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28Feb/120

How to meet a shaman in the Ural forest

Nature park Bazhovskie Mesta is one of the largest in Middle Urals. It is also the nearest to Yekaterinburg (60km) that makes it attractive for tourists. At the end of February the managers of the park invited Yekaterinburg guides including me to check out their new route: a hiking tour with a local shaman down to the woods and to the believes of the ancient Ural tribes.

As we got to the park in an authentic Russian UAZ jeep, we were greeted by a shaman by the fireplace. We expected to share a peace pipe but he offered us herbal tea which was a good idea, considering it’s still winter here. Having put on something like Mansi overcoats we followed the shaman to learn what our ancestors believed in.

We weren't alone in the forest, the prints belong to a marten

The tour lasts about three hours. It can be longer if you wish to go swimming in the lake in summer time. We learnt about bad and good spirits that inhabit forests, thanked the god of the winds for guiding us and found out that Mansi newly-weds had a honeymoon too..in a very transparent shelter.

a 'honeymoon' hut

The tradition of tying colorful ribbons on a tree can also be found in Siberia and Nepal

The tour with a shaman is 6000rubles (200$) for a group of 6-10 people. You can also have it at night! In this case you walk with flaming torches which makes a whole experience very exciting.

At the end I could try on the shaman's outfit

Going back to civilization in UAZ

I’ll definitely go there in summer to try out a night tour. If you are interested too, just let me know 🙂

For more summer activities in the park click here:  http://askural.com/2011/06/sysert-eco-tour-on-horseback/

8Feb/123

Mammoth, lizard and the Queen of the Urals. Russian legends.

The Queen of the Copper Mountain is a famous character of the Ural folk stories. Every child in Russia knows a fairy tale written by Pavel Bazhov.

It says that the Queen of the Copper Mountain is a beautiful young lady who owns all the treasures hidden in the Ural Mountains. Very few people met her because she turns into a lizard every time a man comes up. There was one lucky man though: Danila, a local miner. The Queen of the Copper Mountain fell in love with him. She showed him where her gold was, in return Danila had to stay with her deep underground. The man refused for he had a fiancée at home. The Queen was kind enough to let Danila go. She even gave him a present for his fiancée. As Danila got back home he gave the present, a malachite box full of treasures, to his future bride.

However, he never married the girl, for he went insane and for the rest of his days he was dreaming of the Queen of the Copper Mountain…

This winter I was guiding a group of the 2020 Expo Committee. Yes, I should add here that Yekaterinburg is bidding to host Expo 2020 along with Dubai, San Paulo and Izmir (Turkey). We went to the border of Europe and Asia and there she was…the Queen of the Copper Mountain greeting us with karavai (a loaf of bread with salt in the middle, that you bake specially for greeting important guests)

The Queen of the Copper Mountain on the Euro-Asia border

It was a bright sunny day with -20 Celcius so the members of the Committee from Moscow, the USA and Australia felt very uncomfortable, to say the least. The Queen didn’t show us any gold loads but she had something more valuable in store: 40% proof Russian vodka! My guests couldn’t be happier. This is how you begin treasuring simple pleasures…

If you are coming to Yekaterinburg you can book a meeting with the Queen of the Copper Mountain on the Euro-Asia border but it’s better to do for large groups. It’s quite pricey for a group of two or three tourists.

But back to the Queen or is she a lizard? A legend of a giant lizard with horns was known in the Urals since the time of the cavemen. Ancient Mansi tribes called the lizard Mammoth. So the name ‘mammoth’ came from the Urals only the Mansis were mistaken about its appearance.

The coat of arms of Sverdlovsk with a sable (left) and a lizard (right)

When the first Russian gold was found in the Urals in 1745, a lizard came to focus again. In fact, its importance can be scientifically approved: lizards choose the warmest stone in the woods to rest on and the warmest stones are the ones with gold veins underneath. In other words, follow a lizard and you may find gold as there is still plenty of it in the Urals!

Lizard with a golden crown is a common souvenir to buy in Yekaterinburg

You can find many souvenirs with the image of a lizard with a crown in Yekaterinburg. The same lizard was in the coat of arms of Sverdlovsk (the previous name of Yekaterinburg in the Soviet times)

25Jan/121

Tobolsk. A step down from the Ural Mountains to real Siberia

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

The house requisitioned as the Romanovs' detention place in Tobolsk

Study room of Nicolas II in Tobolsk

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.

A woman is selling local fish at the train station

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.

16Jan/120

Five ski resorts in the Urals to visit this winter

Yekaterinburg is located in the mountains and there are a lot of places where we can go alpine skiing and snowboarding. The season starts from mid November and finishes in early April.

Uktus: The sports center is on a territory of 424 hectares among century pines.
Guests of the Uktus can use 4 ski slopes of various difficulty levels. The length of the tracks is 400-750 meters. The elevation is from 54 to 100 m. There are also a snow park, a wellness service, a café and parking. If you are bored with skiing, you can play paintball or tennis, ride horse or relax in the gazebo.
The cost of renting ski kit is 420 rubles per hour. Rent of snowboard with a full kit is 420 rubles too. Climbing on the elevator is 50 rubles. http://www.uktus.ur.ru/

Pil’naya: It is 38 km away from Yekaterinburg, in Pervouralsk. There are 5 ski slopes with a total length of 2800 meters. The maximal elevation is 98.5 m.

A set of ski or snowboard equipment costs 400 rubles per hour. Snow tubing with the elevator costs you 350 rubles. If you want to rent a trainer, you must pay 600 rubles per hour. The cost of parking is 50 rubles for the full day. You can reach Pervouralsk by bus or by train. In addition you can visit the Snow Park or sauna there. http://www.pilnaya.ru/

Volchikha: It is the highest peak in the vicinity of Yekaterinburg.  The Volchikha’s height is 526 meters. There are four slopes. The longest one is 700 m with a height difference of 143 meters.

The cost of tickets for the elevator varies from 300 to 1100 rubles for 3 hours. It depends on the day of the week and time of the day. The cheapest tickets are during the week and in the daytime.
The rent of a package for skiing and snowboarding costs 400 rubles per hour. You must pay 700 rubles per 2 h, 900 rubles per 3 h and 1000 rubles for 4 h or more.
The other entertainments are a snow park, Zorbas, outdoor skating rink and the rent of snowmobiles. Volchikha is situated 5 km from Revda and 7 from Pervouralsk. http://www.volchixa.ru/

Ski Resort 'Belaya'

Belaya: It is located near Nizhny Tagil, more precisely, 37 km away. There is ski rental (from 310 rubles to 710 rubles per hour kit) and snowboard (350 rub.). You can take skates there (100 rub. per hour), and do snow tubing. There is also a swimming pool, high ropes course, a café and a hotel. In addition, you can play strike ball near the Belaya. http://www.gorabelaya.ru/

Abzakovo: It is located in the spur of the ancient Ural Mountains in the   southeast of Bashkortostan, 60 km from Magnitogorsk and 35 km from Beloretsk. Complex Abzakovo is unique in offering a variety of forms of leisure, recreation and entertainment throughout the four seasons.

The rent of snowboard or skiing equipment is 100-600 rub. per hour and 300-800 rub. per day.

http://www.abzakovo.com/

In conclusion, we wish that you spend the winter enjoying fun and health benefits! The information was compiled by Marat Ramazanov for the Your Yekaterinburg English newspaper.

10Jan/120

Christmas 2012. Ice Sculptures at Church on Blood

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?

8Jan/120

New Year 2012 in Yekaterinburg. Ice Town

A magnificent ice town appears in the Square of 1905 in Yekaterinburg every winter. This year the theme of the ice town is 200th Anniversary since the victory over Napoleon in Moscow.

Visitors will find themselves in the middle of Red Square with an icy Kremlin surrounded by the ice sculptures of Russian heroes and popular characters of Russian folk stories.

Click to the gallery to see the photos and welcome to the ice town! It’s in the centre of Yekaterinburg until mid. February to a great dismay of drivers who lost a parking place…C’mon guys, it’s time for a fairy tale!

27Dec/110

Meet Russian Father Frost in Abalak, Western Siberia

Every Russian child knows that Father Frost (Ded Moroz) brings New Year presents. Most of us were very much disappointed in our childhood, when we found out that Father Frost was in fact your dad or a family friend. In 1990s when the borders were opened, Russian kids could go to Finland to meet Santa Clause in his residence in Lapland, but they got no clue where a tall red-nosed Father Frost with his beautiful granddaughter Snegurochka (their family relations are still arguable) come from.

The government of Moscow initiated building the official residence for Father Frost in 1998. The residence is in Veliky Ustyugin of Vologodosky Region (1568km from Yekaterinburg) has since become a popular destination for children from all over Russia during winter holidays. A four day trip for two persons by train will set you back from 15000 roubles to 25000 roubles. The official website  http://www.dom-dm.ru is a big surprise as it has only an English version.

But let’s be realistic, a real Father Frost should be living somewhere amidst the snow of Siberia. It’s too warm in Veliky Ustyug and together with the Moscow government’s involvement the whole story sounds fishy even to a 7 year old.

Siberian Ded Moroz in Abalak

Another residence of Father Frost is set in Abalak near Tobolsk, western Siberia. Fortunately, it’s much closer to Yekaterinburg. The distance between Yekaterinburg and Tobolsk is 536 km. The Abalak tourist village is built in the Siberian style of wooden architecture in the area of Abalaksky Monastery. The wooden village tells the story of the first fortresses built by the Cossacks in the 16th century when they were conquering the Urals and Siberia.

Besides, Abalak is inhabited by the characters of Russian fairy tales. Baba Yaga, a witch, lives in Abalak in her chicken-legged cabin and treats guests to hot piroggi and bliny. Father Frost is greeting children there from 24 December to 8 January. Meanwhile Russian beauties in the White Owl tavern offer tasty Siberian dishes and drinks made of Siberian berries. Guests can also go sleighing, skiing or riding. Father Frost’s residence has a farm with horses, deer, cows, sheep and raccoons.

The website of Father Frost’s Siberian residence: http://www.abalak.su (in Russian)

The price list is modest (payment per person upon arrival)

Entrance - 50 roubles

Meeting Father Frost - 100 roubles

Lunch - 300 roubles

Sweet gift from Father Frost - 250 roubles

You can stay overnight in the hotel of Abalak with finely carved wooden furniture. A room for two persons costs 5000 roubles from Mon. to Thu. and 6000 roubles at weekends.  Alternatively, there is Slavyanskaya Hotel in Tobolsk that will hit your wallet for 3000 roubles per person.

Getting to Abalak: From Yekaterinburg take the road via Tymen in the direction of Tobolsk. Before entering Tobolsk go down the bridge across the river Irtysh and turn to the right following the sign to the village of Probrazhenka and the village of Abalak.

There are many trains bound for Tobolsk. I suggest taking train #310. 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. Note, that Tobolsk and Abalak are not on the Trans-Siberian route!

All photos by Alexey Kolmakov, courtesy of www.nashural.ru

12Dec/110

Christmas in German style in Yekaterinburg

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!

2Jun/110

Gora Belaya – a mountain to mount in summer

Last week I got a question from Nicole. She is arriving from Berlin in August and she would like to see some mountains. When you are going to the Urals you expect to see a landscape similar to that in the Alps. But the reality is different and the first thing that tourists ask is “where are the mountains?” – Hmm, actually, everywhere to the North, South or West from Yekaterinburg.

The closest mountain skiing resort is Gora Volchikha (520m) It’s 40 km to the west  near the town of Revda http://www.volchixa.ru But the slope is closed in summer time and there are no chair lifts or trails for trekking. The same story is with other mountains in the vicinity.

The only one mountain with good infrastructure all year long is Gora Belaya - 705m (White Mountain) 150 km north to Yekaterinburg. The long drive is worth it as on your way you can also visit two interesting Ural towns: Nevyansk and Nizhni Tagil.

As winter lasts 5 months here, Belaya is still good for skiing in March

The mountain is called white because even in late May snow is there

The Regional Government invested a lot of money to promote the mountain as the best resort in Middle Urals. The plan was to make it a training ground for the Olympics. Gora Belaya hasn’t become popular all over Russia yet. To date, it is only visited by the locals. Thus a hotel, restaurants, saunas and a swimming pool are deserted most of the year. But our government doesn’t give up, so the resort is open every day from 10 to 22 and the staff will start the chair lift for you even if you are the only visitor.

Book the tour to Belaya Mt here: http://yekaterinburg4u.ru/en/tours/northern-urals

A view from the top

As I took these photos on May 9th there were 4 visitors - 3 German tourists and I.

In summer you can also rent a bicycle, roller skates and race in go-cart. The website has prices and maps (only in Russian) http://www.gorabelaya.ru/

Getting there

by car from Yekaterinburg: 115 km down Serovsky Trakt. Pass Lenevka Sanatorium and turn left to detour around Nizhni Tagil, then turn to Chernoistochinsk-Uralets. Turn left at the obelisk on the Europe-Asia border and drive 2 km towards the car park.

By public transport from Yekaterinburg: take any bus, minibus or a local train to Nizhni Tagil. From the main bus station in Nizhni Tagil (which is next to the train station) take bus 113 directly to Belaya. Bus runs twice a day at 10.40 and 15.00 from the city and at 12.20 and 16.30 from Gora Belaya.

25Apr/112

Mount Narodnaya, up to the highest peak of the Urals

Thanks to my Facebook friend Maciej Besta from Poland, we are able to do virtual tours to the highest peak of the Urals. Even though the peak is not too high - 1,894 metres (6,214 ft), I doubt, I will ever dare to get there because…well, take a look…


Today is probably below -40C. with the wind chill factor

The expedition was launched in winter 2011 by 4 Polish explorers.  It was the first Polish winter ascent of Mount Narodnaya and probably the first winter traverse of all the way from Inta railway station (a town in the Komi Republic) to Narodnaya (on foot)

Mount Narodnaya is located in Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug and is the highest point in European Russia outside the Caucasus.

Maciej Besta: “The exact distance from Inta (a town in the Komi Republic) to Narodnaya along the truck route is 150 km. When we were going to the mountains we covered part of the distance on a truck. But, when we were coming back, we were going only on foot. I did the distance in 6 days (the last day was 50 km of non-stop march), the rest of the group did it in 7 days. However, it is essential to know that the conditions on a route were pretty OK - the snow on route was hard thanks to good weather and trucks.”

Let's the virtual tour to Narodnaya (photos and interesting comments by Maciej Besta):