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13Apr/120

Happy Orthodox Easter! Churches of Yekaterinburg

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 has 16 bells. The largest weighs 9 tonns

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.

Iconostasis on the ground floor

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.

St Trinity Cathedral is the main church in the city

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.

St Iowan Church on Repina st.

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!

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!

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

 

6Mar/110

Pancake week of Maslenitsa

This Sunday is the last day of the Pancake week also known as Maslenitsa. Maslenitsa is a pagan sun festival in Slavic mythology, celebrating the end of winter. The weather in Yekaterinburg didn’t indicate the imminent end though. It was -7 with heavy snows in the morning. But colorful Maslenitsa in Kharitonovsky Park (entrance on Shevchenko street) was in full swing.

Maslenitsa is celebrated here every year at the end of February - early March. It’s not only about eating pancakes – symbol of the sun. Maslenitsa also suggests snowball fighting for children, fist fighting for grown up men, sleigh riding and sledding. At the end of the party the straw effigy of Maslenitsa is put to the flames of a bonfire. The main events were held on the ice of the lake in Kharitonovsky Park. The ice is still very thick and it will remain so untill April.

This Sunday is also called Sunday of Forgiveness, so don’t be surprised if a stranger comes up to you and says ‘Forgive me for everything’.

Enjoy the photos and forgive me for not sharing the tasty Altay honey with you that I’ve bought there!

21Feb/110

Open air museum in Nizhnyaya Sinyachikha

There is a village in the Urals that can be called an open-air museum-village. Nizhnyaya Sinyachikha (yep, it's a tricky tongue twister)  is 180 km from Yekaterinburg on the way to Siberia. The settlement is 330 years old. There along the Siberian road you can see the examples of wooden architecture of the previous centuries. It’s always a good idea to park your car and to walk around. You can also buy a ticket to get inside the wooden chapels and houses to see more of the local naïve art, so characteristic for the Urals.

I got to Nizhnyaya Sinyachikha in August with a group of my fellow architects and designers. They chose the trip to celebrate Builder’s Day (it has been celebrated in Russia since the Soviet times by everyone involved in construction works)

The highlight of the village is Saviour Transfiguration Church. The locals say it was built by an Italian architect and it does look very Italian. Historians are skeptical about it and believe the architect was Russian as the church is typical for Siberian Baroque style. The church was largely destroyed by the Bolsheviks. The building was used as a social club and a library the Soviet era. It is now a part of the museum and that’s where you buy the entrance ticket for something like 200 roubles (7$).

 The church-museum has an interesting collection of bells from post cabs. There is an interesting exhibition of interior and exterior design on the second floor of the building. Rich villagers would hire a designer to paint the walls of their houses. Bright and happy colors were very popular with the Ural dwellers.It is probably because the natural scenery was not colorful at all. These days the scenery is the same - gloomily grey-and-white for at least 6 months a year. Local designers did their best to please the clients. They painted exotic animals or things they had heard about but never seen. Take a look at how people imagined elephants or locomotives – those are priceless images.

Book a tour to Nizhnyaya Sinyachikha here: http://yekaterinburg4u.ru/en/tours/nizhnyaya-sinyachikha

Sinyachikha river

a house of 18th century

There is only one man behind the whole project - Ivan Samoylov. He was a local activist who loved his village and dedicated 40 years of his life to create the open-air museum. With a few fellow-carpenters he started to restore the Savior Church in 1967. It took them 11 years to complete the restoration but that was only the beginning. Samoylov then started to collect old neglected houses from the nearby villages. He brought them log by log to Nizhnyaya Sinyachikha and built them anew. It was easy to do as wooden houses in Russia used to be made without a single nail. So he only had to pile the logs in the correct order.

Chappels in the Urals had brightly painted iron roofs and golden crosses

Samoylov preserved 20 buildings including the unique wooden chapels of 18th century. As he worked in the Soviet era, he was many times confronted by the local communist leaders who didn’t like the idea of saving churches. Samoylov didn’t concede and kept on working for his Motherland. He was never paid a rouble for what he had done but was awarded a medal by Yeltsin in 1990s. Sadly, after Samoylov’s death there are no volunteers to continue his work though there are still many historical objects in the decaying villages all over the Urals.

Today houses haven't changed much

A local wedding

Nizhnyaya Sinyachikha is worth visiting during the first week of March when Maslenitza (a pancake carnival) is celebrated. The museum workers arrange a special program with pancake tasting. There is also a nice cafe in front of the church but sometimes it is closed in the afternoon for wedding parties

The museum is open daily 9a.m.-4p.m., Wed 9a.m-8p.m; telephone: (34346) 75-1-18, 75-2-37

Book a tour to Nizhnyaya Sinyachikha here: http://yekaterinburg4u.ru/en/tours/nizhnyaya-sinyachikha

Getting there

by car: take Yekaterinburg - Rezh highway until Alapayevsk then down Ul. Lenina follow the directions to Nizhnyaya Sinyachikha. The main road leads exactly to the Church.

public transport: there are buses and marshrutkas to Alapaevsk from Yekaterinburg Severny Avtovokzal (near the train station). Busses run daily 3-4 times a day and take 3 hours. Alternatively go by electrichka (local train) to Alapaevsk. It takes 4 hours. In Alapaevsk take bus 103 from the bus station or hitchhike (about 2 km)

19Jan/110

Hot springs in cold Tyumen. From the Urals to Siberia

Living on the border of Europe and Asia, Yekaterinburgers tend to look westwards. Though sometimes it’s worth taking a look to the east to arrange a weekend in cold Siberia. Namely, in the mineral hot springs outside Tyumen.

Tyumen is the nearest Siberian city – 340 km from Yekaterinburg (about 4.5 hr by car if you do 120km/h) Take Sibirski Trakt (sometimes it’s also called Tyumenski Trakt) and simply drive straight on all the way. Tired of partying in the Urals my friends and I decided to take a trip to heat up our bones on January 3. Frankly speaking, the only thing that could lure me to Siberia in the middle of winter was the fact that their springs are hot, I mean really hot +45C all year long. We, however, took an old longer road to Siberia. It was bumpy but our first stop in Nizhnyaya Sinyachikha was definitely worth it.

Saviour Transfiguration Church in Nizhnyaya Sinyachikha was built in 1823 in Siberian baroque style

    Nizhnyaya Sinyachikha is a small village and an open-air museum of wooden architecture. Local carpenter Ivan Samoylov gathered abandoned chapels all over the Urals and restored them in his native village

Our next stop was in Irbit - the only town on our way where we could have a lunch before submerging in healing mineral waters of Tyumen. Irbit was a disappointment both culture- and food-wise. What was once the biggest fair ground in Imperial Russia trading with tea and furs, is now a row of grey shabby houses with no infrastructure. All eateries were closed because of winter holidays. After New Year celebrations local supermarkets looked like in the worst times of war starvation: empty counters with only frozen vegetables to offer. Meanwhile we were frozen too. Siberian frost was getting more and more apparent: if it was -10 in Yekaterinburg, closer to Siberia it was already -22. Interestingly, the shelves with vodka were all full of bottles. Probably, the citizens of Irbit drink something else, but we chose vodka as the only remedy to get warm, animated and to forget about hunger. No wonder, the only photo taken in Irbit is a bit of a blur:     

Although Irbit is not worth a visit, there is one thing to attract foreign tourists: famous bike Urla is still being manufactured at the Irbit motorcycle factory.

Honestly, we wanted to have a sober day but Irbit forced us to drink and apparently this is the only way to finally enter Siberia. In the old times Siberia wasn’t only an exile but also a symbol of freedom to runaway surfs and to the persecuted in Moscovia old-believers. There is an old Russian saying: Good bye Russia, I’ve crossed the Urals, I’ve run away! With the same feelings we crossed the marked border between Ural and Siberia and also between Sverdlovskaya Oblast and Tyumenskaya.      

Typically Ural faces: where Asia meets with Europe. Larisa of semi-Asian Bashkir origin (left) and me with Belarusian roots (right)

We did find a nice café near the border. Café Ogonyok provided tasty meal, welcome prices and interesting (Siberian?) ambience:

And finally hot springs!

Directions: before entering Tyumen at roundabout take exit to Roschino. In 3-5 km watch for a sign on the left “Verkhniy Bor” Hot springs are outdoors swimming-pools with mineral water springing from 1.233 m depth. Mineral water contains bromine and sodium chloride. Water temperature is +45. Hot springs are open daily until 4 a.m. Entry fee - 200R. There are indoor changing rooms, cafes and saunas. However, the place may be packed during public holidays. Then you can drive further down the road (20-25km) to get to the second larger pool near Pionerski Lager (Children Camp). That’s where we went to. There is no infrastructure though, so pull up to the pool as close as possible. You’ll have to change clothes in a car and what’s more to run good 30 meters to the water in your bathing suit! That was a challenge with outside temperature -25. What’s more, one of my friends left slippers home and had to run barefoot. Needless to say, he sobered up immediately!

Useful tips: - bring your towel, slippers and a woolen hat if the air temperature is -10 or lower

- stay in the water for 15-20 min. then take a break before bathing again  

- you will feel very relaxed after bathing so a driver should consider having some rest before driving back

Hotels to stay:

Istochnik Hotel (3.000R a night, includes entry fee to the hot springs) 

Sosnovaya Hotel (1.600R a night, 3.100 for a cottage for 3 persons)

Baza Zeya (860R for a  3 persons bedroom)

plus you can book any hotel in Tyumen

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!