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4Mar/140

Maslenitsa in an old style in the village of Kostino

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On March 2 we organized a one day tour to the country to celebrate the pre-lent pancake festival called Maslenitsa. Maslenitsa is probably the only pagan celebration in Russia that has survived until nowadays with all the rites and traditions. After Christianity of Russia the Orthodox Church had to change the dates of the Lent so that people could eat pancakes and go crazy on Maslenitsa. As for the Russian Tsars, they liked to have fun too. Even the Soviet regime couldn’t change Russian habits.

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To have a proper Maslenitsa fest it’s a good idea to go to the country. Our group of Russians and expats from Italy, France, USA, Serbia and India went to the village of Kostino 130km East of Yekaterinburg. Kostino is one of the most prosperous villages in the area thanks to the Kolkhoz (a collective farm) which is still active. Our Maslenitsa began in the local museum where we were greeted with bread and salt (a Russian tradition of greeting special guests) – everyone has to try a bit of bread with salt before entering the house.

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After the excursion in the museum we had a workshop – learnt how to make an obereg – a special maslenitsa talisman that symbolizes the sun and protects from the evil spirits. Considering the fact that we met no spirits on that day, the talisman worked!

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The folk performance in the museum consisted of songs and blinis. Some of the maslenitsa traditions were quite brutal. A son-in-law would beat his mother-in-law with a wooden stick thus wishing her good health and longevity. Another tradition was a mass fist fight of men. It was called a-wall-to wall fight. The most dangerous one was a fight with a bear. Surely, such fights involved drinking including drinking vodka with a bear!

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Fortunately, there were no bears in Kostino and instead of vodka we were treated with a local liqueur. The main part of the festival was held outside. Having dressed up a little bit all the guests took part in fun skiing and horse riding competitions, a race with a frying pan full of pancakes etc. Finally we burnt down the maslenitsa doll saying farewell to the winter.

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Even though we are still having minus temperatures in March in the Urals, the spring has come to the people who follow the traditions of their forefathers. Well, except for beating your mother-in-law!     

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special thanks to Irina Loktionova and Venu Panicker for the photos!

10Jan/130

Welcome to vodka tasting on the Europe-Asia border

The Your Yekaterinburg newspaper and AskUral.com invite you to join a vodka tasting tour!

We'll fill you in with history of the Urals, Russian drinking traditions and of course different types of vodka. You will learn Russian toasts and sing Russian drinking songs with us!

January 20 at 14.00
Meeting point: 51, Lenina, in front of the University

price: 950 rub
please, confirm that you are coming and pay in advance
tel: +79122800870
email: yekaterinburg4u@gmail.com

10May/120

Celebrating Easter in the country. Bym, Permsky Region

Permsky Region in Western Urals is doing its best to promote not only Ural cities but small villages. This spring a small village of Bym (30km to Kungur, 260 km to Yekaterinburg) welcomed tourists to celebrate Easter in a traditional Russian style. The village is planning to host similar fests every year. Their first try was certainly a success.

Very few people among those who arrived from Perm and Yekaterinburg knew folk songs and dances but everyone participated in a cheerful fest.

On that day everyone could go to the bell tower of the church to ring the bells and to enjoy a breathtaking view of the Urals.

The highlight of Bym is Belogorsky Monastery – a beautiful church up on the highest hill.

click here to see more photos:

13Apr/120

Happy Orthodox Easter! Churches of Yekaterinburg

On April 15th Russia is celebrating Orthodox Easter. Russian Easter has neither Easter bunnies nor chocolate eggs. Main symbols are hard boiled chicken eggs painted in different colors and kulich (Easter cake) Russians don’t have a day off on Monday after Easter Day but we have a nice tradition of ringing the bells. During a week after Easter you can go to any church up to the bell tower and ring the bells. This is good fun and the believers also say that it’s a healing activity, i.e. the sound of the church bells can heal you!

The most famous church to go is the Church on the Blood.

The Church on the Blood has 16 bells. The largest weighs 9 tonns

The Church on the Blood was consecrated on the 16th of July, 2003. It was in this place that the Royal Family of the last Russian Tsar Nicholas II was killed on the night of July 16, 1918. The inclusion of this place into the structure of the church makes it unique. The full name of the church is ‘the Church on the Blood in Honor of All the Saints Radiating in the Land of Russia’. The church consists of two chapels: the upper one is consecrated in the name of all the Saints Radiating in the Land of Russia, and after which the church itself was named, and the lower one is dedicated to the Holy Royal Martyrs.

Iconostasis on the ground floor

After the consecration of the church, Archbishop Vikenty, head of the local Orthodox diocese, made this address: “We all know that a violent crime occurred at this very place, and thus the unity between the church and secular authorities was destroyed. But now this church stands as a symbol of their reunion and puts an end to their enmity and destruction. From this day forward, this church will be a symbol of repentance, unity and revival of our homeland.”

But the main church in Yekaterinburg is not the Church on the Blood. It’s St. Trinity Cathedral on Kuybysheva st.

St Trinity Cathedral is the main church in the city

The Cathedral was lucky, the Bolsheviks didn’t destroy it like the rest of them. They only took away the golden dome and the bells from the tower. The body of the Cathedral was used a Soviet cinema ‘Rot-Front’ with 500 seats.

The only church that functioned in the city in the Soviet era was the Church of St. Iowan.

St Iowan Church on Repina st.

This small cemetery church was built in 1846. After the Revolution of 1917 the Bolsheviks demolished 43 churches in Yekaterinburg. However, 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.

Today, there are 28 Orthodox Churches in Yekaterinburg. So welcome to the bell towers on 16-22 of April!

29Mar/120

Dyatlov Pass. Hollywood interested in the Urals’ mystery

Every Yekaterinburg citizen knows about a mysterious Dyatlov Pass incident and everyone has his or her own version of what could happen to 9 students in Northern Urals in February 1959. Now it looks like Hollywood got its version as well. Local Mass Media wrote that  Renny Harlin, director of films like “Die Hard 2”,“Cliffhanger” and “5 Days of War” about the Russian-Georgian war in 2008 is going to shoot a thrilling movie on Dyatlov Pass. So far he has only revealed that the plot is going to be set in the contemporary world: a young group of American students travel to the Ural Mountains in order to solve the mystery of the Dyatlov Pass incident and get into trouble there.

Meanwhile, Donnie Eichar, a writer and director from L.A. arrived in Yekaterinburg in February 2012 to gather the facts and documents in order to write a book based on facts and possibly to find the truth. Ironically, the Dyatlov Foundation led by Yuri Kuntsevich hopes that an American can do more than the Russians. The foundation has been trying  to convince Russian officials to reopen the investigation of the case for years but to no avail. Donnie became the first American who trekked in extreme conditions (minus 30c degree) to top of mountain where hikers tent and bodies were discovered. I was lucky to assist him in interviewing the relatives and witnesses which was an incredible experience. Bit I must say that having heard all the terrifying details, I could barely sleep the following nights. I’ll keep you posted on when the book is published in English and in Russian.

Four members of Dyatlov's team

Dyatlov Pass in Spring

In the mean time the facts that we know are as follows: It is February 1959 and nine experienced hikers, mostly students, break off on an expedition to the Ural Mountains on skis. Their goal: The Mountain “Otorten”, which in the local Mansi language means “Do not go there!” In fact, they will never arrive there. The “Dyatlov Pass incident“, named after the leader of the expedition Igor Dyatlov, is one of the biggest unsolved mysteries of the Soviet Union.

Two weeks after their disappearance, local search teams find five of the corpses close to the mountain Kholat Syakhl, the “Mountain of the Dead”, barefoot and dressed only in their underwear.

The empty tent found by investigators

Kholat Syakhl, the “Mountain of the Dead”

Investigations reveal that the hikers must have fled their tent for an unknown reason, tearing it open, leaving in a heavy snowstorm and temperatures of -25 decreasing to -30. The officials explain that they died of hypothermia. The real mystery only begins after the thaw when the remaining four corpses are found. All of them are discovered in utterly strange conditions. Two of the corpses have fractures on the skull, a woman is lacking her tongue and the clothes of two corpses contain a high level of radiation. Further, the corpses show signs of aging like grey hair and a deep orange-colored tan.

A plaque on the rock to commemorate the students

The suspicion that the local Mansi, Finno-Ugric people, had killed the hikers for entering their holy lands and mountain, which play a big role in many of their traditional legends, was refuted. No hand-to-hand struggle could be proved. The fractures of the skulls indeed seemed to be caused by a force much stronger than a human being, as if the bodies had exploded from the inside without any harm to the outer organs. Another group of hikers, camping 50 km away from the Mountain of the Dead, later testified that they noticed strange orange spheres at the sky that night. Northern lights, UFOs or the Soviet military? The conspiracy theories vary. Soviet investigators, unable to solve the mysterious circumstances of the deaths, claimed the hikers were killed by an “unknown compelling force”.

For this post I used the photos provided by Nashural.com and the text from the English newspaper Your Yekaterinburg.

20Dec/110

Useful phone numbers, websites and addresses in Yekaterinburg

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:

Koltsovo International Airport

Airport Koltsovo

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

Taxi

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

Car Rentals

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

Mobile Companies

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

Central Post Office (Pochta)

www.e-burg.uralpost.ru Ul. Lenina 39 (Mon-Fri: 08:00-22:00 Sat-Sun: 09:00-18:00)

Souvenirs

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:

http://askural.com/2011/01/hotels-in-yekaterinburg/

http://askural.com/2010/09/hostels-in-yekaterinburg/

for eating and meeting foreigners in the city click here:

http://askural.com/2010/09/places-to-eat-in-yekaterinburg/

http://askural.com/2010/09/englishspeakers-in-yekaterinburg/

8Jun/111

Lake Shartash – a piece of nature in Yekaterinburg

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 - granite monuments of the Stone Age can be found only in Middle Urals

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.

In 1905 the place was used by Sverdlov and other Bolsheviks for secret meetings.

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

Sundali Beach

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:

Houses in Izoplit on Rybakov Street

And on the opposite side of the same street...

For sale

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 😉

6Mar/110

Pancake week of Maslenitsa

This Sunday is the last day of the Pancake week also known as Maslenitsa. Maslenitsa is a pagan sun festival in Slavic mythology, celebrating the end of winter. The weather in Yekaterinburg didn’t indicate the imminent end though. It was -7 with heavy snows in the morning. But colorful Maslenitsa in Kharitonovsky Park (entrance on Shevchenko street) was in full swing.

Maslenitsa is celebrated here every year at the end of February - early March. It’s not only about eating pancakes – symbol of the sun. Maslenitsa also suggests snowball fighting for children, fist fighting for grown up men, sleigh riding and sledding. At the end of the party the straw effigy of Maslenitsa is put to the flames of a bonfire. The main events were held on the ice of the lake in Kharitonovsky Park. The ice is still very thick and it will remain so untill April.

This Sunday is also called Sunday of Forgiveness, so don’t be surprised if a stranger comes up to you and says ‘Forgive me for everything’.

Enjoy the photos and forgive me for not sharing the tasty Altay honey with you that I’ve bought there!

13Jan/110

Happy New Year, part II. Old Style Celebration in Nizhni Tagil

New Year celebration in Russia does not stop until mid. January. The party is not over yet for there is Staryi Novyi God (Old New Year) to be celebrated on January 13-14. A strange word combination doesn’t seem meaningless to the Russians at all. While Orthodox Christmas is celebrated on January 7, it’s only logical that New Year comes a week after. And it used to be so until 1918 according to the Julian calendar. After the revolution of 1917 the Bolsheviks replaced it with the New Style Gregorian calendar used in the western countries by shifting 14 days backwards. Russian Orthodox Church, however, decided to stick to the roots and still live in the Old Style. Hence, Christmas and New Year are celebrated in January.

Old New Year is not a national holiday in Russia, thanks God! The official 10 day holiday in January is already much too much. New Year in Old Style is just a good excuse for TV channels to repeat their New Year shows. It’s also a good chance to eat up the leftovers of the Christmas party and hit the last bottle and to ease the post holiday shock. Of course, in some cases instead of easing the shock one can end up in rehab.

You can celebrate Old New Year in the main square of any Russian city – the party ambience with a Christmas tree is still there. I took pictures in the Theater Square of Nizhni Tagil for you. It is the second largest city in the Mid. Urals. With dressed up horses and a drunk accordion player, this New Year fair looks very much Old Style!

7Jan/110

Christmas in Church on the Blood

January 7 is a Christmas Day in Orthodox Russia. The main celebrations in Yekaterinburg are held in and around Church on Blood in Honor of Tsar Martyr Saints' murder. Every year the best Russian ice sculptors come to create breathtaking symbols of Christmas and Mother Russia's saints all made of ice.

Tsar Martyr Saints

 This year the most prominent sculpture is no doubt the ice icon of the Romanovs family with young Tsarevich Alexey in front.  Wish you all Merry Christmas! 

Here are some more pictures, Iv'e taken today: