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16Jul/120

Where to get a bird’s eye view of Yekaterinburg?

We now have a new must-see in Yekaterinburg – it’s a viewing platform of Vysotsky Business Center.

 

Vysotsky is the tallest skyscraper in Russia outside Moscow (188m and 54 floors). The tower was built in the city center on 51 Malysheva st. The building was involved in a big scandal before the construction of it started. The construction company destroyed a heritage-listed wooden house of 19th century. Officially it was a fault of single bulldozer driver who was subsequently sent to jail and because the house was no longer there the construction began.

Vysotsky is named after Vladimir Vysotsky, a Soviet poet, musician and an actor. Besides it’s a play on words: vysoky means tall in Russian. A bronze sculpture of Vladimir Vysotsky and his third wife a French actress Marina Vladi can be found behind the building.

Vladimir Vysotsky and Marina Vladi

The most interesting thing about Vysotsky is its viewing platform on the 52d floor. It was foggy when I got there, but you may take better pictures on a bright day or at night.

The viewing platform of Vysotsky is open daily 10am – 11pm. You can enter it once an hour at the beginning of each hour, i.e. at 13.00, 14.00, 15.00 etc. Entrance fee 250-300 rub

More information in English here: http://www.visotsky-e.ru/lookout/

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.

29Nov/110

Germans in the Urals

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.

4Feb/110

Boris Yeltsin in marble

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.

The building of the future presidential centre of B.Yeltsin

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.

27Dec/100

Are Ural Universities good for studying Russian?

Ural Federal University named after the first President of Russia B.N.Yeltsin is the biggest technical institution in Russia with a number of prominent graduates from comedians to politicians

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 A.M. Gorky State University on Lenin Avenue

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)

14Dec/100

The most beautiful house in Yekaterinburg

I’m often asked about a beautiful green three-storey building in the historical center of Yekaterinburg. What is there in the building and what is the story behind it?

The building is definitely the most beautiful in the city. It is Sevastyanov’s House. Nikolay Sevastyanov was a successful businessman. He made a fortune during Gold Rush in Yekaterinburg at the beginning of 18th century. Just like other merchants of provincial Yekaterinburg, Sevastyanov felt envious of his counterparts from Moscow and St. Petersburg. The Ural oligarchs might have more money but they didn’t have fame and nobility the Muscovites enjoyed. I should add here that Yekaterinburg residents have inherited the competitive spirit and still live with it. For example, Yekaterinburgers have a firm belief they live in the third major city in Russia (after Moscow and St. Petersburg of course). Despite the fact that Kazan officially patented the name of ‘Russia Third Capital’ in 2009, we still tend to call Yekaterinburg the third capital or at least the Capital of the Urals.

So Sevastyanov’s kitschy eclectic house was to make this statement – Yekaterinburg is not a provincial Godforsaken place. And speaking about God, Sevastyanov even sent a request to the Tsar to get permission to cover the roof with gold. That was too much, as only Churches in Russia may have golden domes so that God can notice them. For his daring intentions Sevastyanov was ordered to go to church every day wearing heavy iron-cast boots. Luckily for him, the church of St. Yekaterina was just across the street from his beautiful house.
Another interesting fact: the owner had never lived in his house. Sevastyanov rented it to rich visitors. He himself preferred a modest life-style and had a small wooden house behind the mansion. However, every day he would sit outside on a bench facing the big green house and watching passersby who would inevitably stop and gaze at his creation. Neither Sevastyanov nor the bench is no longer here but passersby continue gazing at the house with admiration.

And guess who was the last visitor to stay in Sevastyanov’s House? Mr. President of Russian Federation was the one. The house had served as president Medvedev's residence until summer 2010 when a newly built residence was made for him. People from the president’s circle stated that they had liked Sevestyanov’s House better.

25Nov/100

Boris Yeltsin. How to become the president of Russia?

Among the notable citizens of Yekaterinburg Boris Yeltsin’s name is the first that leaps to mind. An engineering graduate of the Ural Technical University, he was a Communist leader of Sverdlovskaya oblast and later became the first President of Russian Federation. I believe it’s still too early to judge about the benefits and contributions that Yeltsin made or failed to make to the country. One thing for sure, he was quite a character. To give you an idea what kind of a personality he was, here’s a story that may be turned into an interesting road-movie one day.

As a student, Boris had a passion for traveling and decided to explore our huge country (it was the USSR back then) by train during summer holidays. If he’d been a foreigner, he would have gone by Trans-Siberian as many of you would. But Yeltsin was Russian and the Russians tend to go south. So here’s Yeltsin’s itinerary:  Sverdlovsk – Kazan – Moscow – Leningrad – Minsk – Kiev – Simferopol – Yalta – Novorossiysk – Sochi – Sukhumi - Batumi – Rostov-on-Don – Volgograd – Saratov – Kuybyshev – Chelyabinsk – Sverdlovsk. It’s quite a long trip, isn’t it? Now it’s interesting to mention that Boris didn’t have money to buy train tickets. In fact, a poor student had no money at all. So he traveled on the train roofs. As you can see, the Indian slumdog millionaire wasn’t the first to do it! His friend gave up and got off on the second day of the journey but Yeltsin didn’t. He visited all the places of his itinerary.   Of course, he was stopped by the police from time to time. Boris would explain that he was going to visit his sick babushka in Simferopol. When asked about the address of the babushka he always said – Lenin St, 5. The thing is, every town in the USSR had Lenin Street and obviously had # 5. So the police would buy his story. The future president wasn’t the one to travel on the roof. A gang of ex-cons made him play a card game where the looser was to be thrown from the running train. Fortunately, Yeltsin won although had to give the criminals his grandfather’s watch. Boris even managed to make good money somewhere in Ukraine: he helped an officer to get prepared for an exam in mathematics and nearly fell in love with the officer’s wife who was feeding the Ural student with Ukrainian borsch and pirozhki. Finally, Yeltsin returned back to Sverdlovsk. By that time he looked like homeless in worn out pants, straw hat with holes and dusty sandals. He was sunburnt, skinny, happy and full of stories. 

I wonder if somebody would dare to repeat his trip these days (on the roof, of course)? May be it’s the road that leads to the presidency…

Yeltsin never forgot about his roots. He visited Yekaterinburg frequently and always appeared at classmates’ reunion parties. Now the Ural Technical University bears the name of Boris Yeltsin, there is a museum of the first Russian president in Yekaterinburg and one of the central streets is named after him.