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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
We really liked the Governor Museum, especially it’s room of the Sarmatians’ Gold.
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.
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.
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’
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.
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.
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.
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.
Happy New Year 2016, dear readers! And traditionally I'm happy to share the pictures of our ice town in the Square of 1905 of Yekaterinburg.
This winter the recession in Russia affected everything including the Ice Town. There were no foreign sculptors invited this year only local. However the ice town is as specatcular as usual!
In 2016 the theme is Russian Fairy Tales.
The Square of 1905 is not the only place to see ice sculptures in Yekaterinburg. The contest 'Star of Bethlehem' for best ice sculptures started in front of the Church on the Blood on Christmas day (January 7th).
Click at the gallery to see more photos:
This month I met several tourists who deal with photography. In early September 3 Italian tourists asked me to organize two tours in the Urals. One of them was a professional photgrapher Diego Fiorovanti. His blog on photgraphy: http://
On the first day we went to the village of Nizhnyaya Sinyachikha, an open air museum of wooden architecture
It was the 1st of September - 1st day of the new school year. We met many kids and Diego came up with an idea to make a photo report about the generation without communism. See all photos here https://diegofioravantifotografia.wordpress.com/portfolio-2/a-generation-without-comunism/
On the second day we went to the Military Museum in Verkhnyaya Pyshma and met schoolchildren there too.
In the museum we had an interesting encounter. One of the Italians Giuseppe from Rome found out that his grandfather and the grandfather of Roman, the museum worker, had been stationed on the opposite banks of the same river in the Crimea during the Second World War. Of course, they had been fighting against each other those days. Today Roman teaches schoolchildren about how to prevent wars. Giuseppe received a present from Roman and promised to send the photos of his grand father for the school archive.
Our next stop was in Nizhni Tagil, the town known as TagilLag during the Second World War. From 1941 to 1945 over 63 thousands of political prisoners and German prisoners of war were brought to the Labout Camps of Tagil to build factories and work at quarries. About 40% of them died. All the cemeteries of TagilLag were destroyed after Stalin's death. We visited the site of a former cemetery in Nizhni Tagil. Today is just a field in the city.
Half of the city of Nizhni Tagil was build by prisoners. Today it's the second largest city in the middle Urals with many metallurgical plants. Tagil is also the largest tank producer in Russia. Maximum security prisons are still there.
Check out other great photos of the Urals by Diego at his blog https://diegofioravantifotografia.wordpress.com/portfolio-2/a-generation-without-comunism/
I met Dave Moles on Facebook when he asked to send him a guide book to Yekaterinbook. The book was sent to the UK and then Dave informed me that he was doing a website www.dkworld-photography.co.uk about his travels including Russia and the Urals in particular.
"During my travels I have been lucky enough to visit countries such as Russia, Ukraine and many more in Europe, but I do have a passion for Russia and the former soviet countries. These countries are full of history and beauty, you see and witness a culture you will only see in these countries... and with trips being planned to other former soviet countries, there has never been a better time to visit these countries, and hope through my website you will get inspired to visit yourselves."
The page about the Urals and why visit http://dkworld-photography.co.uk/russia/urals/index.html contains the information and Dave's photos of Yekaterinburg and around as well as ski resorts in the Middle and Sothern Urals. Dave even visited a very off the beaten track town of Karabash, an ecological disaster zone that not many tourists venture to go to.
The website has a very detailed description of the Red Line and other sites of Yekaterinburg that will be useful for other travelers.
Park Inn by Radisson has posted a guide to the Urals and Yekaterinburg.
What to see, where to eat and other tips for visitors : http://blog.parkinn.com/a-guide-to-the-ural-region-ekaterinburg-and-beyond/
On May 31, 2015 we made a trip to the Emerald deposit in the village of Malysheva near the town of Asbest (100km of Yekaterinburg). Some of the tourists were lucky to find beryls and even emeralds!
The first Ural emeralds were found in 1831. The oldest emerald mine is flooded now but it's possible to find emeralds here once the mine gets dry again
In the village we also stopped at the stone cutting workshop and made serpentine fridge magnets - a popular souvenir from the Urals.
Most of the citizens of the Malysheva village know how to cut and polish Ural gems
Ural serpentine - a popular decorative stone
Making fridge magnets
And this is where everyone can find beryls and emeralds - at refuse heaps of the quarry
In such minerals (mica) you can find a beryl or an emerald. Emeralds are a greener and more transparent type of a beryl:
Here's what I found: the emerald of the 5th category - a light green stone. Jewelers use emeralds of the 1st category - deep green transparent stones.
Ok, this post is going to be long just like our journey to Cherdyn and Nyrob. But those two places were certainly worth it and hope so is the story...
In April 2015 my friends and I decided to explore the North of Perm Region. Together with international students from Thailand, Honk Kong and Germany, who study in Yekaterinburg we went to see to oldest Ural towns Cherdyn and Nyrob.
Cherdyn was the eastern border of the Grand Duchy of Moscow. The date of the foundation is unknown but archeologists found the traces of a settlement of XII century. In XV the Princes of the Principality of Great Perm had Russian names but were of Perm origin. Cherdyn was the capital of Great Perm. The river route from the Novgorod Republic to Siberia led via Cherdyn. The princes of Cherdyn had to pay silver and furs as tribute of Moscow. The wooden Kremlin (fortress) protected Cherdyn in XV-XVI from the Tatars and Mansi.
Russians baptized the Perm people of Cherdyn in 1462 although for a long time locals, especially Mansi people were fighting against Russian priests and burnt down Orthodox churches. Perm people who were not as boisterous as Mansi melded their pagan believes with Christians. As a result we now have interesting wooden idols of local and Christian saints. All of them including Jesus have very Asian features similar to those of the Uralic people. The largest collection of Perm wooden idols is in the Gallery of Fine Arts in Perm.
Cherdyn hasn’t changed much over the centuries. Numerous wooden and brick houses are listed as the national heritage here. In Cherdyn we stayed in a nice hotel Staraya Pristan (Old Pier) which is actually more like a hostel with a kitchen and a dining room, separate bathrooms and a superb banya (steam bath). The hotel is located on the picturesque bank of the Kolva river where the wooden Kremlin used to be built by the first Russian settlers.
We had a short walking tour in Cherdyn with a local guide, visited two museums of history and nature and climbed the tower of the Resurrection Church of 1754.
In the afternoon we went to the next historical town called Nyrob 40 km north of Cherdyn. The town has always been the town of prisoners. In 1601 Boris Godunov, the ruler of Moscovia sent his main rival Mikhail Romanov into exile. Mikhail was the uncle of another Mikhail, the first Tsar in the Romanovs' dynasty. After that Nyrob became famous all over Russia.
Nyrob is also one of the coldest towns in Perm Region. In winter temperatures drop down to -40 -45. As we got there on 25th of April the area was still covered with snow and the sun set off only for 5 hours at night, rising at 4am again. It’s hard to imagine how the uncle of the first Tsar Mikhail Romanov stayed for 1 year in a hole dug by the soldiers of Boris Godunov with little food to eat and no wood to make fire. No wonder that today Nyrob is still the town of prisoners with several prison-settlements and maximum security prisons all around.
Nyrob, however, has a lovely museum of the Romanovs where for 50rub you can get dressed as boyars and have a selfi sitting on the Tsar’s wooden throne. Of course, we used the opportunity to strike a pose!
Cherdyn and Nyrob are not the top tourists’ destinations. They are probably for those who have seen everything in the Urals and now want to see something off the beaten track. Although in Cherdyn we met a couple of travellers from Sakhalin. They were advised in Perm to visit the northern town and so they changed their initial pans and came here. The couple said they just loved Nyrob. Our international students also admitted that they had a wonderful weekend.
It’s easier to get to Cherdyn by car from Perm (304km). We had to cover 650km from Yekaterinburg via Kachkanar and Solikamsk. And it wouldn’t be that bad if there were good roads in Perm region. The roads in the north aren’t bad, there are simply none in some places. We passed several ghost towns (former mining towns) which are similar to those you only find in computer games about zombies. However, there was one bonus on our way back – the so called Stown Town. It is also called the Devil's town for only the devil could create something like that. The rocks form passages, alleys and streets that lead nowhere and make you feel like in another ghost city made by nature.
There is plenty of information in guide books on what to do and see in Yekaterinburg. But it's always easier to understand what it's all about by seeing photos of previous travellers. So how to spend two days in Yekaterinburg? Here's the answer in the pictures kindly shared by Dave Cox from Bristol, UK
Dave and his friends came in August 2014. We did all the top tours in Yekaterinburg and around and the follwing day the friends explored the city on their own before they got on a train to Siberia.
1) Do the sightseeing in the historical city center
2) Go to the border of Europe and Asia
3) Then go to the Tsar's obelisk on the border to drink champagne on both sides of the continent
4) Learn about the last Russian Tsar's family in the monastery Ganina Yama
5 Stop at the mafia cemetery
6) Join the Beatles
7) At the train station take a look at the Soviet frescos on the walls that tell the history of Yekaterinburg in pictures!
Traditionally after Christmas I’m posting the photos of the ice town of Yekaterinburg. In 2015 the theme of the ice town is the 70s anniversary of the victory in the Great Patriotic War. The ice figures in the Square of 1905 were made by an international group of sculptors.
The Brest Forest is the pavilion in the center of the ice town. 3D films about the Second World War are played inside.
Of course, you will find an ice tank T34 in the ice town as the Soviet tank was produced in Yekaterinburg at the Uralmash Factory.
Other ice sculptures are located in front of the Church on the Blood. Every year sculptors create here religious-themed figures for Orthodox Christmas on the 7th of January.
This year the ice town works till January 25th only. So hurry up to see the ice beauty!