Last weekend (March 16) we gathered an international team of expats and travelers from the USA, Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland and Russia to go to the village of Aramashevo (110 km of Yekaterinburg) to celebrate Maslenitsa (Pancake festival before the Lent)
We’d chosen the village as my colleagues (other guides in Yekaterinburg) recommended it as the best place for Maslenitsa. And even though the pancake feast is celebrated in every village and in many parks of Yekaterinburg, I’m sure we were at the right place for a true folk fest!
Aramashevo was founded in 16th century by the Cossacks. The village is located on top of the cliff on the bank of the Rezh River. It’s worth coming here in summer to enjoy a wonderful view from the cliff. The river is also god for rafting. The Museum of the History of Rural Life in the Urals will be an interesting visit any time of the year.
The best thing of the museum is that you can touch everything, put on the clothes of the farmers or play the music instruments. For the guys from New Zealand and Australia it was a true fun to play a babushka and dedushka:
Meanwhile the Russians rally enjoyed the Soviet room of the museum:
We also had a workshop and made vesnyanochka – a doll, the symbol of the coming spring
After energetic dances we got to the main part of the festival – burning down Maslenitsa which symbolizes farewell to winter.
The weirdest thing about the Maslenitsa in Aramashevo was that there were no pancakes! We expected lots of pancakes but instead got pirogi (pies) and shashlik (BBQ). The local sbiten – a honey alcoholic drink was nothing but herbal tea with vodka in it. Nonetheless, we had a lot of fun and did the main thing – said good bye to the winter. As we returned back to Yekaterinburg in the evening, it was + 10!
Dog sledging is something that you expect to have in Alaska or in Yakutia but Ural winters are snowy enough to offer this type of entertainment for travelers.
This winter I discovered two places where you can meet Huskies and feel yourself like Nenets (indigenous people of Northern Arctic Russia)
Ethnic center Akvilon is located in Chelyabinsk Region (Southern Urals). The center is aimed to show the life of northern people: a guide who is dressed like a snow maid will show you a chum (igloo), you will have a cup of tea with a local shaman and talk to a Yakutian Father Frost. However, those people are far from being indigenous – most of them work and teach history at the University of Chelyabinsk.
Having met all those characters we finally got to the field for dog sledging. But because there were about 40 people in our group we could only sledge one time which lasted about 2 minutes.
One big advantage of Akvilon – they have a lot of dogs and apart from huskies that are for sledging, you will spend some time playing with the cutiest creatures –Samoyed Laikas.
Samoyeds are very friendly and playful dogs. They are named so after the Nenets people who were also called Samoyeds by the Russians. The word means ‘selfeaters’ in Russian but there is the second meaning: ‘self riders’. When the Russians saw the sledging Nenets at a distance, they couldn’t see their white dogs in the snow so they thought that the Nenets were moving on their own.
Akvilon is 30 km of Chelyabinsk which makes about 230 km of Yekaterinburg. So it’s certainly not worth going just for two minutes of dog sledging unless you have some other things to do in the region. Chelyabinsk is not the most interesting Russian city to explore either. Although, thanks to the meteorite that dropped near the city in February 2012 it may attract some curious individuals. The citizens of Chelyabinsk are planning to erect a monument to the meteorite in the near future.
Price: 540rub per person for dog sledging; 890rub for the whole program at the center.
Dog sledging in the village of Chernoistochinsk (near Nizhni Tagil)
Irina, the owner of five huskies had been waiting for two years until her dogs grew up and got trained well enough to sled. In the winter of 2012-13 she started organizing dog sledging in her native village. Next winter (2013-14) one more puppy should be big enough to pull sleds.
Book the tour to the huskies and the deer farm in Visim http://yekaterinburg4u.ru/en/tours/dog-sledding
You can sled this husky family for one hour and pay more to prolong it if there are no tourists coming after you. As we came in a group of 30 people, we booked two hours and paid the same price as those who book one hour: 200 rub per person. If you book and individual tour, you can sled in the forest which makes it more fun compared to the small circle in the center of the village that we were offered.
Chernoistocbinsk is 160 km north of Yekaterinburg. Apart from dog sledging you can also visit a nearby deer farm: to feed Kaspian deer, Yakutian horses and African ostriches that live in one place. It is also on the way to Belaya Mount (711m) – a mountain ski resort with a beautiful view of Northern Urals.
Most of the winter weekends are already booked by local travel agencies. It's a good idea to book it way in advance or join a special group tour
Book the tour to the huskies and the deer farm in Visim http://yekaterinburg4u.ru/en/tours/dog-sledding
Karim Farah, an exchange student from Egypt arrived in Yekaterinburg in December for a few weeks. And of course, it sounded as a crazy plan in the first place, considering that last December was the coldest month in the Urals with temperatures around -25. For someone from the countries like Egypt it must be a one month long nightmare, you would think. However, Karim asked me to share his photos because he would be happy ‘to advertise the wonderful city of Yekat!'
So here’s the advertisement: Don’t be afraid to come to Russia in winter. There’s much more to do in Yekaterinburg in winter than going on conventional excursions in summer months.
Be different and try out a Russian style winter holiday in the Ural capital!
10 Must-dos in Yekaterinburg in winter:
1 Go to the Europe-Asian border and roll in the snow in the nearby forest
3 Go to a Russian banya (steam bath) and jump in snow this time absolutely naked!
4 Drink Russian vodka, that always keeps you warm, with Russian friends or without
6 Try Wikitravel’s must-dos in Yekaterinburg: English club at the Keeer restaurant on Wednesday night to meet new people. And the Limpopo Aquapark to feel like on a tropical island when it’s still – 25 outside.
7 Learn skating with your new friends from the English club
8 Make a snowman. Ask local kids to help you – they’ve been practicing since they were born
9 Do the city tour: dig out the QWERTY monument and walk on the surface of the city pond – something you can only do in winter!
10 At night take photos of the amazing ‘ice town’ in the Square on 1905
We'll fill you in with history of the Urals, Russian drinking traditions and of course different types of vodka. You will learn Russian toasts and sing Russian drinking songs with us!
January 20 at 14.00
Meeting point: 51, Lenina, in front of the University
price: 950 rub
please, confirm that you are coming and pay in advance
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 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.
Click to the gallery to see the ice scuptures made by the international team of scuptors:
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:
‘Khazakhi-Razboyniki’ (The Cossacks) Adventure park with a rope course is a great outdoor activity. I discovered it in September and have already been there twice with friends and colleagues.
It’s quite a challenge to walk the course till the end. The last level is a platform at a height of 16 meters and you are supposed to jump to the ground from it. In fact you are forced to do it as it’s the only way to return back unless you wish to do the whole rope course backwards. Exciting but also safe: the course has safety system and two trainers watch your efforts from the ground and tell you what to do.
The Cossacks Park is not only a team building activity (I brought the members of our local English Club there). It is a good chance to have fun with a small group of friends (max 10 people). Apart from this the park offers such group games as paintball and laser tag. The Cossacks are open all year long. It’s possible to do the rope course in winter at mild temperatures when you can wear a thin winter jacket.
The park is located at Peski (sand) resort near Shartash Lake. Therefore, there are cottages to rent for a weekend, a restaurant and summer pavilions for outdoor picnics and of course a Russian banya! Apart from it the organizers started building wonderful authentic wooden houses. The houses are have all modern facilities and at the same time are designed as the 18th-19th century Russian peasants’ homes.
Renting a cottage for two will cost you 1500-3500 rubles.
Picnic pavilions are from 300rub per hour while a heated Mongolian ger with a BBQ place is 4000rub but it accommodates up to 20 people inside.
Russian banya (steam bath) for 6-10 people will set you back from 1000 to 2000rub per hour
Rope course and other games (2hours) run from 640rub per person
More information in Russian at www.peski13.ru
Yekaterinburg Opera and Ballet Theatre is celebrating its 100th Anniversary. While it’s difficult to get a ticket to the theatre in October, you can get backstage, see the interior of the theatre and event listen to live performances at the Museum of Local Lore (Kraevedchesky Musey).
Opera and Ballet Theatre opened on 12 October 1912. It had taken 20 years for the Yekaterinburgers to collect money (300.000 rubles) for the construction. The theatre with 1500 seats was classy enough to invite the Tsar. The very first performance staged here was a tragic opera by Mikhail Glinka ‘A Life for the Tsar’. 6 years later the same stage was used to announce the assassination of the Tsar in Ipatiev’s house of Yekaterinburg.
The museum exhibition gives you a chance to see the costumes from the collection of the theatre.
You can also try pointe shoes on and do a few moves.
Standards for ballet dancers have changed over the last 100 years. A ballet dancer in the early 20th century was short and rather plump compared to their counterparts of the 21st century. Today, a ballet dancer is skinny, she has an average height, a small head and a long neck. Her weight is about 45 kg.
Admission: 150 rub. Live performances are included in the price. Concert list is here http://uole-museum.ru
Yekaterinburg Zoo is not the main sightseeing of the city but it can be interesting for a change (after all the Romanovs’ sites one may want to see something more uplifting).
The collection of the zoo numbers 380 species and 1200 animals. At the same time the area of our zoo is only 2 000 sq.m. No wonder, as it is squeezed in the center of the most compact Russian city.
The zoo was founded in 1930. By that time the Bolsheviks had destroyed the old cemetery near the Novotikhvinsky Convent (now it is the park Zelyonaya Roscha). The place was meant to become the zoo area. Meanwhile, the first collection of the animals was located on Mamina Sibyarika, 189. The temporary place became a permanent one. Nowadays nobody wants to change the central location of the zoo.
The first director of the zoo Valery Schlezeger was executed by the KGB in 1938. He was accused of plotting the murder of the Communist leaders by freeing the tiger…
Umka, the Polar bear is a true celebrity in Yekaterinburg. He was 9 months old when he was picked up by the Russian Polar expedition in 1996. Umka’s mother died and because baby bears can’t get food themselves, Umka lived with the people and then was delivered to the Urals. His girlfriend Aina arrived from the Perm Zoo. They don’t have babies yet.
Kesha, the Cuban crocodile arrived in Yekaterinburg from Kaliningrad where he had lived in an apartment but very soon had become too big and too dangerous for the family of a private collector. Kesha is fed once a week. He eats up to 3kg of fish at a time.
Zoo TV at www.ekazoo.ru shows some animals on line, for example the otter named Innokentiy and Dasha, the elephant. Dasha used to work at the famous Moscow Circus. In 2007 she arrived in Yekaterinburg. To get to the zoo, the elephant had to be lifted over the fence by a crane.
Yekaterinburg Zoo is open daily Mon-Fri 10.00-19.00, Sat-Sun 10.00-20.00
Admission: adults – 200rub, children 7-14 and students – 100rub, free admission for children to 7.
In August 2012 I had a chance to visit a famously mysterious place called Arkaim. The archeological site of an ancient city of Arkaim (17th century b.c.) is in Southern Urals 432 km of Chelyabinsk near the northern border of Kazakhstan.
The place was discovered in 1987 by the scientists from Chelyabinsk. Presumably the people who lived in Arkaim in 17 century b.c. belonged to Iranian or an unknown branch of Indo-Iranian culture. Their settlement for approximately 1500-2500 people was protected by two circular walls. The ancient town covered 20 000 sq meters. The people lived there for 300 years then the settlement was burned and abandoned by its dwellers for unknown reasons.
All this you can learn in a local museum. However, today Arkaim is known as a ‘place of power’ is believed to be enigmatic and it attracts hundreds of pilgrims and esoteric organizations. Some people call it Swastika city or Mandala city. Others compare it with Stonehenge. Those who visited it (including my friends in Yekaterinburg) claim that they felt positive vibes and even healing effects. Obviously I had to go there to see and hopefully to feel something extraordinary!
A camping for pilgrims is located near the archeological site but not quite close to it. The guides say that there’s not much to see there in terms archeology though whilst the nearby mountains are much more interesting for they are the true places of power. In fact, the camping looks very much like a hippy village. Honestly, If you miss the 1970s, you should pay a visit to Arkaim. The flower children of Russia on tops of the hills, talk to ancient stones and sell souvenirs (probably drugs too) from India and China.
An ordinary day in Arkaim is as follows:
6 a.m. climbing one of the mountains (they are hills actually) to see the sunrise.
7 a.m. doing morning exercises with a local trainer who also sells herbal medicine made of Arkaim herbs, of course.
9 a.m. – till the sunset: climbing the nearby mountains\hills of different significance: mountain of love, of wealth, of making wishes etc. The mountain of atonement is the most popular one as people crowds were walking there in circles (that’s what you are supposed to do to say sorry for your deeds). Surprisingly enough the mountain of love was the least popular that day. But then I understood why – it’s the highest and the steepest one.
Alternatively one can stay in the camp to listen to lectures given by various esoteric gurus, go swimming in a small river or riding horses in the endless steppes.
The night time goes more or less traditional in Arkaim: it involves drinking and eating shashlik in a local café. Alternatively one can go meditating on top of a hill.
My personal opinion is that Akaim is an amazing place for someone who arrived from Yekaterinburg surrounded by dense woods. The steppe looks beautiful and exotic, especially when you meet local Asiatic people selling fresh milk and herbal tea from samovar. The climate is fantastic (while it was miserable +16 in Middle Urals, it was +35 in Arkaim). As for the power I didn’t feel anything weird but it felt like a good day off. And the hippies, well they are quiet and harmless anyway, just like their American counterparts. So the place is worth visiting even though it’s 634km of Yekaterinburg.