Christmas Market is something unusual in Russia. The first Weihnachtsmarkt was opened in Yekaterinburg on December 10, 2011. Renate Schimkoreit, German Consul-General in Yekaterinburg hopes the market will become an annual event that will attract people from all over Russia.
This city has always had close relations with Germany. Starting from Yekaterinburg’s foundation when Peter the Great sent a German General Willhelm de Gennin to manage factories in the Urlas. De Gennin gave the city a German name Yekaterin-burg and called the building of the Main Mining Office Oberbergamt. No doubt he celebrated Christmas in German style as well.
The Christmas Market in the Literary Quarter (6, Proletarskaya st.) had an atmosphere of a real German celebration but with a certain Russian ambience: one can buy valenki (felt boots), drink tea at the soldiers’ kitchen and ride a camel! Well, a camel is hardly a Russian symbol of winter holidays, that’s why its presence puzzled not only foreigners.
I’m sure, Wheihnachtsmarkt will become a good tradition in Yekaterinburg, so make sure to come next year!
September 11 is an official Day of Sobriety in the Urals and all over Russia. The 1st day of Sobriety was initiated in 1911 by Russian Orthodox Church. The Church still encourages people to stop drinking. Obviously one day a year is not enough to change long lasting drinking traditions in Russia.
Vodka is extremely cheap and beer is even cheaper. That's why you can see public intoxication all over starting early in the morning. Men and women drinking beer at 8 a.m. on their way home after a night shift at the factory is a common thing in Yekaterinburg, especially in Uralmash (a residential district inhabited by the workers of large Uralmash plant) More than that, two travellers from France Alicia and Julien whom I met today, told me that they had seen an astonishing picture: a young woman was sharing a bottle of beer with her two year old child. I still have a slight hope that the woman was resourceful enough as to use an empty beer bottle for milk to feed her her child. It's a lame excuse though, I know...
Interestingly, my city Yekaterinburg used to have a very good reputation alcohol-wise. Back in 1733 a professor of sciences from St. Petersburg wrote about the Ural city - It's possible here to keep people from drinking without beating them! Quite a surprise, indeed. But how did it work? The head of Yekaterinburg and one of the city founders was General de Gennin. He was German and thanks to him the city got its German name Yekaterin-burg and the European shapes (for example all streets are straight like in NY going from north to south and from east to west) And it seems that only the Germans knew how to keep the Russians sober without violence. The solution is simple and it was used much later by Mrs. Thatcher in the UK in a less strict way. General de Gening ordered that vodka could be sold in Yekaterinburg only Sundays afternoon. The present government of the Ural Region has just banned selling alcohol after 22 p.m. Not that it helps much, probably will just teach people to buy in advance.
I'm sure you know how to drink moderately and for you I do recommend to buy a bottle of Russian vodka as a present. I happened to taste it in many different countries and my samplings proved that the best stuff is made in Russia. Just don't buy very cheap sorts for less than 300 roubles. And remember how to drink in Russian style: do not sip vodka, don't mix it with other drinks (by the way Russian vodka is never flavoured), drink with everyone after a toast is proposed. For some strange reason all the foreigners think that the Russians when drinking say Na zdorovye! (to your health) Please, tell me where it came from if you know because in reality the first toast is usually Za znakomstvo! (to our meeting! meaning it's nice to meet you) the second will be Za nas (to us!). Finally, Russian women in a romantic frame of mind tend to have the third toast Za lyubov (to love!) What comes after that will not really matter anymore...just don't forget zakusyvat - to eat something after each shot to be able to remember something.
Vodka, caviar and a muffle hat. Surely these are the things you friends asked you to bring from Russia. But from the Urals you can bring something more precious - jewelry made of Ural precious stones and gems.
The Ural Mountains are literally rich in all types of minerals. Remember the Kremlin 5 meter ruby stars in Moscow with emerald hammers and sickles. They were made by the Ural jewelers. Remember the green columns of St. Isaak's Cathedral and a malachite room in the Hermitage. That was a unique mosaic technique invented by the local masters when malachite was found here. Finally, did you know that the infamous Gold Rush started first in Yekaterinburg and 20 years later continued in California? It's true! Gold was found almost in the center of Yekaterinburg in the beginning of 19th century and every second citizen knew how to mine it. This Gold Rush wasn't as notorious as in California but many people did go off the rails and wasted money in a manner of today Russian oligarchs washing horses in champagne and building grotesque mansions. Later local gold miner Nickolay Doroshin set an expedition to Alaska. He didn't find gold there but shared his experience with the first gold diggers in Sacramento.
Nonetheless, it isn't gold but green malachite is the most popular stone here, the symbol of the Urals. Now I'm going to share a secret with you. These days malachite is scarce and all the malachite souvenirs that you find in Yekaterinburg are made of African stone. It's cheaper because of the poor quality. The difference is easy to detect: Ural malachite is deeper in color and has elaborate patterns. Still some street vendors and collectors have Uralski malachite extracted in the Soviet times and you can buy it at very fair prices. Terry a tourist from Canada bought a 3cm stone not long ago for 200 roubles (8$)!
Also take a look at the traditional gems studded framed pictures usually depicting Ural landscapes. They are very unique, rather cheap although can be heavy to carry. When buying gold jewelry you get a purchase certificate so don't worry about the customs.
To real savers I would advise to launch your own expedition to the mountains or to mine some gold near the town of Nevyansk. This area still abounds with gold!