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
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.
October is beautiful here but it’s raining a lot and temperatures seldom rise above +10. Usually I watch October from my window. Last weekend I left my cozy flat for a rainy weekend in the mountains with Joao Lamos, a Brazilian expat in China who arrived for the weekend to see some nature. Thanks to him I found out that it’s walking in the rain can be fun besides this golden season in Ural forests lasts for only a few weeks.
Here’s the best weekend out in October:
Saturday: up to the north to Belaya Mountain with two stops in Nevyansk and Visim
It can be windy on top of the mountain (705m) but it's worth it!
Book the tour to Belaya Mt and the Deer Farm here: http://yekaterinburg4u.ru/en/tours/northern-urals
Sunday: to the west for hiking in Olenii Ruchiy (Deer Streams) Nature Park
It was quite a surprise to meet many people in the park that day. Some of them came for fishing in the rain!
Leaving the park stop at the German Biergarten for hot sausages and a glass of beer
Book the tour to the Nature Park: http://yekaterinburg4u.ru/en/tours/deer-streams
October has just started, so don't miss the chance to see some autumn beauties of the Urals before the long winter!
Cuba is a district in Yekaterinburg but not many citizens know where it is. It’s an unofficial name of Bolshoy Konniy distict aka Green Island to the west of VIZ (Verkh-Isetsky Factory). The nickname appeared in 1960s when the Green Island of Liberty was extremely popular with Russians. It doesn’t mean they could travel to Cuba easily but everyone knew about Fidel and ‘no pasaran’ became a Russian phrase. By the way, Fidel Castro and Che Guevara visited Yekaterinburg-Sverdlovsk in 1963. Castro gave a long speech in Uralmash Factory. He didn’t see our local Cuba but I’m sure he would have liked it!
A journey to Cuba starts on the pier of Verkh-Isetsky Pond. It was made in 1725. It’s 12km long and 2.5 km wide. The pond is rather polluted but ‘the Cubans’ don’t mind fishing there all year long. It’s about 4 km along the pond from VIZ to Cuba. You can take a bicycle or tram 11. It’s the only tram that goes to Cuba. Trams run every 20 min., get off on the last station Zelyony Ostrov (Green Island) well, technically it’s a peninsula but ‘island’ sounds more romantic, doesn’t it?
I guess Cuba is the most diverse place in Yekaterinburg. The district was built in 1920s along with a power station and it was a true working class area in the USSR. The station doesn’t work anymore and I have no idea what ‘the Cubans’ do there no – not much, judging by their houses. However, there is a luxury beach opened this year in Cuba. So, the citizens might get jobs there although summers in the Urals are very short.
As I went to Cuba in August, the beach was absolutely dead, so I walked around and took some photos of the locals. They were very friendly, by the way. I’ve never been to Cuba but I have a feeling that the atmosphere there is pretty much the same as in our Cuba. Ok, you can’t grow sugar cane here but look at those tomatoes!
Click here to see more photos with captions from the Green Island of local Cuba Libre
Thanks to my Facebook friend Maciej Besta from Poland, we are able to do virtual tours to the highest peak of the Urals. Even though the peak is not too high - 1,894 metres (6,214 ft), I doubt, I will ever dare to get there because…well, take a look…
The expedition was launched in winter 2011 by 4 Polish explorers. It was the first Polish winter ascent of Mount Narodnaya and probably the first winter traverse of all the way from Inta railway station (a town in the Komi Republic) to Narodnaya (on foot)
Mount Narodnaya is located in Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug and is the highest point in European Russia outside the Caucasus.
Maciej Besta: “The exact distance from Inta (a town in the Komi Republic) to Narodnaya along the truck route is 150 km. When we were going to the mountains we covered part of the distance on a truck. But, when we were coming back, we were going only on foot. I did the distance in 6 days (the last day was 50 km of non-stop march), the rest of the group did it in 7 days. However, it is essential to know that the conditions on a route were pretty OK - the snow on route was hard thanks to good weather and trucks.”
Let's the virtual tour to Narodnaya (photos and interesting comments by Maciej Besta):
There is a village in the Urals that can be called an open-air museum-village. Nizhnyaya Sinyachikha (yep, it's a tricky tongue twister) is 180 km from Yekaterinburg on the way to Siberia. The settlement is 330 years old. There along the Siberian road you can see the examples of wooden architecture of the previous centuries. It’s always a good idea to park your car and to walk around. You can also buy a ticket to get inside the wooden chapels and houses to see more of the local naïve art, so characteristic for the Urals.
I got to Nizhnyaya Sinyachikha in August with a group of my fellow architects and designers. They chose the trip to celebrate Builder’s Day (it has been celebrated in Russia since the Soviet times by everyone involved in construction works)
The highlight of the village is Saviour Transfiguration Church. The locals say it was built by an Italian architect and it does look very Italian. Historians are skeptical about it and believe the architect was Russian as the church is typical for Siberian Baroque style. The church was largely destroyed by the Bolsheviks. The building was used as a social club and a library the Soviet era. It is now a part of the museum and that’s where you buy the entrance ticket for something like 200 roubles (7$).
The church-museum has an interesting collection of bells from post cabs. There is an interesting exhibition of interior and exterior design on the second floor of the building. Rich villagers would hire a designer to paint the walls of their houses. Bright and happy colors were very popular with the Ural dwellers.It is probably because the natural scenery was not colorful at all. These days the scenery is the same - gloomily grey-and-white for at least 6 months a year. Local designers did their best to please the clients. They painted exotic animals or things they had heard about but never seen. Take a look at how people imagined elephants or locomotives – those are priceless images.
Book a tour to Nizhnyaya Sinyachikha here: http://yekaterinburg4u.ru/en/tours/nizhnyaya-sinyachikha
There is only one man behind the whole project - Ivan Samoylov. He was a local activist who loved his village and dedicated 40 years of his life to create the open-air museum. With a few fellow-carpenters he started to restore the Savior Church in 1967. It took them 11 years to complete the restoration but that was only the beginning. Samoylov then started to collect old neglected houses from the nearby villages. He brought them log by log to Nizhnyaya Sinyachikha and built them anew. It was easy to do as wooden houses in Russia used to be made without a single nail. So he only had to pile the logs in the correct order.
Samoylov preserved 20 buildings including the unique wooden chapels of 18th century. As he worked in the Soviet era, he was many times confronted by the local communist leaders who didn’t like the idea of saving churches. Samoylov didn’t concede and kept on working for his Motherland. He was never paid a rouble for what he had done but was awarded a medal by Yeltsin in 1990s. Sadly, after Samoylov’s death there are no volunteers to continue his work though there are still many historical objects in the decaying villages all over the Urals.
Nizhnyaya Sinyachikha is worth visiting during the first week of March when Maslenitza (a pancake carnival) is celebrated. The museum workers arrange a special program with pancake tasting. There is also a nice cafe in front of the church but sometimes it is closed in the afternoon for wedding parties
The museum is open daily 9a.m.-4p.m., Wed 9a.m-8p.m; telephone: (34346) 75-1-18, 75-2-37
Book a tour to Nizhnyaya Sinyachikha here: http://yekaterinburg4u.ru/en/tours/nizhnyaya-sinyachikha
by car: take Yekaterinburg - Rezh highway until Alapayevsk then down Ul. Lenina follow the directions to Nizhnyaya Sinyachikha. The main road leads exactly to the Church.
public transport: there are buses and marshrutkas to Alapaevsk from Yekaterinburg Severny Avtovokzal (near the train station). Busses run daily 3-4 times a day and take 3 hours. Alternatively go by electrichka (local train) to Alapaevsk. It takes 4 hours. In Alapaevsk take bus 103 from the bus station or hitchhike (about 2 km)
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.
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:
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.
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
Every winter right before New Year holidays the main square of Yekaterinburg turns into an ice town with a tall Christmas Tree and a skating rink in the middle. Little Yekaterinburgers go riding, skating, taboganning while adults take photos of magnificent ice sculptures.
This year the theme of the ice town is Cosmos as 2011 is 5oth anniversary of the first flight into outer space.
On April 12, 1961 Yuri Gagarin, a citizen of the Soviet Union piloted a successful flight into outter space that lasted 108 min. Gagarin and his famous smile (above picture) became the simbol of all that was good about the USSR. The other symbol is an apple tree from the popular Soviet song on cosmos invasion: 'Apple trees will soon bloom even on Mars' Many apple trees are already blooming in the Ice Town of Yekaterinburg.
The bitter Ural weather doesn't scare anyone (it was -20 when the photos were taken). Just put on a warm parka and a thick woolen scarf to make sort of a balaclava like these little tiwns below. By the way, look at the glistening things on the snow sculpture behind them - those are coins!
It's a new tradition - people stick five or ten copeck for good luck and wish to have a prosperous new year. You can stick one too! There's plenty of time as the ice town is open until mid. February.
Here are more photos and more ice sculptures created by sculptors from all over Russia. Welcome to outer space!
My foreign friends in Yekaterinburg keep asking me the same question about public transport. Car is not always a good option – some central streets are very narrow and they are even narrower in winter when there are only two ruts in snow. It seems that Yekaterinburg has a good transport system with many buses, trolleys and trams. But does it work well when you don’t know the city and can hardly speak Russian?
First of all, there is no determined timetable for public transport. You just go to the bust stop and hope for the best. While buses and trolleybuses stuck in traffic jams every now and then, trams are more reliable. However, Russian drivers and renowned for being terribly impatient so they often use tram tracks to overtake the others and block the traffic completely. Note that some trams have weird routs. For example, if you take Tram 3 form the train station to Lenin Avenue, it doesn’t mean that you can get back to the train station by the same tram as it runs one way in circles. Even after 10 in this city I get perplexed by their routs so it’s a good idea to ask (in Russian) people at the bus stop or a conductor in a tram where it’s heading to.
Those who have already been to Russia know about marshrutkas (minibuses). They duplicate bus routes and run quicker though not safer. Marshrutkas belong to private companies that tend to hire unqualified emigrants from the former Soviet Republics as drivers. They don’t always know Russian, let alone Russian traffic laws. Still the main problem is that in order to make more money marshrutkas drivers overwork sometimes spending twelve hours a day behind the wheel.
Let’s not forget about the metro. Yekaterinburg Metro used to be listed in the Guinness Record Book as the shortest underground in the world. Now that it’s got 7th station, it isn’t famous anymore but is very short all the same. Local metro stations are good for sightseeing. They are decorated with marble and Ural gems and they are not as crowded as in Moscow.
If you travel by Trans-Siberian and arrive at the Main Train Station you can jump into any trolleybus. They all go to the city centre and stop at Church on the Blood. Or you can use metro from Uralskaya station to Ploschad 1905.
Public transport can be complicated for foreigners. On the bright side of things it’s cheap: 18 roubles and you can pay directly to a stout lady-conductor in a bus or a tram. Besides, public transport in Yekaterinburg and all over Russia never stops functioning even when it’s -35 and roads are covered with one meter of snow!
One word - unpredictable! Right, ok, it's not changing here every 30 minutes like in London but within a few days the weather may change dramatically. When I was younger and could party all night long, I remember one day getting to a night club in my flimsy summer dress and the following morning I had to jump over snow on my way home. And that was in June! This is of course an extreme example and it doesn't happen every summer but...
In the Middle Urals we mainly depend on the winds, whether it's a lovely warm wind from Kazakhstan or bitter Arctic wind or you-never-know-what-it-gonna-bring western wind from Europe. These are literally winds of change that change the Ural weather in a day.
Today (Sept. 2) it's +10, the forecast for tomorrow is +27. Looks like Indian summer is coming! Because my birth day is in mid. October I know exactly that as a rule it first starts snowing on 13th-15th of October but this snow will quickly melt down. The whole region will be covered with snow by the end of November. Then again, last year we had + temperatures until mid. December and skiing resorts were very unhappy with that.
Average winter temperature is -15 -20. It's very pleasant actually because the air is dry. So don't be afraid to go out for a walk at -15, just don't forget to put on winter boots, a fur hat, a shuba (Russian fur coat) and be ready for changes. New Year is the most popular holiday in Russia. Last year it was spoilt by severe cold -35. People had to stay in and drink. Athough a few years ago New Year was accompanied by zero temperature and our beautiful Ice Town in the main square of Yekaterinburg turned into a grey slush.
Winter lasts until end of March. April can be tricky: sometimes warm, sometimes miserable with occasional snow. Spring (and we talk here about a green season when trees and flowers are in bloom) begins somewhere in May and be prepared for something between +5 and +25. Not really a helpful piece of information, eh? As for summer, until this year I could have said that it's rather cool +17 +22 with many rains and a week of hot sunny weather if you are lucky enough. The summer of 2010 however was unusually hot and dry all over Russia with melting asphalt in the city and fires in the woods.
To cut the story short, when going to the Urals just hope for the best and check out the weather forecast one maximum two weeks ahead because the rest is a mystery...