This summer I was lucky to meet a very interesting tourist from Canada - Paul Gilbert, the founder of Royalrussia.org. Paul is Russophile and Romanovphile, his publishing house in Canada specializes in books on Imperial Russia and the Romanovs.
It was Paul’s second visit of Yekaterinburg. Obviously, he knew much more about Nicholas II than me. Apart from visiting the Monastery Ganina Yama and the actual place of the Romanovs’ burial place found in 1978, Paul wanted to go to the town of Alapayevsk.
Alapayevsk is a small town 180km North-East of Yekaterinburg. Romanovs-wise, the town was the place of the detention of the Grand Duke and Princes Romanov, the elder sister of the Empress Alexandra. The relatives of Nicholas II were imprisoned in a school building of Alapaevsk. On July 18th 1918, the following night after the execution of the family of Nicholas II his relatives in Alapayevsk were taken to a nearby forest and thrown into an old mine when they were still alive. Unlike in Yekaterinburg, the bodies of the Grand Dukes and Elizabeth were found a month later by the White Army.
Today Alapayevsk has a monastery of the New Martyrs of Russia on the site of the mine and a convent of St. Elizaveta . Elizabeth was canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church like the family of Nicholas II. Today the relics of St. Elizaveta are in the Russian Orthodox Church of Maria Magdalena in Jerusalem.
The school in Alapayevsk where the Romanovs were kept is still a secondary school. One of the classrooms has a memorial wall with the photos of the Royal prisoners.
It took us a whole day to explore the sites of Alapayevsk with Paul. The priest of the local church was very kind to take his time and to tell more about the days of the Romanovs in Alapayevsk.
I’m sure Paul will write about his experience in one of the next magazines he publishes twice a year. I was honored to receive two of the latest magazines with very interesting articles on the Romanovs.
In 2013 Her Imperial Highness Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna had elevated "Paul Gilbert" to the Imperial and Royal Order of St. Stanislav, III Class.
"The Order is being given in recognition of a lifetime of service to the Russian Imperial House. Gilbert is best known for his Royal Russia web site and blog, the publisher of more than 30 books and magazines on the Romanov dynasty, his support of the Russian monarchy, and his personal dedication to distributing accurate information about the House of Romanov and to highlighting the importance of the Russian Imperial House in today's Russia."
Living in Canada Paul is a true Ambassador of Russia in the West and in his blog he keeps on reminding people that the way western media portrays Russia is far from reality and to understand the truth one should go and see Russia.
You can read more on Paul Gilbert and Imperial Russia here: www.royalrussia.org
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!
To make it easy for you to decide on what tours you would like to have in the Urals, I've made these pictures with short descriptions in English and in Russian (just click on each picture to read the description)
These are 8 most popular trips in Yekaterinburg and around. Some are short and some take a whole day. So when you travel by Trans-Siberian, make sure to see one of these sights of middle Urals!
Book the tours here: http://yekaterinburg4u.ru/en/
Plus a special winter tour:
Book the tours here: http://yekaterinburg4u.ru/en/
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 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.
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.
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.
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!
I made this video two years ago. It looks like I've put on a few kilos since that while the city hasn't changed at all. Enjoy and come for a visit this summer!
Every Russian knows about the Siberian town of Tobolsk from the history books but very few visited the town. These days tourists choose other routes to the South and it’s rather far for foreigners: Tobolsk is not on Trans-Siberian route. However, this Siberian pearl does its best to attract different travelers and it’s worth coming in summer and in winter.
Tobolsk is 536km to the north-east of Yekaterinburg in Western Siberia. It is in Tyumenskaya Oblast, the neighboring region to Sverdlovskaya Oblast. So, in terms of Russian distances people in the Urals may say that it’s just around the corner. Tobolsk is very old compared to most of the Ural and Siberian cities. It was founded in 1587 on the place where the Tobol River flows into the Irtysh. Very soon Tobolsk became the center of political, economical and cultural life of Siberia.
The main place of attraction is a breathtaking white Kremlin in the upper town. I couldn’t stop taking photos of it:
The downtown is located down the hill on the river bank.
They say that Siberia gave Russia many prominent people and most of them were born in Tobolsk. The most known name in the world is chemist Dmitry Mendeleev, the inventor of the periodic table . Tobolsk also became the land of prisons and exile. Russian Tsars were deporting political prisoners to Tobolsk for centuries. A short excursion to the old cemetery will tell you more about it.
Of course, Russian exiled aristocracy changed the habits and lifestyle of Tobolsk. I was very much surprised to meet many teenagers in the local museum dressed as ladies and gentlemen of 19th century. They came to an annual ball arranged here on the eve of Christmas.
Ironically, the Bolsheviks decided to exile the last Russian tsar to Tobolsk as well. Nicolas II and his family had lived in Tobolsk from August 1917 till April 1918 before they were sent and murdered in Yekaterinburg
Tobolsk has always been a spiritual center of Russia. There are 16 churches in the town including a Catholic Church in downtown. You can also arrange a tour to Abalak monastery (30km from Tobolsk)
Outside the monastery there’s a lovely Abalak tourist center with a wooden hotel, bars, skating rinks and the home of Father Frost.
Find more about Abalak here: http://askural.com/2011/12/father-frost-in-abalak-siberia/
Tips for travelers: Most of the museums, cafes and souvenir shops are located in the Kremlin area. Tobolsk is famous for muksun – a type of fish that you can try in local eateries. Smoked fish is available at vendors’ right on the train platform.
The train station of Tobolsk is outside the town. There are several buses to take from the station, but if you are arriving early in the morning or late at night, it’s wise to order a transfer beforehand. The local travel agencies arrange transfers and tours but they don’t have English-speaking guides, so bring your own interpreter.
One day is pretty much enough for Tobolsk. There are several decent hotels in the city but I chose to arrive by train at 7.30 am and took a train back at 9pm. Thus you can sleep two nights in a train and spend a whole day in Tobolsk.
Getting to Abalak: by car: from Yekaterinburg take the road via Tymen to Tobolsk
by train: There are many trains bound for Tobolsk. I suggest taking train #310 from Yekaterinburg. This night train is convenient as it leaves Yekaterinburg at 22.16 and arrives at 8.28. A 10 hour sleep in a train will cost you 800-1500 roubles.
I’ve been going to Church on Blood with tourists almost every day. From the start of January we could see how sculptors from all over Russia were working at their ice pieces in front of Church on Blood for the annual competition The Star of Bethlehem. Finally, the work was done on January 7th, the day of Russian Orthodox Christmas.
Merry Christmas everybody! And if you can’t come to Yekaterinburg in January, here are the photos for you…can you recognize Nicolas II there?
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
Many tourists, as I noticed, like visiting Russian cemeteries, apparently because they are so different from those in the West. Yekaterinburg is famous for two mafia cemeteries but there is also Ivanovskoye cemetery in the centre. The oldest cemetery in the city traces the history of Yekaterinburgers from rich merchants of 19th century to Gulag prisoners and the killers of the Romanovs.
Ivanovskoye cemetery is hidden behind the blue church on Repina Street, 6A next to the city prison and opposite the Central Stadium. The Church of St. Iowan is the only one that worked in the Soviet Sverdlovsk. 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. Local merchants the Telegins built the church in 1846. The family was buried behind the church. These are the oldest tombstones here.
The cemetery is pretty much neglected. You can only walk along the main alley. The most prominent citizens were buried here in Stalin’s times. A few steps further to the bushes and you will see simple gravestones with Soviet stars – the graves of 1920s-30s. Some graves have just markers with names of the so-called ‘enemies of the USSR’, the victims of repressions.
A small square on the alley has a monument to local writer Bazhov. On the left side from it you will find a gravestone of Petor Ermakov – one of the murderers of the tsar’s family. He was the one who stabbed the children with his bayonet when they were still alive lying on the blood splattered floor of Ipatiev House. When the house became a Museum of Revolution, Ermakov did excursions there, telling people how he killed the Romanovs. No wonder that his gravestone is splashed with red paint now.
You can get to Ivanovskoye cemetery by trolley buses 3 and 17. They run past the main train station and Church on Blood. Get off at Central Stadium.
Monastery Ganina Yama, the burial place of the Romanovs (17km from Yekaterinburg) is changing all the time. Some of the wooden churches get burnt, then restored again. The first stone church is being built now. So, even if you have been to Ganina Yama already, there is always something new and interesting to see. Recently, a bust of tsarina Alexandra appeared on the central valley of the monastery.
German Princess Alix of Hesse and by Rhine, a favourite granddaughter of Queen Victoria was given a Russian name Alexandra Feodorovna as she married Nicolas II. The new tsarina was heartily disliked in Russia from the very beginning. She seemed very reserved in public, ignored Russian culture and the court in St. Petersburg. Her obsession with mysticism and relationships with a controversial ‘holy man’ Rasputin didn’t add popularity. When the Romanovs were kept in the Ipatyev house in Yekaterinburg, Alix drew swastika and other cabalistic signs for good luck, which later gave rumors that it could be a ritual murder.
Alix didn’t manage to learn Russian, so the family members spoke mainly English in the palace. However, she was a fervent Orthodox believer. Russian Orthodox Church canonized her in 2000 as Saint Alexandra the Passion Bearer.
Interestingly, the Romanovs are now presented by the church as saints above criticism. The monastery in Ganina Yama as well as Church on Blood in Yekaterinburg offer the so-called Orthodox excursions run by special Orthodox guides. No other guides are allowed to show tourists around. But there are many good books you can read on the subject and not to be baffled. One of them is Ekaterinburg by Helen Rappaport . A vivid account of the final fourteen days of the Romanovs will give you an idea of what was going on during those days not only in the Ipatyev house, but all over Russia and abroad.
Book the tour to Ganina Yama here: http://yekaterinburg4u.ru/en/tours/monastery-ganina-yama