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26Oct/170

Fairy Tale Park and Bazhov’s Malachite Box

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Park Skazov (Fairy Tale Park) is a themed park mainly for children based on the fairy tales by the Ural author Pavel Bazhov and other Russian folk stories.

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Pavel Bazhov (1879 - 1950) was born in the town of Sysert 30km South of Yekaterinburg. Then he moved to Yekaterinburg. When working as a journalist he traveled a lot in the Urals collecting the local folklore. His most famous book The Malachite Box is a collection of the fairy tale from the Urals. All the places in the tales are non-fiction but the real proper names of lakes, mountains and villages of the Ural Mountains.

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One of the main characters Danila, the craftsman is a prototype of Danila Zverev, a well known jeweler in Sverdlovsk Region whom Bazhov knew personally. The central character of the Malachite Box is the Mistress of the Copper Mountains. She is believed to be the owner of the Ural gems who lives in the cave and looks like a lizard but occasionally turns into an attractive woman wearing a green (malachite colored) dress.

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The Mistress of the Copper Mount meets tourists in the park's cave and asks them tricky questions. If you answer correctly she agrees to open her treasure box and shows the Ural gems.

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In Granny Nina's house children can play with puppets of Danila the craftsman, the deer called the Silver Shoe and other characters of well knonn Bazhov's fairy tales.

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You can also rest on the oven (a traditional place for sleeping in the wooden izba) and feed the animals outside.

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Baba Yaga is a witch from Russian fairy tales also appears as a character and an animator in the park. According to the fairy tales she lives in a house with chicken legs. Even though she looks like a scary witch in the end she is a friendly Russian babushka who lets you in her weird house.

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Finally the Park has the residence of the Moroz Ural (Frost Ural). Although he points out that he is not the Father Frost who comes to Russian kids with gifts on New Year eve, the concept is very similar.

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Generally the Park of the Fairy Tales is of course designed for Russian children, ut the adults and foreign guests may find it amusing too especially if you speak Russian and if you do the homework - read the Malachite Box by Pavel Bazhov. By the way, it was translated into English so you can find it on Amazon.

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Fairy Tale Park is located in Aramil (20km South of Yekaterinburg) Park Skazov st, 1. http://parkskazov.ru/

Opened for individual visitors: Fri-Sun 10.00 - 18.00. For organized groups the park works during a working week as well.

17Aug/170

Watch how foreign tourists experience wild life in Ural Mountains

Watch a short film about two tourists from Hong Kong Kong Wai Po and Ball who came to the Urals for trekking and hiking in Taganai National Park.

Sometimes they weren't sure if they could climb the highest peaks but finally they did it thanks to their professional guide Ilia Gerasimov.

You can book the Taganai Tour here http://yekaterinburg4u.ru/en/tours/taganai

And you can watch more videos about the Urals (only in Russian though) made by our friends, amateur hikers from the town of Verkhnyaya Pyshma here https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCB798X6rDO9mry3uO1f8Ohg

5Jul/170

Hiking in Konzhak Mt in Northern Urals

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In June of 2017km I climbed the highest peak of Sverdlovsk Region Konzhak Stone (1569m) for the third time.

This time we were with the Uraloved club - club of amateur hikers from Yekaterinburg. Uraloved was organizing a 4 day tour to the Northern Urals. It was a perfect schedule because a standard 3-day Konzhak trip implies that you climb it in one day. It means 42km or 12 hours of trekking and the following day you can’t feel your legs. The other two days you spend on driving to Konzhak and back (450km one way, takes about 6 hours from Yekaterinburg). The area of Konzhak stone has many other interesting mounts to climb so we had plenty of time to see everything around.

Road to Konzhak

Road to Konzhak

The trail to Konzhak Mt is very picturesque and it’s famous for the annual Konzhak Mountain Marathon held on the first Saturday of July. In 2017 the winner of the marathon, Yevgeniy Markov (31 years old) finished the trail (42km) with the time 3.00.16. Well, we weren’t in a hurry and had heavy rucksacks, so we did first 14km in 5 hours on the first day.

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At first the trail goes through a magnificent almost magic-like Taiga forest with huge cedar trees, crooked spruces and a carpet of thick green moss. Because we arrived on Friday, there wasn’t a single soul in the forest. Taiga was silent only making squeaking sounds of the old trees in the wind every now and then.

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The 14th km of the trail is called the valley of painters, probably because it has a nice view of the Ural Mountains. That’s where tourists pitch their tents. On weekends the valley is overcrowded and those who come late have to put tents in the middle of swamps. Since we came on the working day, we could afford choosing the most convenient and driest spot for our camp. The great thing about Konzhak is that it never gets dark in summer time here. At midnight we could still chatting at the campfire enjoying the views around us.

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The second day was dedicated to the peak of Konzhak and Yov’s Plateau. In June the top of the mount is still partly covered with snow which was actually great. Instead of jumping up and down the huge stones making sure that your feet doesn’t slide in the holes between them and the stones are moving to make it even much worse, in June we could easily walk on snow. We didn’t stay long at the top because the wind there is always beastly strong and the raindrops hit your face like thousands of sharp icy daggers.

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Descending was very easy we could just slide down the snow.

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Yov’s plateau was still swampy in earlier June. Later in summer time the plateau is covered with colorful flowers.

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On our third day we went to climb Serebryanka Mt (1305m). It’s the second place of attraction in the area. This peak is easier to climb that’s why you meet more tourists there and families with children.

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Unfortunately, in the recent past there was a mine made in that area and the road for heavy trucks was build that goes past Serebryanka Mt. and Yov’s Plateau. A lot of lazy tourists from Yekaterinburg and Perm come the plateau by offroad jeeps. We even met a tourist bus that brought 30 people from Perm for a weekend. From the road it takes about 20 minutes to get to the top of Serebryanka. But for us it felt that we are walking alone a busy road in the middle of town. It wasn’t quite what we wanted to see after driving 450km north getting away from the civilization…

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The wind on Serebryanka Mt is not so harsh and we could stay there longer taking a lot of great photos.

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As you can see in the pictures we were really lucky with the weather. It’s not always like this and very often people hike in fog there. Of course, we were ready for the worst, took a lot of winter clothes, raincoats, so the last thing I could think of was a sun protective lotion. Eventually, trekking for four days in the Northern Urals I returned to Yekaterinburg with a burnt face so everyone thought I spent a weekend in Sochi or somewhere else in the South.

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Needless to say, on the fourth day nobody in our group wanted to go back to the city. We promised to each other to come back to Konzhak. May be in August - September next time when the forest is full of berries and mushrooms.

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19Jun/170

Museum of Soviet Household in Yekaterinburg

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In 2017 Yekaterinburg has got a new museum – the Museum of the Soviet Household.

Irina Svetonosova, a former journalist was inspired by the idea of the similar museum in Kazan and decided to open a similar nostalgic exhibition of the Soviet memorabilia in her home town.

Irina, the owner of the museum photo by E1.ru

Irina, the owner of the museum
photo by E1.ru

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She rented a 100 years  old house in the city center and started collecting old stuff from the attics of her friends and relatives. The citizens of Yekaterinburg who have already been to the museum now bring their own items for the museum, so the collection continues growing.

The building of the Museum photo by E1.ru

The building of the Museum
photo by E1.ru

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Of course, for Russian visitors it’s a reason to feel nostalgic about their childhood days. I believe, it’ll also  be interesting for foreign visitors of Yekaterinburg to understand how people lived in the USSR and may be to compare the life style with their own.

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Address: ul. Sakko I Vanzetti, 40

Opened daily 11.00 – 20.00

Admission: Adults – 200rub \ School children – 100rub

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5Apr/171

Travelling in Southern Urals. Part V. Paris and Steps

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In the South of Chelyabinsk Oblast (Region) travelers may get confused when looking at the map: going to the border with Kazakhstan the road goes along Paris, Berlin, Fère-Champenoise, then it turns to Leipzig, passing Kassel etc. The villages in that area got their names in honor of the Russian victories in major battles of Napoleonic wars.

The village of Paris is probably the most popular one with drivers who stop to take pictures with a road sign saying Parizh to post it on Facebook. Apparently, some drivers were not satisfied with taking just photos so they took\stole the road sign at the entrance of the village. The police put a new one but it was stolen again. After that the authorities stopped bothering and we could only take a photo at the exit with a crossed Parizh sign. Hopefully it remains there for good.

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Paris, Varna, Berlin and other villages with exotic names are also interesting from the anthropological point of view. The citizens of that area are called Nagaybäks. This minority with the population of about 1000 people was officially recognized in Russia as a separate ethnic group.

The origin of the Nagaybäks remains unclear. They are Tatars allegedly from Kazan Khanate who for some reason adopted Christianity. Nagaybäks speak a dialect of the Tatar language but keep Orthodox traditions. They lived in the territory of Bashkortostan in the 17th century where they assimilated groups of Christians from Iran and Central Asia. During the revolts of Tatars and Bashkirs the Nagaybäks remained loyal to the Russian Tsars and were recruited to the Cossack Army. So Nagaybäk men took part in the wars against Napoleon in Europe as well.

The museum in Fère-Champenoise

The museum in Fère-Champenoise

In the 18th century the Orthodox Tatars were rewarded with new lands on the border with Kazakhstan although according to the Nagaybäks it was a forced exile to the uninhabited steps to protect the Russian borders.

In Paris we visited the local museum where you can learn about the history of the Nagaybäks and about their traditions.

In the museum of Paris a Na?aybäk woman is showing a traditional dress

In the museum of Paris a Nagaybäk woman is showing a traditional dress

Paris wouldn’t be called Paris without an Eifel Tower. A 1.5 replica was constructed in the village in 2005 and it serves as a cell network station.

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On that day travelling in the Southern steps we received text messages with a warning about bad weather conditions and blizzards in the evening. When leaving Paris the wind got so strong that our driver he couldn’t feel the road. Besides the visibility was getting worse and worse.

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The situation was becoming dangerous, we had to cover about 200km that evening but on the empty secondary roads with zero visibility there was a little chance to be rescued. I realized, why Southern Urals was another place of exile – once the driver turned off the engine in a few minutes it became freezing cold in the car. The wind was so strong that even though it was -10 outside it felt like -40. We decided to stop and look for a hotel near Paris. Besides, everybody remembered the tragic accident of last year that took place in the step of the Southern Urals.

photo from Komsomolskaya Pravda, 03.01.2016

photo from Komsomolskaya Pravda, 03.01.2016

On3d of January 2016 80 people were trapped in 30 cars on the road between Orenburg and Orsk. It took 16 hours to clean 27 km of the road to get to the trapped people. By that time their cars were fully covered in snow and they couldn’t even open the doors to get out. Though getting out wasn’t an option either. The cars got run out of gas very quickly. To keep their families warm and to survive the drivers were making fires inside the cars. Those who didn’t have paper burnt their documents, money and passports. To keep his pregnant wife warm one man burnt the upholstery of the car seats. The people were rescued after 16 hours. One man died. He was trying to walk to the other cars when the blizzard only started but got lost and couldn’t find the way back. His body was found only 20km away from his car.

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photo from Komsomolskaya Pravda, 03.01.2016

In our case the blizzard was short once the wind stopped we hurried to the North. Very soon steps changed for forests: pines along the road are a good protection in case of a snowstorm. Orenburg steps are beautiful but can be lethally dangerous in winter. When returning home I reread the Captain’s Daughter by Pushkin. Russian kids study it at school but only after visiting Ural steps you realize in what conditions people had to live there.

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3Mar/171

Travelling in Southern Urals. Part III. Orenburg

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Orenburg Train Station

I was surprised not to find Orenburg in the guidebooks such as Lonely Planet on Russia. Of course, it’s far from the main touristic routes and 900 away from the Trans-Siberian railway. But if you happen to get to the Southern Urals, Orenburg is certainly worth a visit. The city with about half a million population is unofficially called the Asian Capital of Russia. It was once the capital of Kirgiz Autonomous Soviet Socialistic Republic but in 1925 remained in Russia. In 1938-1957 the city was called Chkalov, named after a famous Russian pilot who had never lived in Orenburg.

The bridge over the Ural river in the historical center of Orenburg marks the border of Europe and Asia.

The bridge over the Ural river in the historical center of Orenburg marks the border of Europe and Asia.

Orenburg was built as a fortress on the Or river on the border of Russia with Kazakhstan in 1734. The city is proud of having over 100 nationalities living together in peace. The signs of international friendship can be seen everywhere. The most interesting site in the city is the so-called National Village. It’s a walking street with 10 houses-museums on both sides representing the culture and traditions of 10 major nationalities in Orenburg.

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There you can enter a Ukrainian house with a straw roof, stay at the Tatars’ wooden home, relax in the Kazakh yurta, dance national dances with Belarusians or eat Bashkir chak-chak with honey.  By the way each house-museum has a restaurant with national cuisine!

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We really liked the Governor Museum, especially it’s room of the Sarmatians’ Gold.

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In 1986 a group of students of the Bashkir University of Ufa found several burial kurgans (burial hills) 100km away from Orenburg. All the graves contained a lot of gold. One kurgan in particular was a grave of a rich Sarmatian  female warrior. Golden coins and decoration made of pure gold were scattered all over the place. All the pieces date back to IV -II b.c. and are still in a very good condition.

photo by Bashkir TV

photo by Bashkir TV

The ornaments have mostly an Iranian influence. It’s still not clear whether the nomadic tribes of Sarmatians made them themselves or perhaps took them as trophies.

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Although most of the findings are exhibited in the Academy of Science of Ufa, a part of the collection including the treasures of the rich woman’s grave, stayed in Orenburg. The museum guide told us that it’s not allowed to take photos in the room of Sarmatians’ Gold but on the second thought ‘it’s ok if you do it quickly’

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What kind of a souvenir can one bring from Orenburg? All over Russia people know about famous Orenburg shawls. Finely knit shawls are also known as wedding ring shawls because even large ones are so fine they can be pulled through a wedding ring.

Street market of Orenburg Shawls

Street market of Orenburg Shawls

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The shawls became famous in Russia in the 18th century when Russian aristocratic women noticed that local Tatar and Bashkir country women make beautiful and very warm shawls of the wool of native Orenburg goats. Due to the harsh climate in the Ural steppes the down hair of the goats is very thin soft and fine. Attempts to breed Orenburg goats in Europe ended in a fiasco as the animals need the climate of the Southern Urals.

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Orenburg has numerous shops of shawls and all are hand-made, by the way!. Some stores  are very fancy and look more like museums. In one of them we could even have a photo-session  in traditional Russian costumes.

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The prices of shawls vary from 1000rub to 50 000 depending on the size and art work. If a shawl is under 1000rub it’s more likely to be machine-made with synthetic wool.

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2Aug/160

How I met a Romanovphile from Canada

This summer I was lucky to meet a very interesting tourist from Canada - Paul Gilbert, the founder of Royalrussia.org. Paul is Russophile and Romanovphile, his publishing house in Canada specializes in books on Imperial Russia and the Romanovs.

It was Paul’s second visit of Yekaterinburg. Obviously, he knew much more about Nicholas II than me. Apart from visiting the Monastery Ganina Yama and the actual place of the Romanovs’ burial place found in 1978, Paul wanted to go to the town of Alapayevsk.

with Paul Gilbert in Alapayevsk

with Paul Gilbert in Alapayevsk

Alapayevsk is a small town 180km North-East of Yekaterinburg. Romanovs-wise, the town was the place of the detention of the Grand Duke and Princes Romanov, the elder sister of the Empress Alexandra. The relatives of Nicholas II were imprisoned in a school building of Alapaevsk. On July 18th  1918, the following night after the execution of the family of Nicholas II his relatives in Alapayevsk were taken to a nearby forest and thrown into an old mine when they were still alive. Unlike in Yekaterinburg, the bodies of the Grand Dukes and Elizabeth were found a month later  by the White Army.

Construction of the church in the Convent of St. Elizaveta

Construction of the church in the Convent of St. Elizaveta

Today Alapayevsk has a monastery of the New Martyrs of Russia on the site of the mine and a convent of St. Elizaveta . Elizabeth was canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church like the family of Nicholas II. Today the relics of St. Elizaveta are in the Russian Orthodox Church of Maria Magdalena in Jerusalem.

The school in Alapayevsk where the Romanovs were kept is still a secondary school. One of the classrooms has a memorial wall with the photos of the Royal prisoners.

The school still works in Alapayevsk

The school still works in Alapayevsk

It took us a whole day to explore the sites of Alapayevsk with Paul. The priest of the local church was very kind to take his time and to tell more about the days of the Romanovs in Alapayevsk.

I’m sure Paul will write about his experience in one of the next magazines he publishes twice a year. I was honored to receive two of the latest magazines with very interesting articles on the Romanovs.

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In 2013 Her Imperial Highness Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna had elevated "Paul Gilbert" to the Imperial and Royal Order of St. Stanislav, III Class.

"The Order is being given in recognition of a lifetime of service to the Russian Imperial House. Gilbert is best known for his Royal Russia web site and blog, the publisher of more than 30 books and magazines on the Romanov dynasty, his support of the Russian monarchy, and his personal dedication to distributing accurate information about the House of Romanov and to highlighting the importance of the Russian Imperial House in today's Russia."

extract from http://www.angelfire.com/pa/ImperialRussian/royalty/russia/introduction.html

photo from http://www.angelfire.com

photo from http://www.angelfire.com

 Living in Canada Paul is a true Ambassador of Russia in the West and in his blog he keeps on reminding people that the way western media portrays Russia is far from reality and to understand the truth one should go and see Russia.

You can read more on Paul Gilbert and Imperial Russia here: www.royalrussia.org

11Jun/160

2 days of hiking in Taganai, Southern Urals

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In 2015 I made a post about hiking in Taganai National Park in winter http://askural.com/2015/02/national-park-taganai/

A year later a young couple from the United States Pravit and Rebecca sent a request do arrange a two-day tour to Taganai in summer time. Luckily, our local guide Ilia who knows Taganai as good as his home town, was available for the dates of the tour and I was able to join to take more photos of the Southern Urals.

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You can book this tour here: http://yekaterinburg4u.ru/en/tours/taganai

Ilia provided our guests with all the equipment, tents, sleeping bags and rucksacks. He even brought woolen socks for everyone which was very smart because the night was chilly to say the least (-1 C). Propely equipped we started our walk 8km till the first peak Mt. Perya (1034)

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In summer time Taganai looks as beautiful as in winter. We were lucky because both days were sunny. We could see the town of Zlatoust in Chelyabinsk Region and even a southern ridge of the Urals.

You can see Zlatoust in the back, the nearest town to Taganai

You can see Zlatoust in the back, the nearest town to Taganai

Compare the same place in summer and in winter...

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Another great thing was that because of negative temperature at night there were no mosquitoes, none of them for two days! Those who live in the Urals or in the similar climate zone will understand what a luxury it is.

In the evening we got to the tourist shelter.

Ilia is cooking dinner

Ilia is cooking dinner

Tourists can rent a room in the ranger’s house but our American guests chose camping in tents. Recently, a Russian banya has been built at the tourist shelter, so we asked the ranger to prepare it for us.  I didn’t take pictures in the steam bath though because it was dark, steamy and just you know, we forgot to take towels with!

The next morning we climbed Mt. Otkliknoy Greben (1155m).

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There’s something like a terrace at the top of it. So we stayed there for an hour to relax and to enjoy complete silence – no other people, no noise, no even birds singing or wind blowing. It was a perfect retreat.

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And again, compare the same place in winter time

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In case you wondered how much snow we have in winter. Enough, as you can see

In case you wondered how much snow we have in winter. Enough, as you can see

On the way back we stopped at the unique stone river. The river is 6km long, 300-500m wide. 9-tonn rocks are piled in 4 layers at the depth of 6m. The Taganai Stone River is the world largest deposit of aventurine.

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The Taganai Stone River is the world largest deposit of aventurine.

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Considering the distance from Yekaterinburg (takes about 5hrs by car to get to Taganai), a one day tour to Taganai is too hectic but possible too.

Book a two or three day hiking tour to Taganai here: http://yekaterinburg4u.ru/en/tours/taganai

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28Jan/160

How to celebrate Russian Christmas in the Urals

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On January 9th 2016 our international team of tourists went to the village of Kostino (130km East of Yekaterinburg) where we celebrated Svyatki. Svyatki or saint days is a mixture of pagan believes and Christian traditions celebrated between Ortodox Christmas (Jan.7th) and Epiphany (Jan. 19th).

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The first week of Svyatki is called a saint week and includes celebrating of Christmas. The second week is called "scary". Slavic people believed that evil forces are particular dangerous during that week.  It includes fortune telling at night, carroling and playing outdoor games.

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Fortune telling is one of the traditions in January. Young girls got together in a banya at night to find out who they would marry and how soon. But first a girl had to take off her cross. Christian and pagan rites had to be separated.

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In Kostino we used candle wax and a bowl with water to predict the future. You can guess the meaning of the shapes made by the drops of wax.

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 When carrolling people wear masks of animals (bears, goats, bulls or geese etc) so that they can't be recognized   and one man should be dressed as a goat. If a host refuses to share drinks and treats with carrol singers, the goat can do some mischief. That's why we were treated well and our ‘goat’ – a French guest Gerard got a lot of drinks.

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We all agreed that Kostino is worth coming back in summer. So on July 9th we'll have another weekend tour to the village to celebrate a pagan slavic day of Ivan Kupala!

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9Special thanks to my Moscow friend Katya Sverchkova for the beautiful photos.

6Dec/150

Yeltsin Center and the Museum of the First Russian President

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On November 25th 2015 the street of Boris Yeltsin in Yekaterinburg was closed for traffic. Even pedestrians were not allowed to walk there in the evening and the owners of the appartments were asked not to look out of the windows as snipers were sitting on the rooves. All the precautions were made for the openning of the Yeltsin Center. The fact that President Putin and Prime Minister Medvedev as well as other polititians of the past and the present were invited to the opening had made so much fuss in the city.

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The next day the center was opened for public. Despite the apparent lack of interest in Yelrsin in Russia, the museum has become the most visited place in the city with over 5000 visitors over the first week after the opening. The Yeltsin foundation hired Ralph Appelbaum Associates, the company that designed the William J. Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock, Ark., and the new Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center in Moscow.

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A replica hall of the Parlament in Moscow

The center includes a research center, conference halls, an art gallery and a museum that depicts the sweep of history during Mr. Yeltsin’s life — from the Gulag (Yeltsin's parents were repressed and exhiled to the village of Budka 150km east of Yekaterinburg) to World War II, from perestroika to Mr. Yeltsin’s resigning on 31.12.1999, a few minutes before the millenium.

Nuclear weapon breifcase (with electronics removed)

Nuclear weapon breifcase (with electronics removed)

Yeltsin’s daughter, Tatyana Yumasheva, one of the organizers of the center said that it is aimed “to tell the truth about the 1990s”, from the constitutional and economic crises of the day to the first Chechen war.

Empty shelves of Russian supermarkets during the perestroika

Empty shelves of Russian supermarkets during the perestroika

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Empty shelves of Russian supermarkets during the perestroika

Yeltsin Museum is very interactive. One can give a speech from the Parlament stage, sit on the sofa in the Yeltsins' living room and watch TV or get on a real trolley bus that Yeltsin used when he was a Moscow official.

A trolley bus and Moscow of the 1980s

A trolley bus and Moscow of the 1980s

In the trolley bus (Mr Putin, Mr Medvedev, Naina Yeltsina in the back) Photo by 66.ru

In the trolley bus (Mr Putin, Mr Medvedev, Naina Yeltsina in the back) Photo by 66.ru

The museum is divided into seven zones – "seven important days in the history of the country": the August coup  of 1991; unpopular economic measures; the birth of the Constitution; Yeltsin's second election campaign; Yeltsin’s farewell to the Kremlin.

Yeltsin's office in the Kremlin with authentic furniture. 5 minutes before resignation

Yeltsin's office in the Kremlin with authentic furniture. 5 minutes before resignation

Yeltsin's phrase 'I'm tired, I'm leaving

Yeltsin's phrase 'I'm tired, I'm leaving" before New Year of 2000

The museum already has audio guides in English and is preparing to translate them into Spanish, French and German.

Opened: Tue - Sun 10.00 - 21.00

Admission: 200rub