This video made by Dutch tourists Serge Kapitein and Bas Derkink in May is a MUST for everyone who wants to see REAL RUSSIA!
From Moscow to Vladivostok and Yekaterinburg is on the third minute. We drank champagne on the border of Europe and Asia the I took the guys to the Mafia cemetery and Mayakovskogo park.
In November 2011 the Dutch travel magazine Columbus is publishing an article on traveling by Trans-Siberian railway from Moscow to Vladivostok.
Marina Ter Woort, a journalist from Amsterdam together with the photographer Hanneke de Vries contacted me in summer asking to show them around during their 5 hour train stop in Yekaterinburg. The lucky ladies were travelling by the Golden Eagle Express, one of the two luxury Trans-Siberian trains. The second one Zaren Gold runs from Moscow to Beijing. Both are priced from 8.000 to 26.000 US$ and both take 15 days with boat and bus tours in big cities. Yekaterinburg is the third city after Moscow and Kazan.
Marina and Hanneke, however, didn’t want to go on an ordinary excursion: champaign on the border of Europe and Asia – city centre – Church on Blood. They wanted to see something off the beaten track. In Moscow, for instance, they had been to the largest city market instead of the Red Square tour. So, we went to the Uralmash district in Yekaterinburg.
Uralmash is a large industrial district in the north of the city, a ghetto for factory workers and their families. We couldn’t go to the huge Ural Heavy Machine Building Plant that had once been visited by Fidel Castro. Even though the plant doesn’t produce tanks anymore, there are still many restrictions and chances for a foreigner to sneak inside are equal to zero. At least, we managed to go to the factory canteen and Hanneke got some interesting snapshots of the locals.
Uralmash has got a notorious mafia cemetery. The Uralmash gang had a turf war with the Central gang in 1990s. Allegedly, the gangsters invested in building the metro line connecting Uralmash with the city. The war ended when the gangsters eliminated each other. The mafia cemeteries (both in Uralmash and the central in Shirokaya Rechka) have got plenty of full sized tombstones of local gangsters.
Using the metro line (the only one in Yekaterinburg) my Dutch friends and I returned to the city. We did visit the place of the Romanovs’ assassination in Church on Blood with Marina while Hanneke went to the train station to take more photos in the sunshine.
I don’t know what the article in Columbus magazine is going to be about, but here’s the link http://www.columbusmagazine.nl/
And here are the photos that Hanneke kindly sent to me
Sverdlovsk Regional Museum of Local Lore (Kraevedcheski Muzey) is probably the largest Yekaterinburg. It has four halls which tell the history of the Urals from the ancient tribes to the Romanovs and Second World War. A new photo exhibition ‘Les Voyages in URSS’ tells about the so-called “Zastoy” era – years of stagnation in the USSR.
Jacques Dupaquier is a French photographer who visited the USSR during the times of Khruschev and Brezhnev. Dupaquier first came to the USSR in 1956 as a member of the Society of French-Soviet Friendship.
He took part in a car rally Paris-Tashkent with a stop in Sochi in 1964.
Finally, the French photographer travelled by Trans-Siberian railway from Vladivostok to Moscow in 1975. Has Russia changed since those days? You decide...
The exhibition ‘Les Voyages in URSS’ is open till 21st December 2011
Sverdlovsk Regional Museum of Local Lore is located in the centre next to the Iset Hotel. The museum has a hall of ancient history of the Urals with the Big Shigir Idol, the oldest wooden cult statue known in the world history (9.5 thousand years old).
Make sure you get to the Hall of the Romanovs on the top floor. It contains an interesting collection of letters, documents and personal belongings of the last Russian Tsar. The collection gives a better understanding of the unhappy events than a visit to Church on Blood or Ganina Yama Monastery
Address: Prospect Lenina 69\10
Tel: +7 (343)376-47-78
As a freelance guide I got a request from a Moscow travel agency to arrange a city tour for two German women who came by Trans-Siberian train. One of them was in a wheelchair. The agency asked me to call a local social taxi service to order a special minivan for a handicapped person. Good to know that we have such a service at all and it’s very reasonable – 80 roubles per hour. However, as with any social service, they don’t work on weekends (the tour was on Saturday) and they don’t go outside the city, i.e. a visit to the Europe-Asia border was out of the question. - If you have any complaints, send them to the city administration, – a man on the phone said politely before I began even to think of complaints. – Besides, we don’t have enough vehicles to transport the sick to hospitals, - he continued. – How can you ask for a 5 hour leisure trip? -
For a second he made me feel guilty but then again, a woman in a wheelchair has the right to enjoy her day traveling around Yekaterinburg. So I called an ordinary taxi and asked how much it would be to hire a minivan with an extra man so that he and the driver could carry the German lady in and out. 16 grand for 5 hours was the answer. - Men cost a lot in this city, you see – the manager told me. The next taxi company was a little less pricey. They were okay with 15.000 roubles. But it wasn’t okay for the German tourist as even in overpriced Moscow a vehicle with a ramp (we don’t have them here at all) is maximum a thousand roubles. Finally, I found Victor, a private driver who was strong enough to carry my client on his own and charged an ordinary fare for taxi companies. Hail to Victor who proved that some men in Yekaterinburg do not live just for quick money. But I still don’t know what we would do if it had been a heavy man in a wheelchair. By the way, two expensive men from the first taxi company showed up on the train platform to greet the tourist just in case. Even though they had been denied, they still hoped the foreigner was ready to splash out with her plastic card.
On the bright side of things, I found out that the city is not that bad for wheelchair travelers. Of course, one can forget about visiting Plotinka with its numerous steps on both sides. But the second main attraction, Church on Blood, is well equipped with ramps and an elevator. Grand Avenue Hotel on Lenin Street is also convenient for wheelchair travelers. My German client (with a Russian name: Katya) looked happy. She had already traveled through North America and South Africa and was covering the Trans-Siberian route. She only regretted that the Kremlin in Moscow had a single but very large step, and she hadn’t had Victor there to help her.
Social taxi in Yekaterinburg is located on Mashinnaya ul. 9A.
Tel +7(343)2604444 Monday – Friday from 8 to 17. To make a reservation call five days prior to the needed date.
My foreign friends in Yekaterinburg keep asking me the same question about public transport. Car is not always a good option – some central streets are very narrow and they are even narrower in winter when there are only two ruts in snow. It seems that Yekaterinburg has a good transport system with many buses, trolleys and trams. But does it work well when you don’t know the city and can hardly speak Russian?
First of all, there is no determined timetable for public transport. You just go to the bust stop and hope for the best. While buses and trolleybuses stuck in traffic jams every now and then, trams are more reliable. However, Russian drivers and renowned for being terribly impatient so they often use tram tracks to overtake the others and block the traffic completely. Note that some trams have weird routs. For example, if you take Tram 3 form the train station to Lenin Avenue, it doesn’t mean that you can get back to the train station by the same tram as it runs one way in circles. Even after 10 in this city I get perplexed by their routs so it’s a good idea to ask (in Russian) people at the bus stop or a conductor in a tram where it’s heading to.
Those who have already been to Russia know about marshrutkas (minibuses). They duplicate bus routes and run quicker though not safer. Marshrutkas belong to private companies that tend to hire unqualified emigrants from the former Soviet Republics as drivers. They don’t always know Russian, let alone Russian traffic laws. Still the main problem is that in order to make more money marshrutkas drivers overwork sometimes spending twelve hours a day behind the wheel.
Let’s not forget about the metro. Yekaterinburg Metro used to be listed in the Guinness Record Book as the shortest underground in the world. Now that it’s got 7th station, it isn’t famous anymore but is very short all the same. Local metro stations are good for sightseeing. They are decorated with marble and Ural gems and they are not as crowded as in Moscow.
If you travel by Trans-Siberian and arrive at the Main Train Station you can jump into any trolleybus. They all go to the city centre and stop at Church on the Blood. Or you can use metro from Uralskaya station to Ploschad 1905.
Public transport can be complicated for foreigners. On the bright side of things it’s cheap: 18 roubles and you can pay directly to a stout lady-conductor in a bus or a tram. Besides, public transport in Yekaterinburg and all over Russia never stops functioning even when it’s -35 and roads are covered with one meter of snow!
Among the notable citizens of Yekaterinburg Boris Yeltsin’s name is the first that leaps to mind. An engineering graduate of the Ural Technical University, he was a Communist leader of Sverdlovskaya oblast and later became the first President of Russian Federation. I believe it’s still too early to judge about the benefits and contributions that Yeltsin made or failed to make to the country. One thing for sure, he was quite a character. To give you an idea what kind of a personality he was, here’s a story that may be turned into an interesting road-movie one day.
As a student, Boris had a passion for traveling and decided to explore our huge country (it was the USSR back then) by train during summer holidays. If he’d been a foreigner, he would have gone by Trans-Siberian as many of you would. But Yeltsin was Russian and the Russians tend to go south. So here’s Yeltsin’s itinerary: Sverdlovsk – Kazan – Moscow – Leningrad – Minsk – Kiev – Simferopol – Yalta – Novorossiysk – Sochi – Sukhumi - Batumi – Rostov-on-Don – Volgograd – Saratov – Kuybyshev – Chelyabinsk – Sverdlovsk. It’s quite a long trip, isn’t it? Now it’s interesting to mention that Boris didn’t have money to buy train tickets. In fact, a poor student had no money at all. So he traveled on the train roofs. As you can see, the Indian slumdog millionaire wasn’t the first to do it! His friend gave up and got off on the second day of the journey but Yeltsin didn’t. He visited all the places of his itinerary. Of course, he was stopped by the police from time to time. Boris would explain that he was going to visit his sick babushka in Simferopol. When asked about the address of the babushka he always said – Lenin St, 5. The thing is, every town in the USSR had Lenin Street and obviously had # 5. So the police would buy his story. The future president wasn’t the one to travel on the roof. A gang of ex-cons made him play a card game where the looser was to be thrown from the running train. Fortunately, Yeltsin won although had to give the criminals his grandfather’s watch. Boris even managed to make good money somewhere in Ukraine: he helped an officer to get prepared for an exam in mathematics and nearly fell in love with the officer’s wife who was feeding the Ural student with Ukrainian borsch and pirozhki. Finally, Yeltsin returned back to Sverdlovsk. By that time he looked like homeless in worn out pants, straw hat with holes and dusty sandals. He was sunburnt, skinny, happy and full of stories.
I wonder if somebody would dare to repeat his trip these days (on the roof, of course)? May be it’s the road that leads to the presidency…
It takes one day and a half by train to get to Yekaterinburg from Moscow. Add two more days in a rattling train if your destination is Irkutsk and Lake Baikal. So it's wise to get a break in Yekaterinburg and at least to have a shower here.
For adventurous travellers (and I assume you are very adventurous as you've chosen a Trans-Siberian trip) a shower is not enough especially if you stop in the main city of the Ural Mountains. All the guide books recommend spending at least one day in Yekaterinburg. Thus you have time to walk in the historical centre (the city was found in 1723 so it's got some history), visit Church on the Blood - the place where the Tsar's family was killed and a giant computer key board which despite the size may be difficult to find even with a map. You'll be able to have a proper dinner in one of the cosy restaurants and a drink or two in the bars. Luckily these days most of them have menues in English, don't expect much from the waiters though. Plus you have a whole night to join a party in a night club or a pub. Pubs in Yekaterinburg are something between expensive restaurants and live-music bars. There's always something going on at night except Mondays and Thursday is considered to be a gay night-out but not everywhere.
This is a standard program for one day in Yekaterinburg. Now it actually sounds too standard and doesn't give you an idea about the Urals which is certainly a shame. You see, pretty soon you will be in Siberia and it will be all very different in the vast Russian taiga. So if you are going to claim that you've seen Russia instead of rushed about Russia, consider staying two days in Yekaterinburg.
On your second day get up early in the morning, take you camera, your back pack and may be some locals you have met in a pub the night before. They can be your handy tool if you don't speak Russian. If you do know the language you can take a bus or a local train for a one day trip in the Middle Urals. However, taking a public bus or a train you waste a lot of your precious time, as they are rather slow. You may take a taxi instead (remember that from the hotel reception they charge more!) or find a local with a car or a guide. It's easier than you think. The Ural region was closed to foreigners in the Soviet times and you are still an exotic fruit for the citizens who will be happy to even take a day off at work in order to show you around and share their Ural pride with you. At least that's what my friends and me have been doing quite often
In my other posts I'll tell you what places you may visit in the Urals. For the time being take a look at the photos and descriptions of the popular Ural destinations on my Facebook page: Yekaterinburg for You