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23Jan/133

10 Must-dos in Yekaterinburg in winter

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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

2 Visit the Monastery Ganina Yama, which looks like a fairytale in winter

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

5 Get cultured and watch ‘Swan Lake’ at the Opera and Ballet Theatre

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

photos by Karim Farah

10Jan/130

Welcome to vodka tasting on the Europe-Asia border

The Your Yekaterinburg newspaper and AskUral.com invite you to join a vodka tasting tour!

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
tel: +79122800870
email: yekaterinburg4u@gmail.com

18Mar/120

What to see in Yekaterinburg (video)

I made this video two years ago. It looks like I've put on a few kilos since that while the city hasn't changed at all. Enjoy and come for a visit this summer!

25May/110

Europe-Asia border. Is it worth it?

This post is for Don, Michael and many others who asked me if it’s worth going to the border between Europe and Asia and what you can see there, apart from the obelisk.

Honestly speaking, I’ve been there so many times that I take it for granted. But I haven’t seen yet a single tourist who regretted about going there. So, look at the pictures and decide yourself whether you want to go there or not...

Obelisk near the town of Pervouralsk (40km from Yekaterinburg)

The most interesting obelisk is near Pervouralsk (40 km from Yekaterinburg) on Beryozavaya gorka (birch hill). The obelisk was made in honour of Tsar Alaxander II who was traveling to Siberia in 1837. He stopped there and opened a bottle of wine. Since that we have a tradition to drink on the border – one glass in Europe and one in Asia.

The place attracts newly-weds as there is also a tree of wishes where couples hang their padlocks and make a wish sitting on a bench.

Book the tour to the Europa-Asian border here: http://yekaterinburg4u.ru/en/tours/europe-asia-border

German couple under the tree made by local blacksmith Pastukhov. Similar tree grows in London

What to do: drink, make a wish under the tree, take photos of village people

Getting there from Yekaterinburg: by taxi (about 1.000R) or by bus or marshrutka (minivan) to Pervouralsk from bus stop Institut Svyazi on Repina street. Bus fare may vary from 20- to 40R Note: buses stop in different parts of Pervouralsk, so it’s wise to ask the driver how to get to the obelisk.

The simplest obelisk but closest to the city (17km from Yekaterinburg)

The most popular place on the border is 17 km from Yekaterinburg one NovoMoskovski trakt.

What to do: continue drinking, buy souvenirs, tie a ribbon on a tree to make a statement that you’ve been there, take a photo of yourself clad as Tsar or Tsaritsa.

Book the tour to the Europa-Asian border here: http://yekaterinburg4u.ru/en/tours/europe-asia-border

Of course there are many more marks all along the Ural Mountains:

10Feb/110

To drink or not to drink water in Yekaterinburg?

This is the headline from Your Yekaterinburg, the first English newspaper that was published in February 2011. The question is vital as every foreigner who arrives at the city asks me about tap water. So, if you didn’t manage to read the newspaper, here is the answer for you:

Tap water in Yekaterinburg neither looks nor smells drinkable. We joke that you may find the whole periodic table in what comes out the tap. So, chemists may be happy! Specialists calm us down saying a good filter can solve the problem, but most citizens don’t trust filtered water either and look for other sources such as wells and natural springs outside the city. There are about 4 thousand organized open springs and wells in Sverdlovskaya Oblast. Some of them are close to Yekaterinburg, for example in Berezovskiy, Verkhnyaya Sysert or Koptyaki village next to Ganina Yama Monastery. That’s why every Sunday you may see cars loaded with huge water containers coming home from datchas. The most cautious citizens have developed ‘the further – the better’ attitude and only use wells which are at least 100 km far from the city. Many of the springs have not been tasted though. People trust their senses but in fact we don’t know whether this water is clean enough.

“Good water can’t be cheap” 80% of Yekaterinburg citizens think and buy bottled water. There are many companies ready to deliver plastic bottles of proved and certified pure water to your flat. An average family of four spends 1500 roubles a month on bottled water and uses it for drinking and cooking, still many prefer to boil it for little children thus showing certain mistrust.

As for me, I believe boiling water and using a decent filter is enough. Besides, filter is a good idea for those concerned about environment. The saddest thing is that local water stations use pretty good modernized processing systems to purify water. But 70% of water supply system in Yekaterinburg consists of 70 year old iron pipes. Those rusty pipes make tap water dangerous to drink.

In a nutshell, boil water before drinking. And don’t worry about taking a shower, after all it doesn’t smell as bad as one may smell without a shower!   

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

21Dec/100

The most popular Russian drink

Yekaterinburg Museum of Local Folklore on Lenina 69 opened new exhibition dedicated to the most popular drink in Russia. On a cold December day when it’s -30 outside this drink keeps you warm and the drink is chai (tea). You could have thought it would be vodka. Well, vodka is certainly the most famous Russian brand but as for popularity here’s simple statistics: I haven’t got vodka at home (I’ve got a bottle of tequila, yes, but no vodka), my brother has only some beer in the fridge, my neighbors don’t drink alcohol at all. But I bet you’ll find at least two or three sorts of tea in every Russian home!

'Merchant's wife drinking tea' by B. Kustodiev, 1923

Tea came from China that is why the Russian name of the drink was derived from cha – a common pronunciation in Northern China. Chai traveled via Irkutsk, Krasnoyarsk, Tobolsk and Tyumen finally to the Ural town of Irbit (204 km from Yekaterinburg). The annual Irbit Winter Fair was the second largest in Russia with fur and tea brought from Siberia and Asia. It took a year and a half to deliver tea to the Ural Region on camels’ and horses’ backs then by ships. Here in the Urals tea would be packaged in finely decorated boxes and sent further to Moskovia Region. Ministry of Tourism of Sverdlovskaya oblast is now developing a new route: Great Tea Road, which will be a good opportunity to visit some off the beaten track places in the Urals and Siberia.

The symbol of the Russian tea ceremony is a big iron samovar. The whole family would gather around a hot shining samovar in winter, thus a samovar in Russia played a similar role as a fireplace in the English houses. The Russians like it piping hot that’s why they would sip tea from saucers. Gold-rimmed saucers cool down tea very quickly. Russian noblemen however found this way vulgar and inappropriate. They copied the English tea ceremonies and had their morning tea with cream.  

Samovar was invented by the Cossacks as a portable kettle during their exploration of in the Urals. Russian tea from samovar is accompanied by jam and baranki - ring-shaped dry biscuits

In the Soviet times tea was delivered mainly from India when Khrushchev made friends with Indira Ghandi. Tea industry was booming especially under dry law. Young people celebrated dry weddings drinking tea. But let’s not idealize those days – vodka was often poured to the boiled water in a tea cattle, disgusting but at least alcoholic.  

Before tea got to the Russian Empire people had brewed herbs and made zbiten. This traditional Russian drink is becoming more and more popular nowadays and you can find it in some cafes of Yekaterinburg or can make it yourself: for 1 big cup take 3 tbsp of honey,  3 tbsp of sugar, 2 bay leaves, 2 cloves, some ginger. Boil 10 min. Drink piping hot and -30 outside will not bother you anymore.

Note! If you want to tip a waiter in Russia, you leave na chai (it means small money for tea)

25Sep/101

Where to meet English speakers in Yekaterinburg?

According to this year statistics, more than 420.000 foreigners have visited Yekaterinburg so far, twice as many than last year. Among them 43% come to work, 31% are private visitors, 19% come on business, 3% are tourists and 2% study here.

If you are tired of the Russian language and want to speak English for a change, to meet English speakers in Yekaterinburg is easy. Just look for a place that has loads of booze, Russian girls and music (not necessarily in this order)

Everjazz, Lunacharskogo 137, www.everjazz.ru A new jazz cafe has just opened in the building of Dom Kino cinema and promises to become a top place for jazz lovers from the Urals and abroad. Foreign and Russian live bands play here every night from 8p.m. Note that you will have to pay an entrance fee from 500 to 1.500 roubles depending on the act and it's a good idea to book a table beforehand if it's the like of All Foster Quartet playing.

Al Foster Quartet (USA) in Everjazz Cafe made the venue packed on Monday night

Alibi Bootlegger's Booze Bar, Malysheva 74. This bar is the newest fad in Yekaterinburg - fun atmosphere with booze (a large variety of whiskey), girls and dancing thus a foreign friendly place. I've personally hold a grudge against it though since last time the bouncer didn't let me in with my female friend. When I asked if he would let us in with male companions he genuinely said - Yes. I understand that there is a disproportionate number of men and women in Russia but it doesn't mean that being a woman I can't get to the bar in my city. Being a foreigner however you will be welcome in any bar, so don't worry about it.

Dr. Scotch pub, Malysheva 56a. A pub in Yekaterinburg means something between a disco bar and an expensive restaurant. Dr Scotch is not an exception. With two large areas for eating and for dancing it attracts a lot of party lovers both locals and foreigners. One Friday night (that was exactly the night when we were rejected in Alibi then fortunately hit Dr. Scotch) I spotted there a teacher of English from the UK, a guy from South Africa, an Italian tourist and two workers from Spain. So the statistics didn't lie about purposes of foreign visitors.

Rosy Jane pub, Lenina 32. Another English pub that isn't quite English but is popular with foreigners in Yekaterinburg. There is not enough space for dancing but there are many TV screens to watch football or hockey matches plus live music at weekends.

Rancho restaurant, Gogolya 36, www.theranch.ru The restaurant is located next to USA General Consulate, so you can often meet its employees there. Rancho holds Cinema Nights once a month when you can watch American movies with Russian subtitles.

Yellow Submarine bar, Lenin ave 46. The Beatles themed live music bar. Local bands play there every night. The bar is open from 6p.m. to 6a.m. however live music starts only after midnight which is OK for the Russians but is rather late for the foreigners who got used to the early parties.

in Yellow Submarine you can drink Hey Jude or eat a Hard Day's Night as every dish and cocktail there is named after the Beatles' song

You can also meet English speakers in the English Club in Keeer Restaurant-Brewery, Mamina Sibyarika 36, every Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. Those who study English join the club on Wednsday nights for a drink and a chat in English only!

21Sep/101

Places to eat in Yekaterinburg

An owner of a Moscow restaurant chain said once that food is not important in a Russian restaurant because the Russians do not come to eat. They come to have fun. In the course of history people in Russia have developed a tradition to use restaurants as a place for meeting up with friends and socializing, for relaxing after a hard day, for dancing and singing, for showing off or getting drunk. Of course, somewhere in between they order food and eat. So you've got the idea already - the atmosphere of the place is essential, food not so much.

Yekaterinburg being a large city (3d capital of Russia, as the locals put it) has many lovely cafes and restaurants. You can see that the owners spend enormous efforts and money on interior design to make the place cosy and special because the customers appreciate ambience. Don't forget to visit a restroom, even if you don't really need to, sometimes it can be a masterpiece itself! This is, by the way, another reason why eating out in Yekaterinburg is more expensive than in many European cities. Before I realised this mentality difference, good European restaurants had been a disappointment to me because they had looked like regular student canteens although with delicious food. In Yekaterinburg you can be disappointed vice versa - grand interior may imply plain meal, especially if we talk about international cuisine. Irish, Italian, Mediterranean and other exotic cooking is relatively new to us and nobody knows how it should taste in reality. So made-in-Russia-pizza is usually something far away from real Italian pizza, let alone Mexican-Russian burritos or Russian sushi. Japanese cuisine has lately been a fad all over Russia but in the Urals far away from the sea we only have frozen fish thus it can hardly be sushi (some local cooks manage to stuff Japanese rolls with our favourite mayo!)

All said above leaves you one but a very good option - when in the Urals, choose cafes and restaurants with Russian cuisine, firstly you have nothing to compare it with, secondly it's really tasty. Here's a list of central places in Yekaterinburg with ambience as good as menu and no intentions to rip you off (all have English menu):

 Uralskie Pelmeni, Lenina 69/1 It used to be a posh Soviet restaurant - favourite place of Boris Yeltsin. Now it's a budget cafe with traditional Ural pelmeni (meat ravioli) and other Russian dishes. Good for foreigners as it has a buffet on the ground floor. Just get a tray and take what you fancy.

 Stolle, Gorkogo 7a; Lunacharskogo 82; 8 Marta 123; www.stolle.ru (in English) Cafe-pie network started in St. Petersburg, now bakes pirogi (pies) in Moscow and in three places in Yekaterinburg. Their meat, fish and sweet pirogi are always fresh, delicious and very filling. Friendly service, cosy atmoshere for very good prices.

 Mama's House, Lenina 26; www.mammas.ru  The cafe has a very central location and is popular with young people because it's opened 24 hours. Mama offers everything from pizzas to Russian solyanka soup and German strudels. Menu is only in Russian so go with a dictionary. Every table is supplied with sticky paper and pencils to write your messages and stick them all over the place.

 Pozharka, Malysheva 44; Lunacharskogo 128 www.cbr-group.ru/pojarka Pozharka is a beer-restaurant designed as a fire station with a full-sized fire-truck inside used as a bar. Cuisine is mainly Russian with Soviet odour. You can order a huge beer pitcher and listen to live music every weekend.

 Podkova, Lenina 28/2 www.podkowa.ru Podkova means a horse shoe. It's a restaurant with traditional Russian cuisine, designed as a Ural merchant house of the 19th century. Pricey but once in a life time everyone should try blini with caviar and a so exotic sturgeon!

 Dacha, Lenina 20 a This restaurant has the ambience of a Russian dacha (country house) and Russian cuisine. Marked in Lonely Planet Guide, however it's not very popular with the locals (probably they prefer their real dachas instead) so the place is always half empty, which can be a good point too.

Restoran CCCP, Pervomayskaya 27 www.cccp-r.ru  A typical Soviet restaurant for nostalgic Russians and curious foreign tourists. At the entrance you will confront a Russian bear (a stuffed bear). The toilet design is particularly interesting, at least in a ladies' room for all I know. At weekends you can enjoy live Soviet music and Disco of the 80's which is not really an enjoyment, frankly speaking, unless you are totally drunk.

 Ratskeller, 8 Marta St. 8b. www.ratskeller.ru The German restaurant is a foreigners-friendly place to sit & eat located in the downtown area. They hold German movie nights with friends from the Consulate General of Germany. You can enjoy a football (soccer) game on a big screen with your friends, and, of course, wonderful & delicious German food and the world-famous German beer! English menu. English-speaking staff.

Additionally there are many cheap Uzbekh cafes all over Yekaterinburg with tasty Asian food. Uzbechkas, as we call them here, are very popular with those who reject diets. Among the most beloved in the city are Nigora on Kuybysheva 55 and the Uzbekh cafe on Meteogorka (weather station hill)

And the last very important question I'm often asked: what do the figures next to dishes in the Russian menu mean? For example, Blini with strawberry jam  150/50    200p 

150/50 means dish weight in grams where blini weigh 150grams and strawberry jam - 50 grams, so that you can imagine the size of the portion and decide whether it's a too small or large portion. 200p is a price in roubles.

11Sep/100

Drinking in Russia

September 11 is an official Day of Sobriety in the Urals and all over Russia. The 1st day of Sobriety was initiated in 1911 by Russian Orthodox Church. The Church still encourages people to stop drinking. Obviously one day a year is not enough to change long lasting drinking traditions in Russia.

Vodka is extremely cheap and beer is even cheaper. That's why you can see public intoxication all over starting early in the morning. Men and women drinking beer at 8 a.m. on their way home after a night shift at the factory is a common thing in Yekaterinburg, especially in Uralmash (a residential district inhabited by the workers of large Uralmash plant) More than that, two travellers from France Alicia and Julien whom I met today, told me that they had seen an astonishing picture: a young woman was sharing a bottle of beer with her two year old child. I still have a slight hope that the woman was resourceful enough as to use an empty beer bottle for milk to feed her her child. It's a lame excuse though, I know...

Interestingly, my city Yekaterinburg used to have a very good reputation alcohol-wise. Back in 1733 a professor of sciences from St. Petersburg wrote about the Ural city - It's possible here to keep people from drinking without beating them! Quite a surprise, indeed. But how did it work? The head of Yekaterinburg and one of the city founders was General de Gennin. He was German and thanks to him the city got its German name Yekaterin-burg and the European shapes (for example all streets are straight like in NY going from north to south and from east to west) And it seems that only the Germans knew how to keep the Russians sober without violence. The solution is simple and it was used much later by Mrs. Thatcher in the UK in a less strict way. General de Gening ordered that vodka could be sold in Yekaterinburg only Sundays afternoon. The present government of the Ural Region has just banned selling alcohol after 22 p.m. Not that it helps much, probably will just teach people to buy in advance.

I'm sure you know how to drink moderately and for you I do recommend to buy a bottle of Russian vodka as a present. I happened to taste it in many different countries and my samplings proved that the best stuff is made in Russia. Just don't buy very cheap sorts for less than 300 roubles. And remember how to drink in Russian style: do not sip vodka, don't mix it with other drinks (by the way Russian vodka is never flavoured), drink with everyone after a toast is proposed. For some strange reason all the foreigners think that the Russians when drinking say Na zdorovye! (to your health) Please, tell me where it came from if you know because in reality the first toast is usually Za znakomstvo! (to our meeting! meaning it's nice to meet you) the second will be Za nas (to us!). Finally, Russian women in a romantic frame of mind tend to have the third toast Za lyubov (to love!) What comes after that will not really matter anymore...just don't forget zakusyvat - to eat something after each shot to be able to remember something.