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19Jan/110

Hot springs in cold Tyumen. From the Urals to Siberia

Living on the border of Europe and Asia, Yekaterinburgers tend to look westwards. Though sometimes it’s worth taking a look to the east to arrange a weekend in cold Siberia. Namely, in the mineral hot springs outside Tyumen.

Tyumen is the nearest Siberian city – 340 km from Yekaterinburg (about 4.5 hr by car if you do 120km/h) Take Sibirski Trakt (sometimes it’s also called Tyumenski Trakt) and simply drive straight on all the way. Tired of partying in the Urals my friends and I decided to take a trip to heat up our bones on January 3. Frankly speaking, the only thing that could lure me to Siberia in the middle of winter was the fact that their springs are hot, I mean really hot +45C all year long. We, however, took an old longer road to Siberia. It was bumpy but our first stop in Nizhnyaya Sinyachikha was definitely worth it.

Saviour Transfiguration Church in Nizhnyaya Sinyachikha was built in 1823 in Siberian baroque style

    Nizhnyaya Sinyachikha is a small village and an open-air museum of wooden architecture. Local carpenter Ivan Samoylov gathered abandoned chapels all over the Urals and restored them in his native village

Our next stop was in Irbit - the only town on our way where we could have a lunch before submerging in healing mineral waters of Tyumen. Irbit was a disappointment both culture- and food-wise. What was once the biggest fair ground in Imperial Russia trading with tea and furs, is now a row of grey shabby houses with no infrastructure. All eateries were closed because of winter holidays. After New Year celebrations local supermarkets looked like in the worst times of war starvation: empty counters with only frozen vegetables to offer. Meanwhile we were frozen too. Siberian frost was getting more and more apparent: if it was -10 in Yekaterinburg, closer to Siberia it was already -22. Interestingly, the shelves with vodka were all full of bottles. Probably, the citizens of Irbit drink something else, but we chose vodka as the only remedy to get warm, animated and to forget about hunger. No wonder, the only photo taken in Irbit is a bit of a blur:     

Although Irbit is not worth a visit, there is one thing to attract foreign tourists: famous bike Urla is still being manufactured at the Irbit motorcycle factory.

Honestly, we wanted to have a sober day but Irbit forced us to drink and apparently this is the only way to finally enter Siberia. In the old times Siberia wasn’t only an exile but also a symbol of freedom to runaway surfs and to the persecuted in Moscovia old-believers. There is an old Russian saying: Good bye Russia, I’ve crossed the Urals, I’ve run away! With the same feelings we crossed the marked border between Ural and Siberia and also between Sverdlovskaya Oblast and Tyumenskaya.      

Typically Ural faces: where Asia meets with Europe. Larisa of semi-Asian Bashkir origin (left) and me with Belarusian roots (right)

We did find a nice café near the border. Café Ogonyok provided tasty meal, welcome prices and interesting (Siberian?) ambience:

And finally hot springs!

Directions: before entering Tyumen at roundabout take exit to Roschino. In 3-5 km watch for a sign on the left “Verkhniy Bor” Hot springs are outdoors swimming-pools with mineral water springing from 1.233 m depth. Mineral water contains bromine and sodium chloride. Water temperature is +45. Hot springs are open daily until 4 a.m. Entry fee - 200R. There are indoor changing rooms, cafes and saunas. However, the place may be packed during public holidays. Then you can drive further down the road (20-25km) to get to the second larger pool near Pionerski Lager (Children Camp). That’s where we went to. There is no infrastructure though, so pull up to the pool as close as possible. You’ll have to change clothes in a car and what’s more to run good 30 meters to the water in your bathing suit! That was a challenge with outside temperature -25. What’s more, one of my friends left slippers home and had to run barefoot. Needless to say, he sobered up immediately!

Useful tips: - bring your towel, slippers and a woolen hat if the air temperature is -10 or lower

- stay in the water for 15-20 min. then take a break before bathing again  

- you will feel very relaxed after bathing so a driver should consider having some rest before driving back

Hotels to stay:

Istochnik Hotel (3.000R a night, includes entry fee to the hot springs) 

Sosnovaya Hotel (1.600R a night, 3.100 for a cottage for 3 persons)

Baza Zeya (860R for a  3 persons bedroom)

plus you can book any hotel in Tyumen

21Dec/100

The most popular Russian drink

Yekaterinburg Museum of Local Folklore on Lenina 69 opened new exhibition dedicated to the most popular drink in Russia. On a cold December day when it’s -30 outside this drink keeps you warm and the drink is chai (tea). You could have thought it would be vodka. Well, vodka is certainly the most famous Russian brand but as for popularity here’s simple statistics: I haven’t got vodka at home (I’ve got a bottle of tequila, yes, but no vodka), my brother has only some beer in the fridge, my neighbors don’t drink alcohol at all. But I bet you’ll find at least two or three sorts of tea in every Russian home!

'Merchant's wife drinking tea' by B. Kustodiev, 1923

Tea came from China that is why the Russian name of the drink was derived from cha – a common pronunciation in Northern China. Chai traveled via Irkutsk, Krasnoyarsk, Tobolsk and Tyumen finally to the Ural town of Irbit (204 km from Yekaterinburg). The annual Irbit Winter Fair was the second largest in Russia with fur and tea brought from Siberia and Asia. It took a year and a half to deliver tea to the Ural Region on camels’ and horses’ backs then by ships. Here in the Urals tea would be packaged in finely decorated boxes and sent further to Moskovia Region. Ministry of Tourism of Sverdlovskaya oblast is now developing a new route: Great Tea Road, which will be a good opportunity to visit some off the beaten track places in the Urals and Siberia.

The symbol of the Russian tea ceremony is a big iron samovar. The whole family would gather around a hot shining samovar in winter, thus a samovar in Russia played a similar role as a fireplace in the English houses. The Russians like it piping hot that’s why they would sip tea from saucers. Gold-rimmed saucers cool down tea very quickly. Russian noblemen however found this way vulgar and inappropriate. They copied the English tea ceremonies and had their morning tea with cream.  

Samovar was invented by the Cossacks as a portable kettle during their exploration of in the Urals. Russian tea from samovar is accompanied by jam and baranki - ring-shaped dry biscuits

In the Soviet times tea was delivered mainly from India when Khrushchev made friends with Indira Ghandi. Tea industry was booming especially under dry law. Young people celebrated dry weddings drinking tea. But let’s not idealize those days – vodka was often poured to the boiled water in a tea cattle, disgusting but at least alcoholic.  

Before tea got to the Russian Empire people had brewed herbs and made zbiten. This traditional Russian drink is becoming more and more popular nowadays and you can find it in some cafes of Yekaterinburg or can make it yourself: for 1 big cup take 3 tbsp of honey,  3 tbsp of sugar, 2 bay leaves, 2 cloves, some ginger. Boil 10 min. Drink piping hot and -30 outside will not bother you anymore.

Note! If you want to tip a waiter in Russia, you leave na chai (it means small money for tea)

11Sep/100

Off the beaten track – Verkhoturski Kremlin

Verkhoturski KremlinThe town of Verkhoturye is an Orthodox center for all the believers of the Urals and Western Siberia. This place is really off the beaten track. It takes 4 hours by car (306km from Yekaterinburg) and much more by a local train to get to Verkhoturye, a small northern town with poor infrastructure. The town however was a dream place for the last Russian Tsar Nicolas II and his family to visit. Their dreams didn't come true as you know, but yours may.

Verkhoturski Kremlin

  Verkhoturski Kremlin was built in 1699 and became the last Kremlin set in Russia. Kremlin means a fortress. This one was to protect the country from the Asian tribes of Siberia. Being a n important religious center, Verkhoturye has two monasteries including the first female monastery in Russia and 4 churches of 17-18 centuries

Verkhoturski Kremlin

The Romanovs' best friend Rasputin lived in the monastery of Verkhoturye before he went to St. Petersburg and made a career of the Tsar's first advisor. They say that in this monastery Rasputin improved his literacy although he used quite different skills (hypnosis, for example) to impress Tsarina Alexandra.

Verkhoturski Kremlin

Unlike most of the churches in the Urals, the churches of Verkhoturye were not destroyed. Probably, because they were too far away from civilization. The Bolsheviks had another insane idea - the buildings of the Kremlin became a complex of prisons for juvenile delinquents...

Verkhoturski Kremlin

 If you decide to go and see Verkhoturski Kremlin, take snacks and a flask of coffee with you as the only the cafe in the town doesn't offer a large variety or may be closed without reasons. Both male and female monasteries offer beds for the travellers so you can stay for a night before going back to civilization.

Verkhoturski Kremlin

I'd like to thank my Facebook friend Dmitry Lazarev who found time to drive to the north to take these lovely pictures. 

24Aug/102

Is Ural in Siberia?

This question is often asked: Where's actually Ural? Is it somewhere in Siberia? To tell you the truth, even the Russians from the western part of the country don't know exactly and call it Siberia.

Bear it in mind that the citizens of the Ural Mountains are very much upset when somebody calls them Siberyaki (people of Siberia) because they are Uraltzy. However they will forgive you for not knowing the proper terms (though they will not forgive the ignorant Russians!)

Just remember this simple fact: the Ural Mountains is a natural boderline between European Russia and Siberia, in other words between Europe and Asia. While the Ural region is neither Europe nor Asia. It's just Ural. The ancient Finno-Ugric tribes gave it this name which means a rock. So in  the old times the Russians called the western part Moskovia and everything 'over the rocks' was and still is Siberia. 

Are there any differences between the citizens of Ural and other Russian? Not at all. They all look very Russian and speak Russian. It's just the feeling of identity that all Uraltzy have even though most of them came to Ural from all possible parts of the USSR: Kazakhstan, Tatarstan, Volga Region, Russian Far East or from Belarus like my family! 

I've been living in the Middle Urals for 30 years and travelling around Russia I see it clearly - this relatively small region (small compared to Russian sizes as it's actually the size of Germany) is neither Moskovia nor Siberia. It's just Ural and I'm happy to be Uralochka (a girl from the Urals)