Every Russian child knows that Father Frost (Ded Moroz) brings New Year presents. Most of us were very much disappointed in our childhood, when we found out that Father Frost was in fact your dad or a family friend. In 1990s when the borders were opened, Russian kids could go to Finland to meet Santa Clause in his residence in Lapland, but they got no clue where a tall red-nosed Father Frost with his beautiful granddaughter Snegurochka (their family relations are still arguable) come from.
The government of Moscow initiated building the official residence for Father Frost in 1998. The residence is in Veliky Ustyugin of Vologodosky Region (1568km from Yekaterinburg) has since become a popular destination for children from all over Russia during winter holidays. A four day trip for two persons by train will set you back from 15000 roubles to 25000 roubles. The official website http://www.dom-dm.ru is a big surprise as it has only an English version.
But let’s be realistic, a real Father Frost should be living somewhere amidst the snow of Siberia. It’s too warm in Veliky Ustyug and together with the Moscow government’s involvement the whole story sounds fishy even to a 7 year old.
Another residence of Father Frost is set in Abalak near Tobolsk, western Siberia. Fortunately, it’s much closer to Yekaterinburg. The distance between Yekaterinburg and Tobolsk is 536 km. The Abalak tourist village is built in the Siberian style of wooden architecture in the area of Abalaksky Monastery. The wooden village tells the story of the first fortresses built by the Cossacks in the 16th century when they were conquering the Urals and Siberia.
Besides, Abalak is inhabited by the characters of Russian fairy tales. Baba Yaga, a witch, lives in Abalak in her chicken-legged cabin and treats guests to hot piroggi and bliny. Father Frost is greeting children there from 24 December to 8 January. Meanwhile Russian beauties in the White Owl tavern offer tasty Siberian dishes and drinks made of Siberian berries. Guests can also go sleighing, skiing or riding. Father Frost’s residence has a farm with horses, deer, cows, sheep and raccoons.
The website of Father Frost’s Siberian residence: http://www.abalak.su (in Russian)
The price list is modest (payment per person upon arrival)
Entrance - 50 roubles
Meeting Father Frost - 100 roubles
Lunch - 300 roubles
Sweet gift from Father Frost - 250 roubles
You can stay overnight in the hotel of Abalak with finely carved wooden furniture. A room for two persons costs 5000 roubles from Mon. to Thu. and 6000 roubles at weekends. Alternatively, there is Slavyanskaya Hotel in Tobolsk that will hit your wallet for 3000 roubles per person.
Getting to Abalak: From Yekaterinburg take the road via Tymen in the direction of Tobolsk. Before entering Tobolsk go down the bridge across the river Irtysh and turn to the right following the sign to the village of Probrazhenka and the village of Abalak.
There are many trains bound for Tobolsk. I suggest taking train #310. 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. Note, that Tobolsk and Abalak are not on the Trans-Siberian route!
All photos by Alexey Kolmakov, courtesy of www.nashural.ru
I got this question from several expats in Yekaterinburg – Are there any foreign friendly taxi companies in the city?
I’m afraid there aren’t many phone operators in the taxi companies who speak English here. However you can always order a taxi from the website, i.e. you still need to read Russian and at best have a Russian phone number as you receive a text message when your car is arriving.
Once you arrive in Yekaterinburg, you need to know about the websites, phone companies and certain addresses. And here they are:
www.koltsovo.ru Ul. Sputnikov 6 tel. +7 434 2644202
getting there: by buses #1, 29, 67
Main Train Station (Vokzal)
Ul. Vokzalnaya 22 Tel +7 343 3583211
Getting there by trams # 3, 5, 7, 12, 21, 23, 27, 32, A
By trolleybuses # 1, 3, 5, 9, 11, 15, 17, 19
By busses # 1, 21, 23, 31
by Metro - Uralskaya Station
Nothern Bus Station (Severny Avtovokzal)
www.sa66.ru Ul. Vokzalnaya 15A Tel. +7 343 3584168
Getting there: see directions to the Main Train Station
TopTaxi www.2223030.ru tel. +7 343 2223030
Automig www.automig.su tel. +7 343 3450450
Sky www.taxisky.ru tel. +7 343 2388888
Tri Desyatki www.3101010.ru tel. +7 343 3101010
Auto Plus Rent a Car www.autoplusrent.ru tel. +7 343 2647400 Ul. Bakhchivandzhi 1 (Airport Koltsovo)
Apis Auto www.apisfirm.ru tel. +7 343 2576249 Ul. Vainera 516
Imperia Auto www.imavto.ru tel. +7 343 2138585 Ul. Malysheva 53
MTS www.e-burg.mts.ru Ul. Vainera 12 (09:00 – 22.00)
Beeline www.ekb.beeline.ru Ul. 8 Marta, 8B (09:00 – 21:00)
Megafon www.megafon.ru Ul. Malysheva 122 (Mon-Fri 09:00-18.00)
Motiv www.ycc.ru Ul Sheinkmana 57 (09:00 – 20.00)
Central Post Office (Pochta)
www.e-burg.uralpost.ru Ul. Lenina 39 (Mon-Fri: 08:00-22:00 Sat-Sun: 09:00-18:00)
www.shop.ekburg.ru Ul. 8 Marta, 21 (Mon-Fri: 10.00-19.00)
Emergency Station (open 24 hours)
Travmpunkt #2 Ul. Bazhova 124a tel. +7 343 3503259
Doctor Plus www.doc-plus.ru/traumacenter Prospect Lenina 7, tel. +7 343 2120606
If you think of any other useful websites and directions, let me know and I'll add them here 🙂
for information on hotels and hostels in Yekaterinburg click here:
for eating and meeting foreigners in the city click here:
Every sun rise is beautiful and it’s similarly beautiful in any part of the world. I spotted my October sun rise in a strange place near Novouralsk, a closed town behind the wall 90 km north of Yekaterinburg.
The town was known as Sverdlovsk-44 in the Soviet times and it was absolutely unknown to the rest of the world until 1994. Since that year it’s not a secret town but a closed town due to the Ural Electro Chemical Plant built there during World War II. Novouralsk had the first mountain ski track in the Urals but very few people from the outside world could go skiing there (population of the town is 85.519)
Another treasure of Novouralsk is Verkhneyvenski pond with beaches and a yacht club.
The pond is outside the town thus you don’t have to go through the control post which you won’t be able to do anyway. Boat and yacht rentals are available in summer.
Getting there: by car from Novo-Moskovsky trakt drive through Pervouralsk. By any local train bound for Nizhni Tagil. Get off at Verkh-Neyvinsk Station. Novouralsk is on the left side, you will see it behind the barbed wire. The pond is on the right side. And the sun rise is for every one!
watch the sunrise by clicking here:
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? -
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Monastery Ganina Yama, the burial place of the Romanovs (17km from Yekaterinburg) is changing all the time. Some of the wooden churches get burnt, then restored again. The first stone church is being built now. So, even if you have been to Ganina Yama already, there is always something new and interesting to see. Recently, a bust of tsarina Alexandra appeared on the central valley of the monastery.
German Princess Alix of Hesse and by Rhine, a favourite granddaughter of Queen Victoria was given a Russian name Alexandra Feodorovna as she married Nicolas II. The new tsarina was heartily disliked in Russia from the very beginning. She seemed very reserved in public, ignored Russian culture and the court in St. Petersburg. Her obsession with mysticism and relationships with a controversial ‘holy man’ Rasputin didn’t add popularity. When the Romanovs were kept in the Ipatyev house in Yekaterinburg, Alix drew swastika and other cabalistic signs for good luck, which later gave rumors that it could be a ritual murder.
Alix didn’t manage to learn Russian, so the family members spoke mainly English in the palace. However, she was a fervent Orthodox believer. Russian Orthodox Church canonized her in 2000 as Saint Alexandra the Passion Bearer.
Interestingly, the Romanovs are now presented by the church as saints above criticism. The monastery in Ganina Yama as well as Church on Blood in Yekaterinburg offer the so-called Orthodox excursions run by special Orthodox guides. No other guides are allowed to show tourists around. But there are many good books you can read on the subject and not to be baffled. One of them is Ekaterinburg by Helen Rappaport . A vivid account of the final fourteen days of the Romanovs will give you an idea of what was going on during those days not only in the Ipatyev house, but all over Russia and abroad.
Book the tour to Ganina Yama here: http://yekaterinburg4u.ru/en/tours/monastery-ganina-yama
Summer is short, so don’t miss a chance to do a short eco-tour to Lake Shartash. You can walk in the forest, climb ancient rocks, ride a bicycle, go swimming and sunbathing on the beach, what’s more it’s all within Yekaterinburg so you don’t need a car to get there!
Shartash in the east of Yekaterinburg is one of the oldest lakes in the Urals - 1 million years old. It has a shape of a bean; its area is 7 sq.km. Shartash means a yellow stone therefore don’t be afraid of the yellowish waters – it’s not dangerous for swimming. First gold in the Urals was discovered in the lake area in 1745. The bottom of the lake has granite deposits and sapropel.
Getting there: from Lenin Prospect you can go by trams 8,13,15,23,32, “A” or any mini bus that has a weird abbreviation ‘40 let VLKSM’ (in English it means ‘40 years of All-Union Leninist Young Communist League’ – it’s actually the name of a tram stop) You need to get off at Kamennie Palatki on Viysotskogo Street. Cross the street, you will see a big sign Shartashsky Les (forest of Shartash) and stone steps leading up the rock. Climb the steps and you get to Kamennie Palatki:
Kamennie Palatki (stone tents) is something of the same significance in Russia as Stonehenge in England. The natural monument of the Iron Age is a wall of granite formed by the volcano eruption. Granite layers look like piles of huge pancakes. Archeologists found out that ancient people used the place as an altar.
Nowadays Yekaterinburgers bring food and drinks to Kamennie Palatki too, but instead of sacrifice they make picnics.
Get down back to the street and walk about 400 m. eastward, the forest is on your left. Turn left in front of the petrol station. Cross a railway crossing. To rent a bicycle walk straight on to the forest, the lake is on your right. Continue walking till you see a sign on your right Sportivnaya Baza. Alternatively, from the railway crossing turn right and walk to Sundali Beach http://www.sundali-land.ru
Bicycle rentals are open daily from 10a.m. to 8p.m. 1 hour is 100-200roubles. Bring a passport or driver’s license with you to rent a bicycle. Don’t worry about the passport - it’s a common practice in Russia when a rental company keeps your document while you keep a bicycle.
The cycling trail around the lake is 12.5 km. Near the village of Shartash you have to cycle about 2 km on the highway as there is no trail by the lake which is inconvenient especially with children. My favourite route is along the lake anti-clockwise to Izoplit village and back. It takes one hour and apart from peaceful nature you will see an interesting site in Izoplit: shabby wooden huts standing next to mansions of rich Yekaterinburgers:
And on the opposite side of the same street...
Shartash is a closed lake. It has about 50 springs and no outflows. The lake is getting shallow; it’s now 2-3m. deep and scientists predict it may turn into a swamp in 50-70 years. I hope you will find some time to visit this beautiful ancient lake before it disappears.
Whenever I have a day off in summer I go to Shartash for a ride. You are more than welcome to join me 😉
Last week I got a question from Nicole. She is arriving from Berlin in August and she would like to see some mountains. When you are going to the Urals you expect to see a landscape similar to that in the Alps. But the reality is different and the first thing that tourists ask is “where are the mountains?” – Hmm, actually, everywhere to the North, South or West from Yekaterinburg.
The closest mountain skiing resort is Gora Volchikha (520m) It’s 40 km to the west near the town of Revda http://www.volchixa.ru But the slope is closed in summer time and there are no chair lifts or trails for trekking. The same story is with other mountains in the vicinity.
The only one mountain with good infrastructure all year long is Gora Belaya - 705m (White Mountain) 150 km north to Yekaterinburg. The long drive is worth it as on your way you can also visit two interesting Ural towns: Nevyansk and Nizhni Tagil.
The Regional Government invested a lot of money to promote the mountain as the best resort in Middle Urals. The plan was to make it a training ground for the Olympics. Gora Belaya hasn’t become popular all over Russia yet. To date, it is only visited by the locals. Thus a hotel, restaurants, saunas and a swimming pool are deserted most of the year. But our government doesn’t give up, so the resort is open every day from 10 to 22 and the staff will start the chair lift for you even if you are the only visitor.
Book the tour to Belaya Mt here: http://yekaterinburg4u.ru/en/tours/northern-urals
As I took these photos on May 9th there were 4 visitors - 3 German tourists and I.
In summer you can also rent a bicycle, roller skates and race in go-cart. The website has prices and maps (only in Russian) http://www.gorabelaya.ru/
by car from Yekaterinburg: 115 km down Serovsky Trakt. Pass Lenevka Sanatorium and turn left to detour around Nizhni Tagil, then turn to Chernoistochinsk-Uralets. Turn left at the obelisk on the Europe-Asia border and drive 2 km towards the car park.
By public transport from Yekaterinburg: take any bus, minibus or a local train to Nizhni Tagil. From the main bus station in Nizhni Tagil (which is next to the train station) take bus 113 directly to Belaya. Bus runs twice a day at 10.40 and 15.00 from the city and at 12.20 and 16.30 from Gora Belaya.