in the contemporary world: a young group of American students travel to the Ural Mountains in order to solve the mystery of the Dyatlov Pass incident and get into trouble there.

Meanwhile, Donnie Eichar, a writer and director from L.A. arrived in Yekaterinburg in February 2012 to gather the facts and documents in order to write a book based on facts and possibly to find the truth. Ironically, the Dyatlov Foundation led by Yuri Kuntsevich hopes that an American can do more than the Russians. The foundation has been trying  to convince Russian officials to reopen the investigation of the case for years but to no avail. Donnie became the first American who trekked in extreme conditions (minus 30c degree) to top of mountain where hikers tent and bodies were discovered. I was lucky to assist him in interviewing the relatives and witnesses which was an incredible experience. But I must say that having heard all the terrifying details, I could barely sleep the following nights.

Oder the book Dead Mountain by Donnie Eichar http://deadmountainbook.com/

Four members of Dyatlov's team

Dyatlov Pass in Spring

In the mean time the facts that we know are as follows: It is February 1959 and nine experienced hikers, mostly students, break off on an expedition to the Ural Mountains on skis. Their goal: The Mountain “Otorten”, which in the local Mansi language means “Do not go there!” In fact, they will never arrive there. The “Dyatlov Pass incident“, named after the leader of the expedition Igor Dyatlov, is one of the biggest unsolved mysteries of the Soviet Union.

Two weeks after their disappearance, local search teams find five of the corpses close to the mountain Kholat Syakhl, the “Mountain of the Dead”, barefoot and dressed only in their underwear.

The empty tent found by investigators

Kholat Syakhl, the “Mountain of the Dead”

Investigations reveal that the hikers must have fled their tent for an unknown reason, tearing it open, leaving in a heavy snowstorm and temperatures of -25 decreasing to -30. The officials explain that they died of hypothermia. The real mystery only begins after the thaw when the remaining four corpses are found. All of them are discovered in utterly strange conditions. Two of the corpses have fractures on the skull, a woman is lacking her tongue and the clothes of two corpses contain a high level of radiation. Further, the corpses show signs of aging like grey hair and a deep orange-colored tan.

A plaque on the rock to commemorate the students

The suspicion that the local Mansi, Finno-Ugric people, had killed the hikers for entering their holy lands and mountain, which play a big role in many of their traditional legends, was refuted. No hand-to-hand struggle could be proved. The fractures of the skulls indeed seemed to be caused by a force much stronger than a human being, as if the bodies had exploded from the inside without any harm to the outer organs. Another group of hikers, camping 50 km away from the Mountain of the Dead, later testified that they noticed strange orange spheres at the sky that night. Northern lights, UFOs or the Soviet military? The conspiracy theories vary. Soviet investigators, unable to solve the mysterious circumstances of the deaths, claimed the hikers were killed by an “unknown compelling force”.

For this post I used the photos provided by Nashural.com and the text from the English newspaper Your Yekaterinburg.

28Feb/120

How to meet a shaman in the Ural forest

Nature park Bazhovskie Mesta is one of the largest in Middle Urals. It is also the nearest to Yekaterinburg (60km) that makes it attractive for tourists. At the end of February the managers of the park invited Yekaterinburg guides including me to check out their new route: a hiking tour with a local shaman down to the woods and to the believes of the ancient Ural tribes.

As we got to the park in an authentic Russian UAZ jeep, we were greeted by a shaman by the fireplace. We expected to share a peace pipe but he offered us herbal tea which was a good idea, considering it’s still winter here. Having put on something like Mansi overcoats we followed the shaman to learn what our ancestors believed in.

We weren't alone in the forest, the prints belong to a marten

The tour lasts about three hours. It can be longer if you wish to go swimming in the lake in summer time. We learnt about bad and good spirits that inhabit forests, thanked the god of the winds for guiding us and found out that Mansi newly-weds had a honeymoon too..in a very transparent shelter.

a 'honeymoon' hut

The tradition of tying colorful ribbons on a tree can also be found in Siberia and Nepal

The tour with a shaman is 6000rubles (200$) for a group of 6-10 people. You can also have it at night! In this case you walk with flaming torches which makes a whole experience very exciting.

At the end I could try on the shaman's outfit

Going back to civilization in UAZ

I’ll definitely go there in summer to try out a night tour. If you are interested too, just let me know 🙂

For more summer activities in the park click here:  http://askural.com/2011/06/sysert-eco-tour-on-horseback/

8Feb/123

Mammoth, lizard and the Queen of the Urals. Russian legends.

The Queen of the Copper Mountain is a famous character of the Ural folk stories. Every child in Russia knows a fairy tale written by Pavel Bazhov.

It says that the Queen of the Copper Mountain is a beautiful young lady who owns all the treasures hidden in the Ural Mountains. Very few people met her because she turns into a lizard every time a man comes up. There was one lucky man though: Danila, a local miner. The Queen of the Copper Mountain fell in love with him. She showed him where her gold was, in return Danila had to stay with her deep underground. The man refused for he had a fiancée at home. The Queen was kind enough to let Danila go. She even gave him a present for his fiancée. As Danila got back home he gave the present, a malachite box full of treasures, to his future bride.

However, he never married the girl, for he went insane and for the rest of his days he was dreaming of the Queen of the Copper Mountain…

This winter I was guiding a group of the 2020 Expo Committee. Yes, I should add here that Yekaterinburg is bidding to host Expo 2020 along with Dubai, San Paulo and Izmir (Turkey). We went to the border of Europe and Asia and there she was…the Queen of the Copper Mountain greeting us with karavai (a loaf of bread with salt in the middle, that you bake specially for greeting important guests)

The Queen of the Copper Mountain on the Euro-Asia border

It was a bright sunny day with -20 Celcius so the members of the Committee from Moscow, the USA and Australia felt very uncomfortable, to say the least. The Queen didn’t show us any gold loads but she had something more valuable in store: 40% proof Russian vodka! My guests couldn’t be happier. This is how you begin treasuring simple pleasures…

If you are coming to Yekaterinburg you can book a meeting with the Queen of the Copper Mountain on the Euro-Asia border but it’s better to do for large groups. It’s quite pricey for a group of two or three tourists.

But back to the Queen or is she a lizard? A legend of a giant lizard with horns was known in the Urals since the time of the cavemen. Ancient Mansi tribes called the lizard Mammoth. So the name ‘mammoth’ came from the Urals only the Mansis were mistaken about its appearance.

The coat of arms of Sverdlovsk with a sable (left) and a lizard (right)

When the first Russian gold was found in the Urals in 1745, a lizard came to focus again. In fact, its importance can be scientifically approved: lizards choose the warmest stone in the woods to rest on and the warmest stones are the ones with gold veins underneath. In other words, follow a lizard and you may find gold as there is still plenty of it in the Urals!

Lizard with a golden crown is a common souvenir to buy in Yekaterinburg

You can find many souvenirs with the image of a lizard with a crown in Yekaterinburg. The same lizard was in the coat of arms of Sverdlovsk (the previous name of Yekaterinburg in the Soviet times)

25Jan/121

Tobolsk. A step down from the Ural Mountains to real Siberia

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

The house requisitioned as the Romanovs' detention place in Tobolsk

Study room of Nicolas II in Tobolsk

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.

A woman is selling local fish at the train station

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.

16Jan/120

Five ski resorts in the Urals to visit this winter

Yekaterinburg is located in the mountains and there are a lot of places where we can go alpine skiing and snowboarding. The season starts from mid November and finishes in early April.

Uktus: The sports center is on a territory of 424 hectares among century pines.
Guests of the Uktus can use 4 ski slopes of various difficulty levels. The length of the tracks is 400-750 meters. The elevation is from 54 to 100 m. There are also a snow park, a wellness service, a café and parking. If you are bored with skiing, you can play paintball or tennis, ride horse or relax in the gazebo.
The cost of renting ski kit is 420 rubles per hour. Rent of snowboard with a full kit is 420 rubles too. Climbing on the elevator is 50 rubles. http://www.uktus.ur.ru/

Pil’naya: It is 38 km away from Yekaterinburg, in Pervouralsk. There are 5 ski slopes with a total length of 2800 meters. The maximal elevation is 98.5 m.

A set of ski or snowboard equipment costs 400 rubles per hour. Snow tubing with the elevator costs you 350 rubles. If you want to rent a trainer, you must pay 600 rubles per hour. The cost of parking is 50 rubles for the full day. You can reach Pervouralsk by bus or by train. In addition you can visit the Snow Park or sauna there. http://www.pilnaya.ru/

Volchikha: It is the highest peak in the vicinity of Yekaterinburg.  The Volchikha’s height is 526 meters. There are four slopes. The longest one is 700 m with a height difference of 143 meters.

The cost of tickets for the elevator varies from 300 to 1100 rubles for 3 hours. It depends on the day of the week and time of the day. The cheapest tickets are during the week and in the daytime.
The rent of a package for skiing and snowboarding costs 400 rubles per hour. You must pay 700 rubles per 2 h, 900 rubles per 3 h and 1000 rubles for 4 h or more.
The other entertainments are a snow park, Zorbas, outdoor skating rink and the rent of snowmobiles. Volchikha is situated 5 km from Revda and 7 from Pervouralsk. http://www.volchixa.ru/

Ski Resort 'Belaya'

Belaya: It is located near Nizhny Tagil, more precisely, 37 km away. There is ski rental (from 310 rubles to 710 rubles per hour kit) and snowboard (350 rub.). You can take skates there (100 rub. per hour), and do snow tubing. There is also a swimming pool, high ropes course, a café and a hotel. In addition, you can play strike ball near the Belaya. http://www.gorabelaya.ru/

Abzakovo: It is located in the spur of the ancient Ural Mountains in the   southeast of Bashkortostan, 60 km from Magnitogorsk and 35 km from Beloretsk. Complex Abzakovo is unique in offering a variety of forms of leisure, recreation and entertainment throughout the four seasons.

The rent of snowboard or skiing equipment is 100-600 rub. per hour and 300-800 rub. per day.

http://www.abzakovo.com/

In conclusion, we wish that you spend the winter enjoying fun and health benefits! The information was compiled by Marat Ramazanov for the Your Yekaterinburg English newspaper.

10Jan/120

Christmas 2012. Ice Sculptures at Church on Blood

I’ve been going to Church on Blood with tourists almost every day. From the start of January we could see how sculptors from all over Russia were working at their ice pieces in front of Church on Blood for the annual competition The Star of Bethlehem. Finally, the work was done on January 7th, the day of Russian Orthodox Christmas.

Merry Christmas everybody! And if you can’t come to Yekaterinburg in January, here are the photos for you…can you recognize Nicolas II there?

8Jan/120

New Year 2012 in Yekaterinburg. Ice Town

A magnificent ice town appears in the Square of 1905 in Yekaterinburg every winter. This year the theme of the ice town is 200th Anniversary since the victory over Napoleon in Moscow.

Visitors will find themselves in the middle of Red Square with an icy Kremlin surrounded by the ice sculptures of Russian heroes and popular characters of Russian folk stories.

Click to the gallery to see the photos and welcome to the ice town! It’s in the centre of Yekaterinburg until mid. February to a great dismay of drivers who lost a parking place…C’mon guys, it’s time for a fairy tale!

27Dec/110

Meet Russian Father Frost in Abalak, Western Siberia

Every Russian child knows that Father Frost (Ded Moroz) brings New Year presents. Most of us were very much disappointed in our childhood, when we found out that Father Frost was in fact your dad or a family friend. In 1990s when the borders were opened, Russian kids could go to Finland to meet Santa Clause in his residence in Lapland, but they got no clue where a tall red-nosed Father Frost with his beautiful granddaughter Snegurochka (their family relations are still arguable) come from.

The government of Moscow initiated building the official residence for Father Frost in 1998. The residence is in Veliky Ustyugin of Vologodosky Region (1568km from Yekaterinburg) has since become a popular destination for children from all over Russia during winter holidays. A four day trip for two persons by train will set you back from 15000 roubles to 25000 roubles. The official website  http://www.dom-dm.ru is a big surprise as it has only an English version.

But let’s be realistic, a real Father Frost should be living somewhere amidst the snow of Siberia. It’s too warm in Veliky Ustyug and together with the Moscow government’s involvement the whole story sounds fishy even to a 7 year old.

Siberian Ded Moroz in Abalak

Another residence of Father Frost is set in Abalak near Tobolsk, western Siberia. Fortunately, it’s much closer to Yekaterinburg. The distance between Yekaterinburg and Tobolsk is 536 km. The Abalak tourist village is built in the Siberian style of wooden architecture in the area of Abalaksky Monastery. The wooden village tells the story of the first fortresses built by the Cossacks in the 16th century when they were conquering the Urals and Siberia.

Besides, Abalak is inhabited by the characters of Russian fairy tales. Baba Yaga, a witch, lives in Abalak in her chicken-legged cabin and treats guests to hot piroggi and bliny. Father Frost is greeting children there from 24 December to 8 January. Meanwhile Russian beauties in the White Owl tavern offer tasty Siberian dishes and drinks made of Siberian berries. Guests can also go sleighing, skiing or riding. Father Frost’s residence has a farm with horses, deer, cows, sheep and raccoons.

The website of Father Frost’s Siberian residence: http://www.abalak.su (in Russian)

The price list is modest (payment per person upon arrival)

Entrance - 50 roubles

Meeting Father Frost - 100 roubles

Lunch - 300 roubles

Sweet gift from Father Frost - 250 roubles

You can stay overnight in the hotel of Abalak with finely carved wooden furniture. A room for two persons costs 5000 roubles from Mon. to Thu. and 6000 roubles at weekends.  Alternatively, there is Slavyanskaya Hotel in Tobolsk that will hit your wallet for 3000 roubles per person.

Getting to Abalak: From Yekaterinburg take the road via Tymen in the direction of Tobolsk. Before entering Tobolsk go down the bridge across the river Irtysh and turn to the right following the sign to the village of Probrazhenka and the village of Abalak.

There are many trains bound for Tobolsk. I suggest taking train #310. 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. Note, that Tobolsk and Abalak are not on the Trans-Siberian route!

All photos by Alexey Kolmakov, courtesy of www.nashural.ru