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6May/140

Mafia tour in Yekaterinburg

When in Yekaterinburg, try our special Mafia Tour!

Many Russian cities were associated with mafia in the 1990s but Yekaterinburg played a special role.

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There were two gangs in the city: the Uralmash group and the Centrals. The real war between the gangs began in 1991. In the 90s mafiosos were fighting on the streets of Yekaterinburg using machine guns and grenades.

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Today, tourists can see impressive tombstones at the cemeteries elaborately designed with full-sized portraits of the people dressed according to the 1990s gangster fashion with Mercedes cars in the background. During the tour you will visit two mafia cemeteries and hear the stories about those who dominated the society in the new country in Yeltsin’s times.

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More details of the tour here: http://yekaterinburg4u.ru/en/tours/mafia-tour

photos by Elio Castoria

 

25Apr/140

Rafting on the Chusovaya river

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With many mountain rivers the Ural region is ideal for rafting. The best rafting time is May and beginning of June when the rivers are full thanks to the melting snow. Staying in Yekaterinburg it’s possible to go for a short rafting trip on the Serga river, the Rezh and the Chusovaya. The latter is the most popular with tourists. The river is 592 km long and it flows in Chelyabinsk, Sverdlovsk and Perm Regions crossing the Urals from East to West.

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Back in the days the Chusovaya was explored by the factory owners who transported wood, iron ore and copper to Perm. In spring with the first floods heavy loaded ships went down the fast winding river. Many of them crashed to the coastal cliffs. The navigation was dangerous, so in the 19th century some cliffs were blown up with dynamite.

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The cliffs called botsy (fighters) were once dangerous for navigation

Today, rafting on the Chusovaya is quite easy especially in mid summer. My friends and I decided to go rafting for a weekend in July 2012 which was good fun but could hardly be called rafting. That summer was very hot and the Chusovaya was extremely shallow – every 20 min our raft got stuck and we had to push it. But at least it was safe, one couldn’t drown even if you really wanted to.

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Our camp on the river bank

Our camp on the river bank

Navigating a slow river gives you a good opportunity to look around. The main sites of attraction on the Chusovaya are picturesque river banks and the cliffs called boytsy (fighters). Every cliff has a poetic name and is under protection as a natural monument. Sometimes you can stop for visiting caves and grottos on the river bank or to see some old props for the movie filmed here many years ago.

Some props for the film

Some props for the film

P1060228Our place of destination was the village of Chusovoye (120km of Yekaterinburg). The village holds an annual rafting festival. It starts in the middle of July and includes art and folk performances. The closing day was on Sunday but by the time we arrived it had been over. We shouldn’t have slept so long in the camp I guess!

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Chusovoye village

Chusovoye village

Chusovoye village

If you decide to visit the Urals this summer, try a bit of rafting to see more of the wild nature!    

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25Mar/140

Northern Urals and Siberian Deer

The travelling season starts soon!  In Yekaterinburg it usually lasts from May till October.

Check out our new 0ne day tour to the Northern Urals and Siberian Deer!

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Meet the inhabitants of the Visim Farm: Altai and Siberian red deer, Yakutian horses and yaks. Visit the village museum and see the Ural Mountains from the top of Mt Belaya.

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More details at Yekaterinburg For You website: http://yekaterinburg4u.ru/en/tours

Hope to see you in the Urals soon!

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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!

17Feb/140

Museum about This… Sex culture of Yekaterinburg

Not long ago I received an invitation to the Museum “About this”. I guess young Russians wouldn’t understand the meaning of “this” as they talk about sex freely these days but being born in the USSR I immediately understood the encryption. To be honest, I hadn’t heard of the Erotic Museum in Yekaterinburg before. The Museum “About This” (let’s stick to the official name here) opened in 2010 in the sexshop on 8, Kraulya St. According to their website it’s the second museum of the kind in Russia. The first one is in Moscow, of course.

photo from www.kazanova.su/our_projects/sexmuzey

photo from www.kazanova.su/our_projects/sexmuzey

The area of the museum is not large, however there are enough exhibits of different ages from different countries to satisfy your curiosity and to learn something new. I like to learn new things and I liked the idea that you can touch most of the objects and look through the old books and albums, for example, an album of the pre-revolution era. It doesn’t look erotic at all, more like porn.

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The exhibition is divided into different sections starting from ancient Egyptian and Greek civilizations then it proceeds to the Romans and Medieval times and so on. The Soviet display does have some interesting artefacts as well, for instance an envelope stamped by the KGB as top secret with porn photos. Nobody knows what happened to the owner of the photos. Perhaps, he disappeared in the basements of the Chekist Town (KGB headquarters in Yekaterinburg). Another display shows contemporary BDSM and gay culture (in case you wondered if it’s allowed in Russia).

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I’d expected the excursion in the museum would be more like a promotional introduction to the nearby sexshop but the guide was more focused on the history of sex telling stories in a very tactful manner so despite the small size of the museum you get a huge amount of information. Many of the exhibits are gifts of the museum’s friends. Some people bring unique things from their travelling expeditions, others find something on the attics of their grannies’ houses. Apart from excursions the museum organizes various events: exhibitions of Russian artists, cinema nights, workshops on drawing and pottery. Surely, every event expresses ideas of “this” as you get the terminology by now.

photo from www.kazanova.su/our_projects/sexmuzey

photo from www.kazanova.su/our_projects/sexmuzey

The mission of the museum is education for strengthening family ties. The education starts from the age of 18. The Museum “Abouth This” is opened daily 10.00 -21.00. Free admission. To book a guided tour in the museum call beforehand +7 343 231-57-17 Website: http://www.kazanova.su/our_projects/sexmuzey

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)