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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)

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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23May/130

Indie Hostel – a place for a backpacker

In April I went to China on holiday and obviously lost touch with Facebook. As I returned back to Yekaterinburg I found a message on my FB page Yekaterinburg For You: Polina, a young entrepreneur, wrote that she had just opened an Indie Hostel in the city center and it might interest foreign readers of the askural blog.

A few days later there was our weekly get-together of the English Club at the Keeer Restaurant. That day we had new foreign visitors: a young Chinese man who was actually from Sweden and a German doctor. Both were travelling by Trans-Siberian trains and both had checked in a new Indie Hostel here.

That was certainly a sign that I should go and check the place out!

Just like other hostels in the city, Indie Hostel is located in a 3 room apartment in an ordinary apartment building. Its location on 85 Belinskogo Street is quite central in the southern corner of the historical city center. The hostel is only a 5 minutes’ walk from Yekaterinburg World Trade Center and St. Trinity Cathedral. Besides, it’s very close to a large Mayakovskogo Park which is rarely visited by travelers who stay in the train station area.

Girls from Perm came to Yekaterinburg for shopping

Polina has done a good job – she converted two bedrooms into an 8-bed dormitory room (1 bed – 500 rub) and a private economy double room for 1400. On the day of my visit the hostel was full of people. The private room was occupied by an Irish-Australian couple of friends while the Russians from the dormitory room were cooking lunch in the kitchen.

I liked the friendly atmosphere of the Indie Hostel and hope it’ll become a long-term project that will last till 2018 when Yekaterinburg is hosting the games of the Football World Cup and till Expo 2020 (it’ll be confirmed in November 2013 so fingers crossed!)

You can book a bed in the hostel vie email indiehostle@gmail.com; on Facebook page: Indie Hostel or via various booking websites.

Travelers who stay at Indie Hostel have special discount prices for Yekaterinburg tours by askural.com! Ask Polina to show you the photos of Yekaterinburg tours with descriptions and a price list.  

15Apr/130

Domino Hostel. Budget accommodation in Yekaterinburg

It’s always nice to report that a new hostel is opened in Yekaterinburg. Hostels here open and close so quickly that I don’t have time to write about them. The reason for this – Russians haven’t developed the habit of staying at hostels yet and prefer to pay more for apartment rental while backpackers from abroad come to Yekaterinburg mainly from May till September. So if a local hostel has been working for already a year, it’s quite an achievement. And I’m sure, Domino Hostel is certainly going to last!

Domino Hostel: 6 beds, free WiFi, tea and coffee

I learnt about Domino Hostel from Daniel, a German tourist. He contacted me asking to pick him up from Chelyuskintsev Street, 60 for an excursion. To be honest, it took me a while to find the entrance as there are many entrance doors and no sign of the hostel. So look for the entrance with a big lamp above the door! Otherwise the location is very good: it’s only a 10 min walk from the train station, a few min to get to Dynamo Metro station and about 10 min to the Church on the Blood and the city center.

Look for the entrance with a big lamp above!

Domino hostel has 6 beds for 600 rubles (at least it was the price during the low season) with free WiFi, tea and coffee. Vasily, the owner of the hostel has created a nice Facebook page, so go to Domino Hostel on Facebook or find it at booking.com. By the way, they accept Visa and Master cards.

See the hostel on the map:

http://dominohotel.ru/contacts

Domino guests: a Russian music band Est-Est-Est

 Travelers who stay at Domino Hostel have special discount prices for Yekaterinburg tours by askural.com! Ask Vasily to show you our photos of Yekaterinburg tours with descriptions and a price list.  

29Jun/120

Kungur ice caves and air baloons

Kungur is a popular tourist destination all year long but it attracts even more people from 30th June to 7th July when the city hosts a festival of air balloons. Last year my friends and I attended the last day of the festival. I was very impressed by the Mediterranean-like life of this old Ural town.

Lonely Planet guide book on Russia says: ‘Between the blandness of Perm and the blandness of Yekaterinburg, Kungur is like ice cream in a biscuit’. Well, we were certainly longing for an ice cream as we entered the city on a hot July day. Kungur looked like one of those Russian resorts on the Black Sea. People were swimming in the Sylva River in the center of Kungur, sunbathing on the benches of the main street and walking lazily back and forth in shorts and flip-flops with beach towels on their shoulders.

Locals are having a picnic on the river

The Sylva River is a real pearl of Kungur. It’s very pure and slow enough for easy rafting. We rented a motor-boat and noticed that for the locals a boat or a raft is the main mean of transport and also the way of spending a weekend. Picnics onboard are as ubiquitous here as in Amsterdam.

Others, who weren’t lucky to be born in Kungur, come with their tents and spend weekends outside Kungur a few km down the city. By the way, you too should go 5 km out of town to visit the famous Kungur Ice Cave!

The passages stretch for over 6 km and only a small part has been explored so far. 1.5 km will be enough for you to explore. The grottos are "adorned" with columns of stalagmites and icicles of stalactites up to two meters in height. The best time to visit the cave is beginning of spring. That’s the time when icicles are especially big. We didn’t go inside because on that hot day I completely forgot about taking warm clothes and comfortable trainers. So these photos are from the Internet:

The cave is open daily 9am-4pm. Group excursions start every two hours and cost 600Rub. You can have an individual excursion for 1000Rub. An excursion lasts 1hr 20min.

Kungur was founded in 1663. The town is proud of its museum of tea, and old churches. To get a bird view of the city, you should climb the bell tower of this church:

As it got dark, the public in the center changed dramatically and we realized that Kungur is a very working-class town. In other words, to see the balloon show at night one had to be drunk on not to be there at all.

Accommodation: Kungur has two decent hotels which are always totally booked during the first week of July. Iren hotel is on Lenina st 30 in the center. Stalagmit Complex is outside the town but it’s just next to the entrance to the ice cave. However, many Russians prefer to stay in their tents on the banks of the Sylva.

Getting there: from Perm it takes about 2 hours by bus or suburban train. From Yekaterinburg – about 5 hours by bus from Yuzhniy Avtovokzal ( Bus Station) on 8 Marta st. 145

Click on photos to see more sights of Kungur and the river

2May/120

Indian Spa in Yekaterinburg

I realized that we live in a small world when during my vacation in Kerala, India I met a local man who had lived in Yekaterinburg for 2 years. Joshy (that was his name) had worked as a chef at an Ayurvedic Spa hotel near my home city!

IndRa Spa Hotel 30 km to Yekaterinburg

India is now much closer than it seemed to be. To be precise it’s only 30 km South-West to Yekaterinburg in Kungurka village. IndRa Spa hotel is an ideal get away for yoga lovers with authentic Indian food and Ayurvedic massages.  And because I got hooked on Indian massages in Kerala my friend and I went out on retreat to Kungura. Besides, Rimma Ozorina who runs the place was kind enough to show us around.

with Jaimy, a new cook at IndRa

Accommodation prices range between 2 and 5 thousand rubles (incl. three meals at an Indian vegetarian restaurant).  IndRa has also got two designer rooms: “Maharaja” and “Indian Princess” suitable for honeymoons and special occasions for 8500 rubles.

Indian Princess room ideal for newly-weds

a bath in Maharaja room

Body massages start from 2000 rubles. It’s not as cheap as in India, but definitely more affordable compared to Moscow saloons. No wonder, the hotel has become popular with Moscow businessmen who come on business to Yekaterinburg but prefer to stay in a quiet place overnight. It takes about 40-60 min by car to get from Yekaterinburg to Kungurka.

with massage therapists Jeemol and Jiny

After a delicious lunch and a massage session we were way too relaxed to try other activities that IndRa offers: tennis court, sauna and horse riding at local stables.

Kungurka is not only an Indian Spa retreat. First of all, it’s a traditional Russian village that has a certain rustic charm: old wooden houses with banyas and Orthodox churches with golden onions.

Kungurka village

Getting there: From Yekaterinburg drive down Moskovskaya Ul. To Polevskoy Trakt (P-355). Pass Kurganovo and after the bridge turn right to Kungurka. Follow the sign “IndRa”

p.s. Good news for expats in Yekaterinburg. Some of you asked me about yoga classes in English: IndRa has Yoga and Ayurveda center on Belinskogo, 54 with English-speaking teachers from India.

More information (in Russian):  http://indra-ayurveda.ru

20Oct/111

Is it possible to travel in Yekaterinburg in a wheelchair?

As a freelance guide I got a request from a Moscow travel agency to arrange a city tour for two German women who came by Trans-Siberian train. One of them was in a wheelchair. The agency asked me to call a local social taxi service to order a special minivan for a handicapped person. Good to know that we have such a service at all and it’s very reasonable – 80 roubles per hour. However, as with any social service, they don’t work on weekends (the tour was on Saturday) and they don’t go outside the city, i.e. a visit to the Europe-Asia border was out of the question.  - If you have any complaints, send them to the city administration, – a man on the phone said politely before I began even to think of complaints. – Besides, we don’t have enough vehicles to transport the sick to hospitals, - he continued. – How can you ask for a 5 hour leisure trip? -

Plotinka - the historical centre on Lenin St. is not the best place to visit in a wheelchair

For a second he made me feel guilty but then again, a woman in a wheelchair has the right to enjoy her day traveling around Yekaterinburg. So I called an ordinary taxi and asked how much it would be to hire a minivan with an extra man so that he and the driver could carry the German lady in and out. 16 grand for 5 hours was the answer.  - Men cost a lot in this city, you see – the manager told me. The next taxi company was a little less pricey. They were okay with 15.000 roubles. But it wasn’t okay for the German tourist as even in overpriced Moscow a vehicle with a ramp (we don’t have them here at all) is maximum a thousand roubles. Finally, I found Victor, a private driver who was strong enough to carry my client on his own and charged an ordinary fare for taxi companies. Hail to Victor who proved that some men in Yekaterinburg do not live just for quick money. But I still don’t know what we would do if it had been a heavy man in a wheelchair. By the way, two expensive men from the first taxi company showed up on the train platform to greet the tourist just in case.  Even though they had been denied, they still hoped the foreigner was ready to splash out with her plastic card.

Church on the Blood is well equipped with ramps and an elevator

On the bright side of things, I found out that the city is not that bad for wheelchair travelers. Of course, one can forget about visiting Plotinka with its numerous steps on both sides. But the second main attraction, Church on Blood, is well equipped with ramps and an elevator. Grand Avenue Hotel on Lenin Street is also convenient for wheelchair travelers. My German client (with a Russian name: Katya) looked happy. She had already traveled through North America and South Africa and was covering the Trans-Siberian route. She only regretted that the Kremlin in Moscow had a single but very large step, and she hadn’t had Victor there to help her.

German tourists on the border of Europe and Asia

Social taxi in Yekaterinburg is located on Mashinnaya ul. 9A.

Tel +7(343)2604444 Monday – Friday from 8 to 17. To make a reservation call five days prior to the needed date.

5May/112

How to rent a flat in Yekaterinburg

My foreign friends often ask me to help them to find a flat to rent.  This is the text of my article Flat for Expat published in the English newspaper Your Yekaterinburg. I hope my friends' experience will help you to avoid unwanted problems not only in this city but all over Russia....

Flat hunt begins

   “I didn’t trust my knowledge of Russian that much and asked a Russian friend to accompany me at the flat viewings,” Marco, an Italian entrepreneur said. “The problem is, when you are looking for a flat be ready to put your business aside because it’s a time consuming process and you never know when the real estate manager is going to phone you and say: ‘I’ll meet you in 20 minutes in another part of the city.' And you better rush there because you don’t want to miss another chance after a week of a tiresome hunt. So it was impossible for me to take my interpreter everywhere. On the other hand, I learnt many useful words: smesitel (mixer tap) and opressovki (periods of pipe maintenance in summer when hot water is shut off).”

In general, rental agencies in Yekaterinburg prove to be reliable. Usually, the agency commission for a successful placement is 50% of one month's rent, unlike in Moscow where it’s equal to a full month's payment. Don’t expect a real estate manager to provide transport to and between viewings. Most of them don’t drive and those who do may literally leave you puzzled:

“One of them drove us to the flat, and then, when we weren't interested, drove away and we had to get back on our own,” David, an English teacher from the UK said. “As I looked for a new flat, they were all terrible, except the very expensive ones. Don't expect luxury - MAKE the flat YOUR OWN little paradise by changing things. And pay attention to kitchens and bathrooms. That's where you spend most of your time”.

Only cash, please

There is no real division between residential and business areas in Yekaterinburg yet, therefore the closer your flat to the city centre, the more you’ll pay for it. Rental payments are generally made in a monthly, sometimes quarterly fashion. Some of them include utility charges, some don’t. Typically landlords avoid taxation. By law, income earned from rent is subject to personal income tax (13%). However, finding tenants to pay in cash is not hard in the city. Property insurance is uncommon in Yekaterinburg too.

“The only agreement that I signed with my landlord was about the payment, that it is fixed for 11 months,” Mikhail, a migrant from Moldova said. “This means my landlord can make it more expensive next year and he will surely do it. Have they ever made it cheaper with the time in Russia? I doubt it. I also noticed that very few landlords are willing to have long-term tenants. Most of them say they are going to sell the flat in the future but they never specify when it is going to happen. Hopefully, they warn you a month before. Last time I had 3 days to pack and leave because the son of my landlady returned unexpectedly from ‘a long vacation in Siberia’, as she put it.”

Landlord+tenant = friends forever?

All the expats agree that it’s important to maintain good relationship with landlords. The more you know your landlady the better. Again, there is a chance you may get into an awkward situation with a friendly babushka:

“When my boyfriend and I rented a one-room flat in Tyumen, our landlady lived next door,” Gabriella, a traveller from Germany said. “Obviously, she had the key to our flat and entered it whenever she wanted. Fortunately, she did it only when we were out and left some tasty home-made pies in the kitchen for us. It was very nice of course, but rather uncomfortable and we weren’t ready to pay her for the food. When we asked her not to do it, she seemed to be upset but kept on coming in, leaving pancakes and bowls of solyanka. Finally, our Russian friends advised to leave her a nice present on the day of departure. I have very fond memories of our landlady but I would choose another place to stay next time simply because I’m not used to this type of landlord/tenant relationship.”

To date, I rent a one-room flat in 'khruschevka' (a five-storey building) with a lovely view of the Gazprom building for 15.000R

The real deal

At the moment, prices for a one-room flat in the city centre range from 17 000 to 70 000 roubles. Stepan Vladimirov, a real estate manager of  Nahodka – the largest agency on the rental market in Yekaterinburg – says that prices highly depend on the type of building. “The centre is traditionally the most expensive area. However, there are new neighborhoods in Uktus and Viz where rent is sometimes higher. The high season in Yekaterinburg is from August to October when students arrive in the city. At this time most of the landlords raise the rent except the elite properties.”

“When signing an agreement, make sure it includes tenant and landlord’s passport details,” Vladimirov suggests. “It’s also a good idea to ask the landlord about the document confirming his real estate right of possession. Note that a real estate manager signs another agreement between you and the agency. To do this, he must provide a power of attorney on a headed paper signed by the agency director. Otherwise, you deal with a free agent who doesn’t take responsibilities.”

One thing that all the expats find beneficial is that charges for electricity and gas are still very low in Russia and add no more than a few dollars to your monthly rental costs.

25Jan/110

Hotels in Yekaterinburg

Questions about Yekaterinburg hotels remain popular although there is a lot of information you can get on the Internet. Of course, you’d like to have reliable opinions on comfortable and affordable accommodation. Lonely Planet’s reviews are quite sound. Though, as a local citizen I feel that some things should be updated.

Here’s my list of Yekaterinburg hotels based on my own experience, on my Russian and foreign friends’ impressions as well as the positive reviews of the tourists I was happy to meet in Yekaterinburg. This list only includes the hotels located in the city centre or very close to it so that you don’t have to use a taxi or public transport to do the sightseeing.  I divided the list into two categories: affordable and pricey. ‘Affordable’ could still cost less considering the European standards. But this is Russia – not the cheapest country to travel. As for ‘Pricey’ category, they are worth every rouble. At least, Russians know how to treat their guest s in terms of luxury!

 

Kristall Hotel is budget and hard to find

Affordable hotels

 

Kristall Hotel (avg/night from 20$ to 85$) Ul. Korolenko, 5 www.kristall-ekb.ru ( in Russian only, no English speaking staff in the hotel)

It's a combination of a hostel and a hotel. You can get a single bed in 3-bed dormitory equiped with a TV-set and a fridge for 550R =20$ or an Economy Double room for 500$ In both cases you have to share a toilet and a shower (tourists say everything is clean). By booking a suit for 85$ you get a private bathroom.

Kristall is 10 min walk from the train station or from the city centre. It can be difficult to find, so at best find Ul Lunacharskogo 31 on your map. The building is behind it in the yard. It has a sign Korolenko5. Facing the building turn right and walk through the parking place. The hotel entrance is on the other side of the building it has a small sign in Russian. Press the security button and climb the stairs to 3d floor (there is no elevator)

 

Hotel Iset, an example of 1930s constructivism shaped like a sickle

Guru Hotel (avg/night 94 US$) Ul. Repina, 22 http://guruhotel.ru/en

Guru is a small cosy and relatively new hotel. David, a British tourist pointed out the staff’s good command of English. It’s located in a 20 min walk from the center but it’s got some interesting sights near it, including a church, an old prison and the Central Stadium which is supposed to become one of the host pitches for World Cup 2018.

Hotel Iset (avg/night 114 US$) Prospect Lenina, 69/1 http://www.hoteliset.ru/

The rooms may be a bit small and the corridors are tight and dark but the history behind the building makes your stay very exciting. It was built in 1934 as a hostel for KGB members. The hostel was a part of infamous Chekistsky Gorodok (KGB residential complex) which is shaped like a hammer and sickle.

Green Park Hotel (avg\night 130 US$) Ul Narodnoy Voli,24 www.greenhotel.ru

The hotel is located in a quiet area between Novo-Tikhvinsky Convent and the old stadium which is used as a public skating rink in winter. Stefano, an Italian designer praised the friendly staff and lots of greenery around the place.

Grand Avenue Hotel (avg/night 140 US$) Prospect Lenina, 40  http://avenuehotel.ru/eng

It’s difficult to find a more central location. The hotel is situated next to the Opera Theatre and is only 10 min. walk from Church on the Blood.

Pricey hotels

Novotel (avg/night 200US$) Ul. Engelsa, 7 http://novotel-ekaterinburg.ru/en

Opened on 2010 Novotel was opened in 2010 and already gained a good reputation for quality service and modern design. Manfred, an architect from Germany was especially surprised by separated shower and toilet facilities. The modern building of Novotel is surrounded by a number of old, pretty wooden houses on Engels Street which usually remain unnoticed by the tourists.

Hotel Onegin (avg/night 200US$) Ul. Rozy Luxemburg,49 http://www.hotelonegin.com/?lang=en

The hotel is situated on 9th floor of Onegin Plaza Business Centre with a good view to St. Trinity Cathedral. The morning and evening chimes of the Cathedral add to the bourgeois atmosphere of Onegin. But if you don’t like the ringing sound, there is live piano music in the lobby bar in the evening.

Hotel Voznesensky (avg/night 170 US$) Ul. Mamina Sibiryaka, 52 http://v-hotel.ru/?lang=en

Voznesensky has a nice location at the foot of Voznesenskaya Gorka (Ascention hill) right behind the 19th century Rastorguyev-Kharitonov park with impressive Church on the Blood across the street. Voznesensky is a good family hotel. It is also popular with celebs of all types: from ballet divas of Bolshoy Theatre to the rockers of Uriah Heep and Bloodhound Gang.

Park Inn (avg/night 217US$) Ul. Mamina Sibiryaka, 98 http://www.parkinn.ru/hotel-ekaterinburg

Park Inn is located behind the Opera Theatre not far from the Zoo. It’s one of the largest hotels in Yekaterinburg. With all the amenities you can imagine, it pays off the price. Pets are accepted too!

19Jan/110

Hot springs in cold Tyumen. From the Urals to Siberia

Living on the border of Europe and Asia, Yekaterinburgers tend to look westwards. Though sometimes it’s worth taking a look to the east to arrange a weekend in cold Siberia. Namely, in the mineral hot springs outside Tyumen.

Tyumen is the nearest Siberian city – 340 km from Yekaterinburg (about 4.5 hr by car if you do 120km/h) Take Sibirski Trakt (sometimes it’s also called Tyumenski Trakt) and simply drive straight on all the way. Tired of partying in the Urals my friends and I decided to take a trip to heat up our bones on January 3. Frankly speaking, the only thing that could lure me to Siberia in the middle of winter was the fact that their springs are hot, I mean really hot +45C all year long. We, however, took an old longer road to Siberia. It was bumpy but our first stop in Nizhnyaya Sinyachikha was definitely worth it.

Saviour Transfiguration Church in Nizhnyaya Sinyachikha was built in 1823 in Siberian baroque style

    Nizhnyaya Sinyachikha is a small village and an open-air museum of wooden architecture. Local carpenter Ivan Samoylov gathered abandoned chapels all over the Urals and restored them in his native village

Our next stop was in Irbit - the only town on our way where we could have a lunch before submerging in healing mineral waters of Tyumen. Irbit was a disappointment both culture- and food-wise. What was once the biggest fair ground in Imperial Russia trading with tea and furs, is now a row of grey shabby houses with no infrastructure. All eateries were closed because of winter holidays. After New Year celebrations local supermarkets looked like in the worst times of war starvation: empty counters with only frozen vegetables to offer. Meanwhile we were frozen too. Siberian frost was getting more and more apparent: if it was -10 in Yekaterinburg, closer to Siberia it was already -22. Interestingly, the shelves with vodka were all full of bottles. Probably, the citizens of Irbit drink something else, but we chose vodka as the only remedy to get warm, animated and to forget about hunger. No wonder, the only photo taken in Irbit is a bit of a blur:     

Although Irbit is not worth a visit, there is one thing to attract foreign tourists: famous bike Urla is still being manufactured at the Irbit motorcycle factory.

Honestly, we wanted to have a sober day but Irbit forced us to drink and apparently this is the only way to finally enter Siberia. In the old times Siberia wasn’t only an exile but also a symbol of freedom to runaway surfs and to the persecuted in Moscovia old-believers. There is an old Russian saying: Good bye Russia, I’ve crossed the Urals, I’ve run away! With the same feelings we crossed the marked border between Ural and Siberia and also between Sverdlovskaya Oblast and Tyumenskaya.      

Typically Ural faces: where Asia meets with Europe. Larisa of semi-Asian Bashkir origin (left) and me with Belarusian roots (right)

We did find a nice café near the border. Café Ogonyok provided tasty meal, welcome prices and interesting (Siberian?) ambience:

And finally hot springs!

Directions: before entering Tyumen at roundabout take exit to Roschino. In 3-5 km watch for a sign on the left “Verkhniy Bor” Hot springs are outdoors swimming-pools with mineral water springing from 1.233 m depth. Mineral water contains bromine and sodium chloride. Water temperature is +45. Hot springs are open daily until 4 a.m. Entry fee - 200R. There are indoor changing rooms, cafes and saunas. However, the place may be packed during public holidays. Then you can drive further down the road (20-25km) to get to the second larger pool near Pionerski Lager (Children Camp). That’s where we went to. There is no infrastructure though, so pull up to the pool as close as possible. You’ll have to change clothes in a car and what’s more to run good 30 meters to the water in your bathing suit! That was a challenge with outside temperature -25. What’s more, one of my friends left slippers home and had to run barefoot. Needless to say, he sobered up immediately!

Useful tips: - bring your towel, slippers and a woolen hat if the air temperature is -10 or lower

- stay in the water for 15-20 min. then take a break before bathing again  

- you will feel very relaxed after bathing so a driver should consider having some rest before driving back

Hotels to stay:

Istochnik Hotel (3.000R a night, includes entry fee to the hot springs) 

Sosnovaya Hotel (1.600R a night, 3.100 for a cottage for 3 persons)

Baza Zeya (860R for a  3 persons bedroom)

plus you can book any hotel in Tyumen