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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

26Sep/111

Why drivers of Volga cars feel superior?

I noticed that unlike Russians foreigners like Russian cars, Volga in particular. So this post may be interesting for you!

 

This year Volga celebrates its 65th Anniversary. The owners of old Volgas in Yekaterinburg organized a rally and an exhibition of antique automobiles behind the Cosmos cinema last weekend.

The first Volga manufactured by GAZ was a symbol of higher status in the USSR. Very few people could afford it and those who could have chauffeurs. Usually they were people from the government or the KGBs.

The Soviet comedy film of 1966 ‘Beware of the Car’ (US title: Watch out for the Automobile) tells a story of a Soviet Robin Hood – a humble insurance agent who stole Volgas from crooks, sold them and transferred money to orphanages.

 

Later upgraded Volgas were used as taxi cabs and ambulances.

Today the drivers of Volga have a negative reputation on Russian roads. They are stereotyped as arrogant drivers who never yield to others. Probably, it is so as many Volga drivers are people over 50 and the feeling of superiority from the Soviet past stuck in their minds.

However, on the day of the rally all cars gave way to antique Volgas, honking in respect. GAZ-21 Volgas look really amazing on Russian roads. Happy Birthday, Volga!

22Aug/110

Founders of Yekaterinburg

Yekaterinburg was born on 18, November 1723, the date when the iron factory on the river Iset started working. However, we celebrate the city’s birthday at 3d weekend of August because it’s warmer.  There are two men who were responsible for where we live now – the city founders Vasily Tatishchev and Georg Wilhelm de Gennin, aka Beavis and Butthead as they were nicknamed by youngsters in 1998 when the monument to the founders was erected.

Tatishchev was a prominent Russian statesman and ethnographer. Tatischev was the one who drew the line between Europe and Asia and gave the world two international words derived from Mansi’s languages: mammoth and Ural. Before Tatishchev Russians hadn’t used a particular name for the mountains. The western part of the country was Moscovia and everything ‘behind the Rock’ was Siberia. Finally, Tatishchev found a place on the Iset River to build a dam for state ironworks. The dam is now called plotinka and the foundries are now museums in the historical centre of Yekaterinburg.

Plotinka

Successful people have never been much awarded in Russia. Tatishchev was unfairly accused of bribery and General de Gennin replaced him. De Gennin was a mining engineer from Germany (some resources state he was a Dutchman). Thanks to him we have a very organized town layout with streets running straight west-east or north-south making it impossible to get lost.

De Gennin was somewhat idealistic – he was going to found an ideal city with clean streets, zero unemployment rates and, what seemed absolutely impossible, sober citizens. Surprisingly enough, his planned worked for a while at least for the only vodka shop in Yekaterinburg was opened once a week for a few morning hours.

Looking up at the monument to the city founders it’s always a question of ‘who is who?’ As the sculptor P.Chusovitin put it, the one who took off his hat in public is certainly Russian, as it is a Russian tradition to bare one’s head when greeting people.

25May/110

Europe-Asia border. Is it worth it?

This post is for Don, Michael and many others who asked me if it’s worth going to the border between Europe and Asia and what you can see there, apart from the obelisk.

Honestly speaking, I’ve been there so many times that I take it for granted. But I haven’t seen yet a single tourist who regretted about going there. So, look at the pictures and decide yourself whether you want to go there or not...

Obelisk near the town of Pervouralsk (40km from Yekaterinburg)

The most interesting obelisk is near Pervouralsk (40 km from Yekaterinburg) on Beryozavaya gorka (birch hill). The obelisk was made in honour of Tsar Alaxander II who was traveling to Siberia in 1837. He stopped there and opened a bottle of wine. Since that we have a tradition to drink on the border – one glass in Europe and one in Asia.

The place attracts newly-weds as there is also a tree of wishes where couples hang their padlocks and make a wish sitting on a bench.

Book the tour to the Europa-Asian border here: http://yekaterinburg4u.ru/en/tours/europe-asia-border

German couple under the tree made by local blacksmith Pastukhov. Similar tree grows in London

What to do: drink, make a wish under the tree, take photos of village people

Getting there from Yekaterinburg: by taxi (about 1.000R) or by bus or marshrutka (minivan) to Pervouralsk from bus stop Institut Svyazi on Repina street. Bus fare may vary from 20- to 40R Note: buses stop in different parts of Pervouralsk, so it’s wise to ask the driver how to get to the obelisk.

The simplest obelisk but closest to the city (17km from Yekaterinburg)

The most popular place on the border is 17 km from Yekaterinburg one NovoMoskovski trakt.

What to do: continue drinking, buy souvenirs, tie a ribbon on a tree to make a statement that you’ve been there, take a photo of yourself clad as Tsar or Tsaritsa.

Book the tour to the Europa-Asian border here: http://yekaterinburg4u.ru/en/tours/europe-asia-border

Of course there are many more marks all along the Ural Mountains:

12Apr/110

Happy Cosmonauts Day!

Yekaterinburg is celebrating 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s flight into outer space. On April, 12th at 12 there were 12 salvos of paper rockets in the historical center by the dam.

Among 108 Russian cosmonauts there was only one from the Urals – Vitaly Sevastyanov. But probably one of those children will travel to space in the future too!

Let's not forget that the first travellers into space were two Russian dogs Belka and Strelka!

There were former pilots and all types of aliens at the fest:

... and dancing girls from the police academy.

Who said that Russian policemen are rude and angry?

The highlight of the fest - a gallery of children's paintings about life in outter space

 

14Mar/114

Cave diving in the Urals

I’ve been living in the Urals for 31 years but the region keeps on surprising me. The recent revelation was diving in the Urals. As you might guess, Russia is not a diving country. There is Lake Baikal, of course, and the Black Sea, but do you know any other diving places? It turned out the Ural Mountains are a mecca for divers and they come here from all over the world. It is an ideal place for ice diving, free diving and cave diving – a dream for every pro diver. My new friends from DiveXpert Club based in Yekaterinburg opened a whole new world to me and I’d like to thank them once again for the information and amazing photos of the Orda Cave – an absolute gem of the Urals.  

If you are interested in diving and are looking for something unique – the Orda Cave is the place to explore. It’s near the village of Orda in the Perm Region, on the left bank of Kungur river. Orda is . It was formed about 500.000 years ago. The water is incredibly clear and it is cold (the water temperature is +4). Divers call the cave ‘a white bride’ as the walls of the passages are white due to gypsum rocks formed about 200 million years ago. There was a sea at that time. Currently the length of the explored underwater passages is 4850 meters. New small passages and grottoes are discovered in the cave every month.

Russian divers started to explore the cave in 1990ies. Those days they were not very well equipped and the exploration was a dangerous challenge. Now the Ural divers are members of a GUE (Global Underwater Explorers) team. Cave courses are provided all year long and the village of Orda has a necessary infrastructure for tourists. Andrey Dmitirev from Yekaterinburg is now one of 75 Trimix instructors in the world and the only one in the Urals has been exploring the Orda Cave for many years. Last year the underwater photographer Victor Lyagushkin together with Andrey and other world leading cave divers launched a project: Orda Cave, Awareness. It is a book about the cave with more than 100 unique underwater photographs.

Some of the photos you can see here courtesy of DiveXpert Club, Andrey Dmitriev, Victor Lyagushkin and Dmitri Osipov.

13Jan/110

Happy New Year, part II. Old Style Celebration in Nizhni Tagil

New Year celebration in Russia does not stop until mid. January. The party is not over yet for there is Staryi Novyi God (Old New Year) to be celebrated on January 13-14. A strange word combination doesn’t seem meaningless to the Russians at all. While Orthodox Christmas is celebrated on January 7, it’s only logical that New Year comes a week after. And it used to be so until 1918 according to the Julian calendar. After the revolution of 1917 the Bolsheviks replaced it with the New Style Gregorian calendar used in the western countries by shifting 14 days backwards. Russian Orthodox Church, however, decided to stick to the roots and still live in the Old Style. Hence, Christmas and New Year are celebrated in January.

Old New Year is not a national holiday in Russia, thanks God! The official 10 day holiday in January is already much too much. New Year in Old Style is just a good excuse for TV channels to repeat their New Year shows. It’s also a good chance to eat up the leftovers of the Christmas party and hit the last bottle and to ease the post holiday shock. Of course, in some cases instead of easing the shock one can end up in rehab.

You can celebrate Old New Year in the main square of any Russian city – the party ambience with a Christmas tree is still there. I took pictures in the Theater Square of Nizhni Tagil for you. It is the second largest city in the Mid. Urals. With dressed up horses and a drunk accordion player, this New Year fair looks very much Old Style!

7Jan/110

Christmas in Church on the Blood

January 7 is a Christmas Day in Orthodox Russia. The main celebrations in Yekaterinburg are held in and around Church on Blood in Honor of Tsar Martyr Saints' murder. Every year the best Russian ice sculptors come to create breathtaking symbols of Christmas and Mother Russia's saints all made of ice.

Tsar Martyr Saints

 This year the most prominent sculpture is no doubt the ice icon of the Romanovs family with young Tsarevich Alexey in front.  Wish you all Merry Christmas! 

Here are some more pictures, Iv'e taken today:

5Jan/110

Ice Town 2011 in Yekaterinburg

Every winter right before New Year holidays the main square of Yekaterinburg turns into an ice town with a tall Christmas Tree and a skating rink in the middle. Little Yekaterinburgers go riding, skating, taboganning  while adults take photos of magnificent ice sculptures.

This year the theme of the ice town is Cosmos as 2011 is 5oth anniversary of the first flight into outer space.

On April 12, 1961 Yuri Gagarin, a citizen of the Soviet Union piloted a successful flight into outter space that lasted 108 min. Gagarin and his famous smile (above picture) became the simbol of all that was good about the USSR. The other symbol is an apple tree from the popular Soviet song on cosmos invasion: 'Apple trees will soon bloom even on Mars' Many apple trees are already blooming in the Ice Town of Yekaterinburg.

The bitter Ural weather doesn't scare anyone (it was -20 when the photos were taken). Just put on a warm parka and a thick woolen scarf to make sort of a balaclava like these little tiwns below. By the way, look at the glistening things on the snow sculpture behind them - those are coins!

It's a new tradition - people stick  five or ten copeck for good luck and wish to have a prosperous new year. You can stick one too! There's plenty of time as the ice town is open until mid. February.

 Here are more photos and more ice sculptures created by sculptors from all over Russia. Welcome to outer space!

 

 

 

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)