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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:


16Dec/130

Trip to Altai. 10 Day Horse-Back Tour in June 2015

Dear friends,

it's time to plan summer holidays 2015. If you'd like to experience something unusual for a very reasonable price, then join the horse-back tour in the beautiful Altai Mountains.

Experience 10 days of living in the wild, riding horses, eating at the camp fire without the Internet and mobile phones!

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If you are an inexperienced hiker and have never ridden a horse, live a city life and tired of urban environment -  the tour is ideal for you!

This trip has an average fitness level. Children can join from the age of 9.

We are going to one of the most beautiful places of the Altai Mountains – the Iolgo Ridge. You will see all the beauties of the ridge: caves, waterfalls and mountain lakes. We’ll get to the top of Mt. Akkai and Mt. Kylay to have a stunning panoramic view of Altai.

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Dates: The best time to go to Altai is end of June – beginning of July. Therefore the trip is scheduled for June 23th – July 3th. 
However we can still change the dates if the majority of the group decides so.
Other options: June 28d – July 8th or July 3d – July 13th

Price for a 10 day trip without transfers to the tourist shelter in the mountains : 410 euro

For detailed itinerary and information on getting there click here yekaterinburg4u.ru/en/special-tour

I did this trip in Altai last summer and it was one of the best holidays I've ever had. So I've decided that foreigners should discover this place as well!

Our base-camp will be at Arkadia tourist-shelter which is a big wooden house with rooms for 3-6 people and a Russian banya. The owner of the house and the horse farm is a tiny woman Irina from Yekaterinburg. She got to Altai in the 80s, fell in love with it bought the land and horses there it and started to organize horse-back tours in 1991. First they were tours for her friends from Yekaterinburg but now people arrive to the tourist-shelter from all over Russia. However there have been no foreigners yet.

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Arkadia tourist-shelter is located in the remote area. It's a very peaceful place 25km from the nearest village. You can get there only in a big truck or on a horse.

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Horses from Irina's farm

We stayed two days at the tourist-shelter and this is how much time you have to learn riding a horse. Surprisingly, two days were enough for adults and kids to learn it. Altai horses are a special breed: they are very quiet and smart and do all the job themselves, so all you have to do is just to sit in a saddle. Irina has managed to create a very cosy atmosphere at her farm. I felt like staying at my grandma's in the country and was ready to stay there for all 10 days. But it was time to start the trip..

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We only had two rainy days during the trip. The locals said we were very lucky. We were 15 people in our group including a cook and two instructors - the local horse-men and hunters who did almost everything for us: made fire, did all the cooking, helped us to equip the horses etc. All we had to do was to pitch the tents.

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and help a little bit

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Men decided to make us a table out of an old cedar log

So we could have quite a civilized lunch in taiga

So we could have quite a civilized lunch sitting at the table in taiga

The instructors were true Altai characters - they were telling us stories about their encounters with bears. Apparently such encounters happen here frequently. During our trip we only met chipmunks and some lonely hikers though. By the way, in Altai the hikers who walk on foot are called the lower class. Therefore we were the upper class because we were sitting on horses :))

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Thanks to our instructors we had one extra stop for banya in the middle of taiga.

This banya was built by hunters who spend weeks in the Altai Mountains

This banya was built by hunters who spend weeks in the Altai Mountains

Otherwise, there are numerous springs and mountain rivers at your disposal

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In the evening our instructors told us local legends ( they weren't very talkative men, as a matter of fact, until one guy mentioned that he had a bottle of vodka with him). The creepiest one was about the Castle of the Mountain Spririts about the hikers who disappeared from the tents there. Something similar to the Dyatlov Pass story in the Urals, only the bodies of the hikers in Altai were never found.

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The Castle of the Mountain Spirits.

We were really lucky to climb the rocks of the castle when it was sunny. Once we returned back to the camp, thick fog covered the rocks. It would have been really hard to find the way back. Probably that's what had happened to the hikers.

Overall we spent 8 night in taiga. For 8 days we didn't see other people (except for two hikers), didn't hear any urban noise. We got used to this indigenous life style so everyone was a bit sad that it was over. It was time to return back down to the tourist-shelter...

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But  your ordinary life only begins once the truck brings you to Elekmonar village - that's where your mobile phone works again after 10 days of silence and you realize that you are back in civilization. To be honest, I didn't see anyone who was really happy to realize that. Needless to say, we all promised to come back because it's contagious, you know. I hope Altai remains a wild territory and I'll be able to bring my kids there one day to show them what it's like to live naturally.

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For detailed itinerary and information on getting there click here yekaterinburg4u.ru/en/special-tour

2Dec/132

Konzhak Marathon – climbing the highest mount in Sverdlovsk Region

photo by http://volnomuvolya.com/konzhakovskii_kamen_fotootchet.html

photo by http://volnomuvolya.com/konzhakovskii_kamen_fotootchet.html

Mt.Konzhak or Konzhakovsky Kamen (Konzhakovski stone) is the highest mount of the Urals in Sverdlovsk Region and Northern Urals: 1569.7 meters. The mount was named after a local mansi hunter Konzhakov who lived at the foot of it. When climbing Konzhak you walk through a mixed forest, taiga forests, tundra and alpine valleys. Since 1996 people from all over Russia and sometimes from abroad come there to take part in the Konzhak Marathon. Overall the track is 42 km: 21km up the mount and 21km to descend. The marathon is held on the first weekend of July.

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The first weekend of November is another popular date when dozens of hikers come to Konzhak for winter climbing. Some take snowboards and skis to start the season. I had never been to Konzhak in summer and this November I got there for the first time with a group of hikers and snowboarders from Yekaterinburg.

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We pitched our tents not far from the marathon trail and started next morning at 8 a.m.  First 16km were very easy. We were walking in the forest enjoying the fresh air, drinking tasty water from mountain springs and rivers every now and then. But at the height of 900m we got to the Glade of Painters – a windy open area where you realize that the fun is over. That’s where we were told to put on everything warm from the backpacks.

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At this stage the track gets very steep and you move through tundra with crooked dwarf cedar trees and birches. I thought it took us ages to get to something that looked like the summit – a stone with a plaque: 300 years of the Ural Metallurgy. It turned out that we had done just one more kilometer from the Glade of the Painters. Strong bitter wind and thick snow have reduced our relatively fast speed to 0.8km\hr. It sounded like a joke that’s why some people left us there. They decided to return back.

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We took this picture on the way back, that's why everyone look happy. On the way up it was a totally different expression.

17th km is the place where you feel like giving up and send Konzhak to hell

17th km is the place where you feel like giving up

The rest of the ascending was nothing but white snow and thick fog. At some point the red flags that marked the marathon track disappeared. With visibility of maximum 10 meters it was hard to tell where to go. Fortunately, one of the guys had a navigator that helped not just us but also another group of hikers that we met at the top. Those hikers had been walking there for 30 min trying to find the summit. Finally, we got there: 21 km and several attempts to give up the damn Konzhak and go back but we made it!

At the top of Northern Urals

At the top of Northern Urals

Although I couldn’t tell how beautiful it was at the top of Konzhak I knew the Internet would help. So here we are:

photo by marafon.krasnoturinsk.org/

photo by marafon.krasnoturinsk.org/

photo by http://volnomuvolya.com/konzhakovskii_kamen_fotootchet.html

photo by http://volnomuvolya.com/konzhakovskii_kamen_fotootchet.html

The way back was surprisingly fast as you just slide down in the snow. However, our snowboarders had to carry their boards all the way up and then 4km. down because going down from the summit with little visibility would have been too crazy even for those guys. Overall trip took us 12 hours though we cheated a bit - 12km at the foot of the mount were covered in a minivan. So was it worth it? It certainly was. It’s still hard to believe that on Saturday I left rainy and muddy Yekaterinburg and on Sunday I was in the middle of sever arctic blizzard which didn’t feel cold by the way as we were moving all the time and had hot tea with us.

I can’t imagine how the marathon runners cover the track in 3 -4 hours though. Of course they don’t have to fight with snow conditions but there are other huge obstacles in summer, namely huge rocks on the trail that cause quite a number of injuries every year.  

by marafon.krasnoturinsk.org/

by marafon.krasnoturinsk.org/

by marafon.krasnoturinsk.org/

by marafon.krasnoturinsk.org/

Konzhak marathon is the most difficult and the most populated of all 60 Russian Marathons. The record was set in 2001 – Mikhail Sumochkin from Kazan covered 42km in 2 hours 58 min. Dmitriy Vasilyev from Chaikovsky made it in 5:35 – he is the fastest runner in the category over 70 years old.

by marafon.krasnoturinsk.org/

by marafon.krasnoturinsk.org/

More photos and info about the marathon in English: http://marafon.krasnoturinsk.org/

 Getting there: Mt. Konzhakovski Kamen is 420km north-west of Yekaterinburg. From Serovsky Trakt (highway) turn right to Karpinsk. From Karpinsk go down the road towards Kytlym village. Nearest towns with hotels and cafes: Krasnoturinsk and Karpinsk.   

22Nov/131

ArtHostels – a new chain of budget accommodation in Yekaterinburg

Good news for budget travelers – Yekaterinburg has got a new chain of hostels – ArtHostles. So far there are 3 locations with different variants of accommodation and different prices from 400 rubles.

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The locations can’t be more central: Krasnoarmeyskaya st. behind the Opera House, on Prospect Lenina 62\2, on Bankovskiy pereulok next to the pedestrian street and the city hall.

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room for 8 persons in the hostel on Prospect Lenina. Price: 400rub

Apart from showers, kitchen and free Wi-Fi you can also book a transfer:

From the airport 700rubles

To the airport 500rub

From the train station 350rub

To the train station 200rub

(all prices for 1-4 pax)

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You can book a separate room for two persons for 1400-1500rub

Travelers who stay at Art Hostels have special discount prices for Yekaterinburg tours by our travel company Yekaterinburg For You! Ask the manger to show you the photos of Yekaterinburg tours with descriptions and a price list.  

Also, we are going to have special discount group tours every month when the visitors of all three hostles can join for 500rubles each!

Website: http://arthostels.ru/

(all photos by arthostels.ru)

11Nov/131

Military Museum in Verkhnyaya Pyshma

I’ve already written about Russian Expo Arms – a military exhibition held in the Urals. http://askural.com/2011/09/russian-expo-arms-2011/  If you like those toys now you don’t have to wait for next exhibition as there’s a huge military museum opened all year long near Yekaterinburg.

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The Military Museum in the town of Verkhnyaya Pyshma is a collection of over 70 military machines exhibited in the open air. In 2013 the museum opened a three storey pavilion with retro cars and motorbikes.

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The history of the museum started in 2005 when the veterans of the Great Patriotic War asked Andrey Kozitsin, the president of UGMK Holding (Ural Mining and Metallurgical Company) to restore a few machines for the Victory Parade. Today a large part of the museum tanks and cars take part in the Victory Parades on a regular basis.

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The collection of the museum is still growing. You can find there retro automobiles from France, USA, UK and of course all types of ladas and bikes from the USSR. The philosophy of the museum is that there are no machines made in fascist Germany or its allies in the Second World War.

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Verkhnyaya Pyshma is located 14km North of Yekaterinburg and considered as a suburban area of the city. You can get there by taxi or by minibuses that go from Metro Station “Prospekt Kosmonavtov”

Address: ulitsa Lenina, 1. Verkhnyaya Pyshma

The museum is open daily (except Mondays) 10.00 – 22.00 May to Sept \ 10.00 – 18.00 Oct to April

Book the tour to the Military Museum: http://yekaterinburg4u.ru/en/tours/military-museum

 

24Oct/130

Dead Mountain by Donnie Eicher. New book on Dyatlov Pass Incident

deadm In March 2012 I wrote about a mysterious Dyatlov Pass incident in Northern Urals and about Donnie Eichar, a writer from L.A. who was here to investigate the incident on his own and to write a book.

See the post: http://askural.com/2012/03/dyatlov-pass/

Since that I’ve got many questions about the book and when it’s realized. I’m happy to say that the book Dead Mountain: The Untold True Story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident by Donnie Eichar  was released on October 22 and is now available on Amazon!

 And here’s the first review by Booklist: "The Dyatlov Pass incident is virtually unknown outside Russia, but in that country, it’s been a much-discussed mystery for decades. In 1959, nine Russian university students disappeared on a hiking expedition in the Ural Mountains. A rescue team found their bodies weeks later, nearly a mile from their campsite, partially clothed, shoeless, three of them having died from injuries that indicated a physical confrontation. What happened here? There have been a lot of theories, ranging from misadventure to government conspiracy to freak weather to extraterrestrials, but no one has managed to get to the truth. Drawing on interviews with people who knew the hikers (and with the lone survivor of the expedition, who’d had to turn back due to illness), Russian case documents, and the hikers’ own diaries, Eichar, an American documentarian, re-creates the ill-fated expedition and the investigation that followed. The author’s explanation of what happened on Dead Mountain is necessarily speculative, but it has the advantage of answering most of the long-standing questions while being intuitively plausible. A gripping book, at least as dramatic as Krakauer’s Into Thin Air (1997).”

— David Pitt

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Author Donnie Eichar with Yuri Yudin, the 10th survived hiker and me

You can also check the official website http://deadmountainbook.com/ to read more facts, see the photos and to watch the book trailer.

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Hikers on the way to the Dead Mountain

P.S. Some time ago 9 students - the friends of mine went hiking to Northern Urals. They went on the same dates as the Dyatlov team in the same number and pitched their tent in the same place of the Dead Mointain. That evening they were trying to keep cool but were trembling with fear. Finally, they went to sleep and woke up in the morning safe and sound.

As you can guess the place is not dangerous anymore and it attracts more and more tourists both in summer and in winter. Come to visit it but first read the book!

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By the way, the Hollywood movie on the Dyatlov Pass was a bit of a flop because zombie is the last thing the students might encounter there. What will be your explanation then?

all the photos from http://deadmountainbook.com/

8Oct/130

German Guesthouse in Bingi village

I know many Russians who moved abroad for better lives and I know just a few foreigners who came to Russia to change things here for better. I truly admire such people. One of them is Stefan Semken from the Ural village of Bingi.

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Stefan is a German entrepreneur, together with his Russian wife Olga he decided to buy a house not far from Yekaterinburg. He liked Nevyansk area 80km to the north of Yekaterinburg. In 2007 Stefan found a 140 years old wooden house in Bingi, a village of the gold diggers. Stefan and Olga converted their house into a guesthouse with a banya. Guests can also stay in three yurts erected in the yard. Budget-conscious travelers can even pitch their own tent in the back yard. Even though the house looks small Stefan assured that he can accommodate up to 25 people. At least that was a record broke by his Russian friends who came for a visit in a group of 25 persons which made the Semkens spend that memorable night in their minivan. I imagine the house looked like a refugee camp but the hosts didn’t seem to be bothered at all.

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I heard about Stefan from many tourists (they especially praise Olga’s cooking and Stefan’s hospitality) but only got to his place this September before the end of the season. As there is no gas in the house and Olga has to cook in the summer kitchen, their house is closed when the temperature drops to +12 C and lower,  that is from October till beginning of May. The house looks like a very cozy place with lots of antiques. Stefan will show you some old coins of the pre-revolution days that he had found in his garden and a tusk of a mammoth – a gift from a local gold digger.

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Apart from the stay in the farm house, guests are offered a transfer to Yekaterinburg, tours in the area and most importantly an excursion in the village including a ride in a neighbor’s Ural motorbike. Bingi is a pretty village of Old Believers who were persecuted by the Tsar and had to move to the Urals in 17th-18th centuries. The Old Believers were known as hard working people who didn’t drink alcohol. Things have changed though and one of Stefan’s concerns is that it’s difficult to hire local people to help.

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Stefan (in the middle), Johan, a traveler from Sweden (right) and me (left)

The Semkens have to do everything themselves. Next year Stefan is planning to build an extension of the house and says it would be great to find a German carpenter. Germans have always played an important role in the history of Russia, starting from Peter the Great who was found of German culture and traditions. By the way, one of the city founders of Yekaterinburg was a German General Wilhelm de Genin, sent to the Urals by Peter the Great to manage the production of iron ore. Stefan could become a good manager of his area too. He already knows what to do to improve life and ecology in the place where he lives and he never hesitates to say it to the mayor of Nevyansk. He is a good friend of the new mayor of Yekaterinburg Eugeni Roizman and helps Roizman’s fund The City without Drugs. Needless to say if you stay at the Semkens’ place you will learn a lot about current political, economical and cultural affairs in Russia and in the Urals.

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I’ll definitely go there again next season for a countryside weekend and for a banya!

Check the website www.semken.eu to learn more about accommodation in GuLAG Bingi as Stefan puts it.

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29Sep/130

One day trip to the village of singing babushkas, Oct 12th

Dear friends,

On Saturday, October, 12th we are getting together for a one day tour to visit the singing babushkas  in one of the oldest and most authentic villages of the Urals – Koptelovo!

Singing babushkas of Koptelovo village, the Urals

The village of Koptelovo was built on the Rezh river in 1663. Visit Baba Katya's izba. She was the last owner of the house built 300 years ago and was the 18th member of the family in 30 square metres. See the collection of samovars and accordions in the museum of Koptelovo. Sing Russian folk songs together with the local band of babushkas called ‘The Restless’

Koptelovo village, The Urals, Russia

Itinerary:

October 12th

9.30 Meeting at Dynamo Metro Station, Yekaterinburg

We are taking a comfortable bus to get to the village of Koptelovo (135km north-west of Yekaterinburg)

12.00 – 13.00 an excursion in the village. We’ll visit the wooden house of Baba Katya to see how 18 people fitted in at once and stop at the local spring – the locals believe the water of the spring is healing.

13.00 – 14.00 in the museum of Koptelovo you will hear about the traditions of the Ural farmers. The director of the museum will tell you how young girls used to dress in order to get married ASAP. The singing babushkas will surely make you sing and dance along

14.00 – 15.00 Lunch in the village

15.00 Departure to Yekaterinburg

18.00 Arrival to the city back to Dynamo Metro

 Koptelovo village, the Urals, Russia

Price per person

10-20 pax: 1700rub for an adult \ 1600 for a child

21-34 pax: 1400rub for an adult \ 1300 for a child

The price includes transfer to the village and back, a guided tour in the village, museum tickets, lunch

If you wish to come by your own car, the price is 1200rub for an adult, 1100rub for a child

 

For more information and for booking:

Tel +79122800870

Email:yekaterinburg4u@gmail.com

 

Read more about a trip to Koptelovo here:

http://askural.com/2010/09/koptelovo-village-in-ural/

13Sep/130

Yekaterinburg Philharmonic Hall. Visit Euro-Asian Music Fest in October

September 18th is the first day of the new season in the Yekaterinburg Philharmonic Hall (or Philharmonia in Russian).

photo from the official website http://www.sgaf.ru/

photo from the official website http://www.sgaf.ru/

A week before the opening my colleagues from the local travel agencies and I were invited for an excursion to the theatre. It’s true that the Philharmonic Hall of Yekaterinburg is one of the best in Russia but very few people outside the city know about it, though our orchestra has frequent performances in Europe and the USA and the concerts are always sold out.

photo from the official website http://www.sgaf.ru/

photo from the official website http://www.sgaf.ru/

The Art Nouveau style building on 38a, Karl Libknekht St. was completed in 1917 but after all the turmoil in Russia, the Hall was opened only in 1936. In 1973 the Phiharmonia bought a huge German pipe organ that weighs 23 tons.

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Today the Philharmonic Hall gives 250 concerts a year including concerts of the world famous musicians such as Vladimir Spivakov, Dmitry Khvorostovsky, Yuri Bashmet to name a few. Therefore, it’s better to book tickets in advance. The website of the Philharmonia offers on-line booking however it’s only in the Russian language: http://www.sgaf.ru You can also watch there some concerts on-line.

photo from the official website http://www.sgaf.ru/

photo from the official website http://www.sgaf.ru/

I hope this post will convince some of you to visit the Philharmonia. At least the excursion by the director Alexander Kolotursky convinced me to buy a ticket to the concert of the Hong Kong Orchestra of Chinese National Instruments on October 5th. This concert is a part of the Euro-Asian Festival of Music held in Yekaterinburg for the second time. Musicians from the UK, Netherlands, Germany, Spain, Korea and India are performing on the main stage of the Philharmonic Hall from October 4th to October 16th.

Tickets are still available.

Prices range from 300 to 2000 rubles.

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p.s. on the Facebook page of the Philharmonia https://www.facebook.com/sgafru I’ve found this video: One Day with the violinist  Leonid Orlov. Leonid is a good friend of mine. Have a look at the working day of a violinist in Yekaterinburg.