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10May/120

Celebrating Easter in the country. Bym, Permsky Region

Permsky Region in Western Urals is doing its best to promote not only Ural cities but small villages. This spring a small village of Bym (30km to Kungur, 260 km to Yekaterinburg) welcomed tourists to celebrate Easter in a traditional Russian style. The village is planning to host similar fests every year. Their first try was certainly a success.

Very few people among those who arrived from Perm and Yekaterinburg knew folk songs and dances but everyone participated in a cheerful fest.

On that day everyone could go to the bell tower of the church to ring the bells and to enjoy a breathtaking view of the Urals.

The highlight of Bym is Belogorsky Monastery – a beautiful church up on the highest hill.

click here to see more photos:

13Apr/120

Happy Orthodox Easter! Churches of Yekaterinburg

On April 15th Russia is celebrating Orthodox Easter. Russian Easter has neither Easter bunnies nor chocolate eggs. Main symbols are hard boiled chicken eggs painted in different colors and kulich (Easter cake) Russians don’t have a day off on Monday after Easter Day but we have a nice tradition of ringing the bells. During a week after Easter you can go to any church up to the bell tower and ring the bells. This is good fun and the believers also say that it’s a healing activity, i.e. the sound of the church bells can heal you!

The most famous church to go is the Church on the Blood.

The Church on the Blood has 16 bells. The largest weighs 9 tonns

The Church on the Blood was consecrated on the 16th of July, 2003. It was in this place that the Royal Family of the last Russian Tsar Nicholas II was killed on the night of July 16, 1918. The inclusion of this place into the structure of the church makes it unique. The full name of the church is ‘the Church on the Blood in Honor of All the Saints Radiating in the Land of Russia’. The church consists of two chapels: the upper one is consecrated in the name of all the Saints Radiating in the Land of Russia, and after which the church itself was named, and the lower one is dedicated to the Holy Royal Martyrs.

Iconostasis on the ground floor

After the consecration of the church, Archbishop Vikenty, head of the local Orthodox diocese, made this address: “We all know that a violent crime occurred at this very place, and thus the unity between the church and secular authorities was destroyed. But now this church stands as a symbol of their reunion and puts an end to their enmity and destruction. From this day forward, this church will be a symbol of repentance, unity and revival of our homeland.”

But the main church in Yekaterinburg is not the Church on the Blood. It’s St. Trinity Cathedral on Kuybysheva st.

St Trinity Cathedral is the main church in the city

The Cathedral was lucky, the Bolsheviks didn’t destroy it like the rest of them. They only took away the golden dome and the bells from the tower. The body of the Cathedral was used a Soviet cinema ‘Rot-Front’ with 500 seats.

The only church that functioned in the city in the Soviet era was the Church of St. Iowan.

St Iowan Church on Repina st.

This small cemetery church was built in 1846. After the Revolution of 1917 the Bolsheviks demolished 43 churches in Yekaterinburg. However, during the Second World War Stalin decided to ease restrictions on churches to appeal to people’s patriotism. So the church wasn’t destroyed but, of course, Father Nikolay, the priest of the church had to be on friendly terms with the KGB.

Today, there are 28 Orthodox Churches in Yekaterinburg. So welcome to the bell towers on 16-22 of April!

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!

8Feb/123

Mammoth, lizard and the Queen of the Urals. Russian legends.

The Queen of the Copper Mountain is a famous character of the Ural folk stories. Every child in Russia knows a fairy tale written by Pavel Bazhov.

It says that the Queen of the Copper Mountain is a beautiful young lady who owns all the treasures hidden in the Ural Mountains. Very few people met her because she turns into a lizard every time a man comes up. There was one lucky man though: Danila, a local miner. The Queen of the Copper Mountain fell in love with him. She showed him where her gold was, in return Danila had to stay with her deep underground. The man refused for he had a fiancée at home. The Queen was kind enough to let Danila go. She even gave him a present for his fiancée. As Danila got back home he gave the present, a malachite box full of treasures, to his future bride.

However, he never married the girl, for he went insane and for the rest of his days he was dreaming of the Queen of the Copper Mountain…

This winter I was guiding a group of the 2020 Expo Committee. Yes, I should add here that Yekaterinburg is bidding to host Expo 2020 along with Dubai, San Paulo and Izmir (Turkey). We went to the border of Europe and Asia and there she was…the Queen of the Copper Mountain greeting us with karavai (a loaf of bread with salt in the middle, that you bake specially for greeting important guests)

The Queen of the Copper Mountain on the Euro-Asia border

It was a bright sunny day with -20 Celcius so the members of the Committee from Moscow, the USA and Australia felt very uncomfortable, to say the least. The Queen didn’t show us any gold loads but she had something more valuable in store: 40% proof Russian vodka! My guests couldn’t be happier. This is how you begin treasuring simple pleasures…

If you are coming to Yekaterinburg you can book a meeting with the Queen of the Copper Mountain on the Euro-Asia border but it’s better to do for large groups. It’s quite pricey for a group of two or three tourists.

But back to the Queen or is she a lizard? A legend of a giant lizard with horns was known in the Urals since the time of the cavemen. Ancient Mansi tribes called the lizard Mammoth. So the name ‘mammoth’ came from the Urals only the Mansis were mistaken about its appearance.

The coat of arms of Sverdlovsk with a sable (left) and a lizard (right)

When the first Russian gold was found in the Urals in 1745, a lizard came to focus again. In fact, its importance can be scientifically approved: lizards choose the warmest stone in the woods to rest on and the warmest stones are the ones with gold veins underneath. In other words, follow a lizard and you may find gold as there is still plenty of it in the Urals!

Lizard with a golden crown is a common souvenir to buy in Yekaterinburg

You can find many souvenirs with the image of a lizard with a crown in Yekaterinburg. The same lizard was in the coat of arms of Sverdlovsk (the previous name of Yekaterinburg in the Soviet times)

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.

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.

4Oct/110

What to do in the Urals in October?

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

Belaya Mountain

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

Nature Park Olenyi Ruchyi

our driver Julia

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!

30Aug/110

Welcome to Cuba – a green island in Yekaterinburg

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 

9Aug/110

The oldest cemetery in Yekaterinburg

Many tourists, as I noticed, like visiting Russian cemeteries, apparently because they are so different from those in the West. Yekaterinburg is famous for two mafia cemeteries but there is also Ivanovskoye cemetery in the centre. The oldest cemetery in the city traces the history of Yekaterinburgers from rich merchants of 19th century to Gulag prisoners and the killers of the Romanovs.

Church of St, Iowan is the main church of Yekaterinburg

Ivanovskoye cemetery is hidden behind the blue church on Repina Street, 6A next to the city prison and opposite the Central Stadium. The Church of St. Iowan is the only one that worked in the Soviet Sverdlovsk. During the Second World War Stalin decided to ease restrictions on churches to appeal to people’s patriotism. So the church wasn’t destroyed but, of course, Father Nikolay, the priest of the church had to be on friendly terms with the KGB. Local merchants the Telegins built the church in 1846. The family was buried behind the church. These are the oldest tombstones here.

The cemetery is pretty much neglected. You can only walk along the main alley. The most prominent citizens were buried here in Stalin’s times. A few steps further to the bushes and you will see simple gravestones with Soviet stars – the graves of 1920s-30s. Some graves have just markers with names of the so-called ‘enemies of the USSR’, the victims of repressions.

A small square on the alley has a monument to local writer Bazhov. On the left side from it you will find a gravestone of Petor Ermakov – one of the murderers of the tsar’s family. He was the one who stabbed the children with his bayonet when they were still alive lying on the blood splattered floor of Ipatiev House. When the house became a Museum of Revolution, Ermakov did excursions there, telling people how he killed the Romanovs. No wonder that his gravestone is splashed with red paint now.

You can get to Ivanovskoye cemetery by trolley buses 3 and 17. They run past the main train station and Church on Blood. Get off at Central Stadium.

5Aug/110

Visim – the land of ostriches and old believers

Visim is a village located in National Park Visimsky, 50 km from Nizhni Tagil and 195 km to the North-West of Yekaterinburg. Why is it worth visiting? First of all, you’ll be able to see the real Ural Mountains. On your way to Visim, right on the border between Europe and Asia you pass Gora Belaya – one of the highest mountains in Middle Urals (705m). It has a well equipped skiing resort (www.gorabelaya.ru) and a chairlift operates all year long. On a sunny day you can see the village of Visim from the top of the mountain.

The landscape around Visim can be compared to Switzerland. No wonder that top local businessmen and the former Governor of Sverdlovskaya Oblast have their dachas in the area. The nearby village Uralets is the place where so-called ‘bad silver’ (first Ural platinum) was found in 1824. By 1917 Middle Urals was supplying 90% of the world’s platinum. They say you can still find platinum in local rivers.

Visim is not only a perfect retreat to breathe in fresh air and enjoy wild nature. It is also a good anthropological destination to learn more about Russian inhabitants. The village was founded in 1741 as a settlement around ironworks. The factory belonged to the Demidoffs – a famous dynasty of successful merchants in the Urals who later moved to Florence and became related to Napoleon. They brought their serfs from Ukraine and Tula (western Russia) to Visim and hired the already settled Old Believers who had fled to the Urals from Novgorod in the 1720s.

 “Three Ends”, the novel by the Visim-born writer Mamin-Sibiryak, depicts lifestyles in three areas of the village. Differences can still be seen in wooden architecture – Ukrainian and Tula houses have bright colours and elaborate décor. Old Believers’ houses look dark, solid and have shutters. Over time Ukrainian and Tula villagers assimilated as both liked wine and celebrations. Old Believers, however, managed to preserve their culture and austere customs. They are known as very hard-working, non-drinking strong people. Life expectancy in Visim is very high among Old Believers, some women reach 95. To date, there are several young men in the village who claim they are Old Believers.

The population in Visim is now 1200 although in the Soviet times it was 7000. It is interesting that the villagers do not like to promote Visim. They are afraid that new-comers may spoil their quiet rural life – unlike in many other decaying Russian villages, this one looks very neat. A local businessman helps the village to survive. He is currently building a mini-hotel and a church in Visim. The businessman is of course an Old Believer. Visim has two Museums: Museum of the writer Mamin-Sibiryak and Museum of Local Crafts. Public celebrations and festivals are held during Christmas holidays and Maslenitsa (Pan Cake carnival). There is a decent café Kedr in the centre of the village.

in the museum of Mamin Sibiryak

The highlight of Visim is a deer farm. The same local businessman bought herds of Saika Deer and Caspian Red Deer; in Russia they are called Siberian stags or Marals. The deers' velvet antlers are used to produce immune stimulant and anti-cancer medicine which the owner of the farm gives to his employees.

Book the tour to Belaya Mt and the Deer Farm here: http://yekaterinburg4u.ru/en/tours/northern-urals

The excursion in the farm is 50 roubles. Make sure you bring some bread to feed deer. They especially like baton (sweet white bread).

A year ago the farmers received an unexpected gift – three abandoned ostriches on the farm doorstep. The birds outlived their first winter on the farm. It turned out that ostriches can endure temperatures down to -20, not that they liked it though.

Petrovich, the ostrich

and his girlfriend

Since spring 2011 the farm has adopted five Yakut horses. There is no worry about their survival. Yakut horses will probably take Ural winters for a summer holiday.

photo from www.E1.ru

Book the tour to Belaya Mt and the Deer Farm here: http://yekaterinburg4u.ru/en/tours/northern-urals

Getting there by car: 115 km down Serovsky Trakt. Pass Lenevka Sanatorium and turn left to detour around Nizhni Tagil, then turn to Chernoistochinsk-Uralets and drive 50 km more. To enter Visim,  turn left from the highway. To go to the farm go 300m straight on. The farm is the next right turn from the highway. You will see a sign in Russian 'ostriches, deer'

Getting there by bus: there are buses from Nizhni Tagil Main Bus Station. Take a bus bound for Visimo-Utkinsk and get off at Visim bus stop.

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AskUral.com is the blog dedicated to my lovely region known as the Urals or the Ural Mountains in Russia.

My name is Luba Suslyakova. I am based in Yekaterinburg (Russia), and I would love to share useful information about my area as much as possible and be your travel adviser.

Just keep asking me via the contact form and I will come back to you with answers!

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