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5Jan/130

Ice town 2013 in Yekaterinburg

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

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

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

Eifel Tower in front of the Shopping Center 'Europa'

the pride of Yekaterinburgers: Kasli Pavilion made of ice

inside the pavilion

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

 

16Jul/120

Where to get a bird’s eye view of Yekaterinburg?

We now have a new must-see in Yekaterinburg – it’s a viewing platform of Vysotsky Business Center.

 

Vysotsky is the tallest skyscraper in Russia outside Moscow (188m and 54 floors). The tower was built in the city center on 51 Malysheva st. The building was involved in a big scandal before the construction of it started. The construction company destroyed a heritage-listed wooden house of 19th century. Officially it was a fault of single bulldozer driver who was subsequently sent to jail and because the house was no longer there the construction began.

Vysotsky is named after Vladimir Vysotsky, a Soviet poet, musician and an actor. Besides it’s a play on words: vysoky means tall in Russian. A bronze sculpture of Vladimir Vysotsky and his third wife a French actress Marina Vladi can be found behind the building.

Vladimir Vysotsky and Marina Vladi

The most interesting thing about Vysotsky is its viewing platform on the 52d floor. It was foggy when I got there, but you may take better pictures on a bright day or at night.

The viewing platform of Vysotsky is open daily 10am – 11pm. You can enter it once an hour at the beginning of each hour, i.e. at 13.00, 14.00, 15.00 etc. Entrance fee 250-300 rub

More information in English here: http://www.visotsky-e.ru/lookout/

8Jul/120

New monument of family, love and faith in Yekaterinburg

8th of July is a new celebration in Russia –St. Peter and Fevronya’s Day, the day of family, love and faith. A brand new monument to patron saints of marriage and family was opened in Yekaterinburg near the Church on the Blood and it immediately became a popular spot for newly-weds.

Originally, it was a Russian Orthodox celebrated only in the town of Murom as Peter was the Prince of Murom. The day of love and family was proposed by Russian Orthodox Church as opposed to St Valentine’s. The church doesn’t like that young people in Russia celebrate a Catholic Day. In 2008 the Russian Government accepted the proposal of a new celebration and it was actively promoted by Svetlana Medvedeva, the wife of the former president D. Medvedev.

Interesting facts: In spite of the fact that Peter and Fevronya symbolize traditional Orthodox values, Peter, the Prince of Murom didn’t want to marry Fevronya. She was a commoner who cured him of leprosy. In return, Fevronya asked Peter to marry her but he refused. However, he later suffered a relapse and came to Fevronya again. After that he had to marry Fevronya. The couple was childless which isn’t a good example of a good Orthodox family either. At the end of their lives they both joined the clergy. He became a monk and she was a nun and both prayed to die on the same date which they did on July, 8th 1228.

When speaking about love and faith, it’s worth mentioning some statistics here. According to Demoscope Weekly, every second marriage ends in divorce in Yekaterinburg. The average age of newly-weds in Russia is 26-27 for men and 24-25 for women. Only 30% of Russian women and 56% of men marry for the second time after a divorce. As for faith, 90% of men and 85% of women in Russia think that adultery is a good reason to get a divorce.

There are no special traditions yet about buying chocolate or flowers on this date. But considering the statistics, it’s probably a good thing that we have a day in summer when people can think about the family values.

19Jun/120

Yekaterinburg 2012 Motion timelapse

Watch the timelapse by Vitaly Gariev from Chelyabinsk about the capital of the Urals.
And welcome to Yekaterinburg this summer!

???????????? 2012 \ Yekaterinburg Motion Timelapse from Vitaly Gariev on Vimeo.

21May/120

Red line tour in Yekaterinburg

When walking in the center of Yekaterinburg you can see a red line drawn in the middle of the pavement. Some locals still think it’s a divider for pedestrians or a lane for bicycles. But the truth is the red line is a guideline for tourists. Just find it on Prospect Lenina and go down the line and in three hours you’ll get back to the starting point with photos of all the main sites in your camera!

The Red Line project started in 2011 as a blog by Dmitry Kalaev. The Internet users were voting for the best sites in the center of Yekaterinburg. Eventually, 35 historic objects were chosen including the Church on the Blood, Opera Theatre, the Beatles monument, QWERTY monument, Literary Quarter etc. The Red Line was drawn on June 18 2011. Its length is 6.5 kilometers.

Book the city tour here: http://yekaterinburg4u.ru/en/tours/city-tour

walking to the Church on the Blood

This summer (2012) activists of the Red Line project are planning to draw QR codes for each site along the line, to print maps and to add full descriptions of the objects on the webpage  www.ekbredline.ru

The Beatles monument on the redl line

QWERTY or giant keyboard is a must-see according to Wikipedia and to the red-line volunteers

You can walk along the Red Line on your own or get a guided tour to learn more about the historical places. Sometimes there are free excursions arranged by volunteers for special events.

As a manager of the English newspaper Your Yekaterinburg, I invited the readers of the paper to take a guided tour down the Red Line when the annual Night in the Museum event took place in Yekaterinburg. It took us 2.5 hours to do the whole tour. The weather was great and so was the company! The photos for this post were taken during our tour and you can see me with a yellow scarf 🙂

The first map of Yekaterinburg of 1723. Those days the city was smaller than the Red line route

Book the city tour here: http://yekaterinburg4u.ru/en/tours/city-tour

25Jan/121

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

Every Russian knows about the Siberian town of Tobolsk from the history books but very few visited the town. These days tourists choose other routes to the South and it’s rather far for foreigners: Tobolsk is not on Trans-Siberian route. However, this Siberian pearl does its best to attract different travelers and it’s worth coming in summer and in winter.

Tobolsk is 536km to the north-east of Yekaterinburg in Western Siberia. It is in Tyumenskaya Oblast, the neighboring region to Sverdlovskaya Oblast. So, in terms of Russian distances people in the Urals may say that it’s just around the corner. Tobolsk is very old compared to most of the Ural and Siberian cities. It was founded in 1587 on the place where the Tobol River flows into the Irtysh. Very soon Tobolsk became the center of political, economical and cultural life of Siberia.
The main place of attraction is a breathtaking white Kremlin in the upper town. I couldn’t stop taking photos of it:

The downtown is located down the hill on the river bank.

They say that Siberia gave Russia many prominent people and most of them were born in Tobolsk. The most known name in the world is chemist Dmitry Mendeleev, the inventor of the periodic table . Tobolsk also became the land of prisons and exile. Russian Tsars were deporting political prisoners to Tobolsk for centuries. A short excursion to the old cemetery will tell you more about it.

Of course, Russian exiled aristocracy changed the habits and lifestyle of Tobolsk. I was very much surprised to meet many teenagers in the local museum dressed as ladies and gentlemen of 19th century. They came to an annual ball arranged here on the eve of Christmas.

Ironically, the Bolsheviks decided to exile the last Russian tsar to Tobolsk as well. Nicolas II and his family had lived in Tobolsk from August 1917 till April 1918 before they were sent and murdered in Yekaterinburg

The house requisitioned as the Romanovs' detention place in Tobolsk

Study room of Nicolas II in Tobolsk

Tobolsk has always been a spiritual center of Russia. There are 16 churches in the town including a Catholic Church in downtown. You can also arrange a tour to Abalak monastery (30km from Tobolsk)

Outside the monastery there’s a lovely Abalak tourist center with a wooden hotel, bars, skating rinks and the home of Father Frost.

Find more about Abalak here: http://askural.com/2011/12/father-frost-in-abalak-siberia/

Tips for travelers: Most of the museums, cafes and souvenir shops are located in the Kremlin area. Tobolsk is famous for muksun – a type of fish that you can try in local eateries. Smoked fish is available at vendors’ right on the train platform.

The train station of Tobolsk is outside the town. There are several buses to take from the station, but if you are arriving early in the morning or late at night, it’s wise to order a transfer beforehand. The local travel agencies arrange transfers and tours but they don’t have English-speaking guides, so bring your own interpreter.

A woman is selling local fish at the train station

One day is pretty much enough for Tobolsk. There are several decent hotels in the city but I chose to arrive by train at 7.30 am and took a train back at 9pm. Thus you can sleep two nights in a train and spend a whole day in Tobolsk.

Getting to Abalak: by car: from Yekaterinburg take the road via Tymen to Tobolsk
by train: There are many trains bound for Tobolsk. I suggest taking train #310 from Yekaterinburg. This night train is convenient as it leaves Yekaterinburg at 22.16 and arrives at 8.28. A 10 hour sleep in a train will cost you 800-1500 roubles.

23Mar/110

Unfinished TV tower – a landmark of Yekaterinburg

Although the landmark of Yekaterinburg is supposed to be Church on Blood, built on the site of Tsar’s murder, there is another famous construction in the city - the unfinished TV tower, aka fun tower or suicide tower. It is now a symbol of Soviet Sverdlovsk.

Construction of the tower began in 1981. The plan was ambitious: to erect a monument of technological progress which would be the tallest TV tower in the Asian part of the Euro-Asian continent with a height of 440 meters, with a restaurant and a viewing platform. There were no technological reasons to build a tower like this but it was to make a statement like Ostankino TV tower in Moscow.

In 1991 the tower was only half-finished (220m) but with the collapse of the USSR the project came to a halt. The unprotected building site was discovered as an adventure playground by base jumpers from all over Europe. One could reach the top by the left over scaffolding inside the tower. Those days in 1990s the tower was called ‘a suicide tower’. Officially, three people died from accidents or suicide at the tower, but the citizens say there were more than twenty. Since that the building site has been closed and the unfinished tower has become an eyesore surrounded by the new shiny skyscrapers.

In the year 2005 when skyscrapers were being built in the center

 In 2007 the city government initiated an investor competition for the completion of the tower. The future investors were permitted to erect a cultural and entertainment center with hotel and conference rooms. But the economic crisis that began in 2008 made the European investors change their minds.

The future of the tower is uncertain. Meanwhile, the citizens got used to it and it's a good mark when looking for directions. As for me, I would be very upset if the tower was demolished. There is something symbolic, beautiful even about this grey unfinished construction that reminds me of Sverdlovsk, the city I was born in.    

     On March, 8th local base-jumper Ratmir parachuted from the tower and landed near the circus with flowers for his fiancée. He got the official permission to do this. Watch his video here: http://www.e1.ru/news/spool/news_id-345421-section_id-124.html

p.s. If you scroll this page down, at the very bottom of it you will see the top of the unfinished TV tower 😉

4Feb/110

Boris Yeltsin in marble

This week Yekaterinburg is celebrating the 80th anniversary of Boris Yeltsin’s birth. A big man from the Urals started his political career in Sverdlovsk, then was promoted to Moscow in 1985 and became the first president of Russia. Now his statue is the first monument since the Soviet era erected to a political leader.

The monument is made of 15 ton marble pieces. It’s 10 metres tall - Boris’s height was 1.87m., much taller than his followers Putin and Medvedev (1.70 and 1.62 respectively). No wonder, the monument was erected on the Street named after Yeltsin. In the Soviet times the central street used to be a neglected area with shabby barracks. It was thanks to Yeltsin that the ugly barracks were demolished and people were moved to the new apartment buildings. Yeltsin also ordered to build a Drama theatre on this street. In the future there will be a presidential centre on Yeltsin Street too with a library and a museum. The museum will have an exact replica of Yeltsin’s office in the Kremlin.

The building of the future presidential centre of B.Yeltsin

2011 is also the 20th anniversary of the failed coup arranged by the Communists in August 1991 when Yeltsin climbed up onto a tank outside the Russian parliament and called for a general strike. On 23 August Yeltsin banned the Communist party in Russia. The photo exhibition of those events is now held in the Museum of History in Yekaterinburg. The exhibition is called ‘Yeltsin – Yes!’

There are very different opinions in Russia of Yeltsin’s presidency. The 90s are remembered as years when few men became billionaires while pensioners lived in poverty. Gangsters and mafia controlled the cities, it was especially characteristic for Yeltsin’s home city Yekaterinburg. The president was famous for his drunken speeches. I heard a lady from Moscow saying on the radio about Yekaterinburg: “Everything is wrong in your city – you killed the Tsar and failed to raise a president.”

By the way, it was Yeltsin who ordered to demolish Ipatyev House – the place of the Tsar’s murder in 1978. Though later he would say the order arrived from the Kremlin and he couldn’t disobey. However, Boris always had a huge support in Yekaterinburg. 95% of the Yekaterinburgers supported him in 1991 and the recent celebration events show that most of the Ural citizens don’t have a grudge against him.

Another interesting exhibition took place on Lenin Avenue. Local contemporary artists erected a carton monument to letter E. It is the most important letter for the city as both Yekaterinburg and Yeltsin start with ‘E’ in Russian. The citizens could bring the photos of the prominent people whose names start with E. The photos were then glued to the monument.

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!

27Dec/100

Are Ural Universities good for studying Russian?

Ural Federal University named after the first President of Russia B.N.Yeltsin is the biggest technical institution in Russia with a number of prominent graduates from comedians to politicians

Once school holidays started, I received an educational question from Joel. Joel is studying Russian at the University of Cambridge and considering spending a year studying in Yekaterinburg. I’m glad that you find the city very appealing, Joel. And you’ll be happy to learn that people in Yekaterinburg do not really speak English. Usually the vocabulary is limited to the following English phrases: How do you do, Okay and London is the capital of Great Britain – the latter is the first line from the Soviet text book and we all had to learn it by heart at school. As you can see, even the laziest student would have to start speaking Russian because there is no other way. At the same time I daresay the locals are friendly and welcoming to foreigners. I know many stories how Russian students helped their foreign colleagues and professors to adjust to the new reality: disorganized public transport, tiring bureaucracy, bitter cold winters or bitter hangovers on New Year’s day. Recent riots of nationalist football fans in Moscow haven’t affected Yekaterinburg. We’ve got students of different clolours and nationalities. They seem to feel safe here and some of them even became local celebrities for simply looking exotic!
On the other hand, there is a relatively large community of expats in Yekaterinburg supported by the foreign Consulates and culture centers of such countries as the USA, France, Germany, Spain and many others so you won’t feel as lonely as the Englishman in New York.

As for the quality of the University, there is more than one higher education institution. In fact, there are twenty so I’m going to name a few of them which acquired a really good reputation in Russia and abroad and may help in learning Russian:

Ural A.M. Gorky State University aka URGU (Urál'skiy gosudárstvennyy universitét ímeni A. M. Gór'kogo) ): http://www.usu.ru (with English version). URGU has top Russian scientists and academicians among the staff – the former chief of the University Yury Orlov is now the president of the Russian Academy of Sciences. URGU has recently got in top ten of the Russian Universities with the highest publishing activity in terms of scientific articles and quotation index.  Foreign students particularly choose Faculty of Economics, Faculty of International Relations, Faculty of Philology (Russian linguistics) and Faculty of Russian Language for Foreign Students. URGU has various programs for international students and collaborates with European and American Universities. The University has a perfect location in the heart of Yekaterinburg facing the City Opera.

Ural A.M. Gorky State University on Lenin Avenue

Ural State Pedagogical University (Rossiyskiy Gosudarstvenniy Proffessionalno-Pedagogicheskiy Universitet) This teachers training institution is not as popular with the foreigners as URGU, but the Faculty of Linguistics may help you to study Russian in great depth. http://www.rsvpu.ru/departments/inlin/
Ural Federal Technical University aka URFU named after the first President of Russia B.N.Yeltsin (Uralskiy Federalniy Universitet imeni B. Yeltsina) http://www.ustu.ru (with English version) Though it trains mainly engineers, the university has recently targeted at humanitarian subjects as well. URFU is the biggest technical institution in Russia. It’s also become famous all over the country thanks to many prominent graduates including rock musicians, film directors, popular TV hosts, stand-up comedians, a mayor of Yekaterinburg and one Russian president. Thus engineering is certainly not the key discipline of this University.

Other Universities worth mentioning are: Ural State University of Economics considered to be prestige for elite students http://www.usue.ru

Ural Academy of Architecture and Arts is one of the most reputable schools of art. It collaborates with Universities of the UK, Japan, Italy, the USA, France, South Korea and Germany: http://www.usaaa.ru

Ural State Mining University is the oldest in Yekaterinburg. It was founded in 1917 by the last Russian Tsar Nicolas II but never bore his name as the Revolution started the same year. The University is now trying to maintain religious traditions started by Nicolas. It also has interesting Geological Museum of Minerals located in the University building with a large collection of precious stones and Ural gems. You can watch the exhibition here: http://www.ursmu.ru/geological-museum/photogallery.html (also in English, German and French)