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5Oct/100

Ural rock – discovering the local psyche

Last weekend I chatted to Rick, an Englishman in Yekaterinburg. Rick used to work in the music industry in London and now he teaches English in the Urals. Naturally, we talked about music. It turned out that Rick is a huge fan of the Ural rock bands even though they sing in Russian. So he gave me an idea to share the phenomenon of Ural rock with you. This is a story about the bands that had and still enjoy a huge following all over Russia and former Soviet territories. What's more important, they made Sverdlovsk-Yekaterinburg a leading music scene in 1980s - early 1990s

Rock music in the USSR was a protest against the regime and mainly became a prerogative of engineering intelligentsia. With a large number of technical engineering institutions in Yekaterinburg (those days Sverdlovsk) no wonder so many rock bands sprang up here before Perestroika. Nautilus Pampilius was one of the most prominent bands of that time. Though often criticised for being too pop, this band formed the core of the Soviet rock phenomenon due to their unusual unsoviet style and their lyrics targeted at social problems. A charismatic front man Vyacheslav Butusov disbanded Nautilus in 1997 when the era of Perestroika turmoils came to an end. He moved to St Petersburg and formed a new band there U-Peter. However, the piercing songs of Nautilus Pampilius are still very popular and sound very much up to date. I particularly love their hit Goodbye America. Butusov is singing about the place behind an iron curtain he will never be able to see. In 1988 it seemed a very true imposibility. 

Yekaterinburg music scene of the 90s is connected with the name of Agatha Christie. The post punk band had nothing to do with English detectives though. It was formed by the Samoylovs brothers, the students of the Ural State Technical University (now named after its famous graduate Boris Yeltsin). The brothers didn't get much into politics and sang about love and deception in a gloomy murky manner so natural to the lost generation of the new Russian country. Agatha Christie proved to be a long lasting project. The Samoylovs brothers started in 1988 and broke up only this year. Here is their top hit of 1993 Kak na Voyne (Like at War)

The real dinosaurs or veterans of the Ural rock are Chaif. The name is a combination of the words chai - tea and kaif - feeling high. The thing is that during the rehearsals the Soviet rockers in the Ural Rock Club were drinking liters of ... tea (those were innocent times) Probably, that was the reason why the band formed in 1985 still works in full swing. Chaif are the best representative of the Ural rock as unlike other bands they didn't move to Moscow or St. Petersburg for better career prospects. They live in Yekaterinburg and regularly take part in charities and activities of the local community: volunteer to clean the city parks and speak against the authorities' decision to tear down wooden houses of the last centuries in the city centre, that has recently become a burning issue in Yekateriburg. Chaif plays a mix of rock and roll and blues sometimes with reggae influence as in their son Argentina - Jamaica 5:0 written after World Cup 1998. They can easily gather a crowd of 20 thousand fans as it was in Moscow at their 20th Anniversary. Chaif 1991 hit Oy-yo Nikto ne Uslyshit (Oy-yo, No one will hear) is definitely their trademark song about existential crisis of a Post-Soviet man.

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.

8Sep/103

What to see on Europe-Asia border?

The border of Europe and Asia is one of the must-visit sights in the vicinity of Yekateriburg. To get there you will need a car as it's right on the highway. Buses don't stop there and there are no trains.But it's only 17 km west from Yekaterinburg so you can take a taxi even. Beware, taxi drivers may try to charge you more because you are a foreigner so don't agree on more than 500 roubles (12 euro)

The border mark is on the right side of Moskovsky trakt (highway) that used to be Great Siberian Road. Russian Tsars (including the present ones) had a habit to exile their political foes and other convicts as far away from the capital as possible i.e. to Siberia. Hundreds of exiled would pass Yekaterinburg in shackles everyday down the same road that you will go to the border. Think about it when you travel by Trans-Siberian from Moscow to Yekaterinburg. That's only half way the others had to walk!

Back to the border mark. It's relatively new. The monument was erected in 2004 and represents two interwined letters A and E. There you can happily put one foot in Europe and other in Asia while your friend or a driver takes a picture of you.

Is there anything else to see on the border? Yes, there is. Russian weddings! If you go there on Friday or Saturday you are sure to spot many of them. It's a tradition in Russia that newlyweds hire a limo and cruise around the city visiting the sights where they can take nice pictures for their wedding albums. At the same time they continue drinking so don't be surprised to find a lot of empty champagne bottles on the border and locks with newlyweds' names. That's a new wedding tradition that came from Italy, I believe. A bride usually doesn't mind being photographed by everyone so you can easily take some pictures of Russian weddings for your album. And if you are lucky they may even invite you to the evening party. Don't say No. It's quite an experience, a lot of food and drinks guaranteed! Tourists usually wonder what it is that guests chant that causes a newly married couple to kiss in public. They chant Gor'ko! (bitter) meaning life is bitter, show us something sweet.

Now, there is a bitter side of the story. Every second wedding in Russia ends up in a divorce. It's not the case of the couple on the picture though. Those guys are happily married and have a child.

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