To make it easy for you to decide on what tours you would like to have in the Urals, I've made these pictures with short descriptions in English and in Russian (just click on each picture to read the description)
These are 8 most popular trips in Yekaterinburg and around. Some are short and some take a whole day. So when you travel by Trans-Siberian, make sure to see one of these sights of middle Urals!
Book the tours here: http://yekaterinburg4u.ru/en/
Plus a special winter tour:
Book the tours here: http://yekaterinburg4u.ru/en/
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)
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.
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!
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)
Russian Germans (Russkie Nemtzy) is a generalized term used in the Russian language to name the people whose forefathers moved to Russia before the Revolution or were sent to labour camps during the Great Patriotic War in the USSR. Many of them migrated to Germany in 1990s but some decided to stay. For instance, my elderly neighbor babushka Anna said she was too old to integrate into the western society. Assuming that she lived in the industrial town of Nizhni Tagil, she had probably been a victim of Stalin repressions but she never spoke about it.
There are about 600 000 Russian Germans living in Russia today, over 20 000 of them live in Middle Urals. The Festival of German Culture in Russia was held for the first time in November in Yekaterinburg. About 200 of Russian Germans came from different parts of the Urals to share what they have preserved: folk songs and dances, national costumes and German quisine. By the way, the first Governer of Sverdlovskaya Oblast , Eduard Rossel is Russian German too. Other famous Russian Germans in the Urals are fellow artists Lew Weiber and Michail Distergeft.
Both were sent to Gulag and spent their youth working in coal mines in Karpinsk (Northern Urals). They were released After the Second World War. Weiber studied at the college of Arts in Sverdlovsk (now Yekaterinburg). Distergeft did the same in Nizhni Tagil. Of course, they were ‘ne vyezdnie’ (not permitted to travel abroad). There was a term Inner Emigration in Soviet artists’ lexicon in 1960s. It meant that looking for harmony the artists preferred to retreat to nature in order to create something for themselves and for a close circle of friends.
Yekaterinburg Gallery of Modern Art (www.uralgallery.ru) exhibited the paintings of Weiber and Distergeft as a part of the Festival of German Culture. The exhibition was called “The nature of memory. The memory of nature” It had Weiber’s landscapes of the Urals and graphic works by Gistergeft who portrayed the life of the Germans in labour camps. The graphic works were made in 1990s when Distergeft lived in Oranienburg, Germany.
This Sunday is the last day of the Pancake week also known as Maslenitsa. Maslenitsa is a pagan sun festival in Slavic mythology, celebrating the end of winter. The weather in Yekaterinburg didn’t indicate the imminent end though. It was -7 with heavy snows in the morning. But colorful Maslenitsa in Kharitonovsky Park (entrance on Shevchenko street) was in full swing.
Maslenitsa is celebrated here every year at the end of February - early March. It’s not only about eating pancakes – symbol of the sun. Maslenitsa also suggests snowball fighting for children, fist fighting for grown up men, sleigh riding and sledding. At the end of the party the straw effigy of Maslenitsa is put to the flames of a bonfire. The main events were held on the ice of the lake in Kharitonovsky Park. The ice is still very thick and it will remain so untill April.
This Sunday is also called Sunday of Forgiveness, so don’t be surprised if a stranger comes up to you and says ‘Forgive me for everything’.
Enjoy the photos and forgive me for not sharing the tasty Altay honey with you that I’ve bought there!
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.
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.
New Year celebration in Russia does not stop until mid. January. The party is not over yet for there is Staryi Novyi God (Old New Year) to be celebrated on January 13-14. A strange word combination doesn’t seem meaningless to the Russians at all. While Orthodox Christmas is celebrated on January 7, it’s only logical that New Year comes a week after. And it used to be so until 1918 according to the Julian calendar. After the revolution of 1917 the Bolsheviks replaced it with the New Style Gregorian calendar used in the western countries by shifting 14 days backwards. Russian Orthodox Church, however, decided to stick to the roots and still live in the Old Style. Hence, Christmas and New Year are celebrated in January.
Old New Year is not a national holiday in Russia, thanks God! The official 10 day holiday in January is already much too much. New Year in Old Style is just a good excuse for TV channels to repeat their New Year shows. It’s also a good chance to eat up the leftovers of the Christmas party and hit the last bottle and to ease the post holiday shock. Of course, in some cases instead of easing the shock one can end up in rehab.
You can celebrate Old New Year in the main square of any Russian city – the party ambience with a Christmas tree is still there. I took pictures in the Theater Square of Nizhni Tagil for you. It is the second largest city in the Mid. Urals. With dressed up horses and a drunk accordion player, this New Year fair looks very much Old Style!
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 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)
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!
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.
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)
On the first day of winter Russian director Rinat Timerkaev presented his new animated film I Love You. The film shows his native city Yekaterinburg in spring and based on Marina Chengikmakher's poetry.
More info about the film on Rinat's blog (in Russian) http://timerkaev.livejournal.com/
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!