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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!

 

 

 

27Dec/100

Are Ural Universities good for studying Russian?

Ural Federal University named after the first President of Russia B.N.Yeltsin is the biggest technical institution in Russia with a number of prominent graduates from comedians to politicians

Once school holidays started, I received an educational question from Joel. Joel is studying Russian at the University of Cambridge and considering spending a year studying in Yekaterinburg. I’m glad that you find the city very appealing, Joel. And you’ll be happy to learn that people in Yekaterinburg do not really speak English. Usually the vocabulary is limited to the following English phrases: How do you do, Okay and London is the capital of Great Britain – the latter is the first line from the Soviet text book and we all had to learn it by heart at school. As you can see, even the laziest student would have to start speaking Russian because there is no other way. At the same time I daresay the locals are friendly and welcoming to foreigners. I know many stories how Russian students helped their foreign colleagues and professors to adjust to the new reality: disorganized public transport, tiring bureaucracy, bitter cold winters or bitter hangovers on New Year’s day. Recent riots of nationalist football fans in Moscow haven’t affected Yekaterinburg. We’ve got students of different clolours and nationalities. They seem to feel safe here and some of them even became local celebrities for simply looking exotic!
On the other hand, there is a relatively large community of expats in Yekaterinburg supported by the foreign Consulates and culture centers of such countries as the USA, France, Germany, Spain and many others so you won’t feel as lonely as the Englishman in New York.

As for the quality of the University, there is more than one higher education institution. In fact, there are twenty so I’m going to name a few of them which acquired a really good reputation in Russia and abroad and may help in learning Russian:

Ural A.M. Gorky State University aka URGU (Urál'skiy gosudárstvennyy universitét ímeni A. M. Gór'kogo) ): http://www.usu.ru (with English version). URGU has top Russian scientists and academicians among the staff – the former chief of the University Yury Orlov is now the president of the Russian Academy of Sciences. URGU has recently got in top ten of the Russian Universities with the highest publishing activity in terms of scientific articles and quotation index.  Foreign students particularly choose Faculty of Economics, Faculty of International Relations, Faculty of Philology (Russian linguistics) and Faculty of Russian Language for Foreign Students. URGU has various programs for international students and collaborates with European and American Universities. The University has a perfect location in the heart of Yekaterinburg facing the City Opera.

Ural A.M. Gorky State University on Lenin Avenue

Ural State Pedagogical University (Rossiyskiy Gosudarstvenniy Proffessionalno-Pedagogicheskiy Universitet) This teachers training institution is not as popular with the foreigners as URGU, but the Faculty of Linguistics may help you to study Russian in great depth. http://www.rsvpu.ru/departments/inlin/
Ural Federal Technical University aka URFU named after the first President of Russia B.N.Yeltsin (Uralskiy Federalniy Universitet imeni B. Yeltsina) http://www.ustu.ru (with English version) Though it trains mainly engineers, the university has recently targeted at humanitarian subjects as well. URFU is the biggest technical institution in Russia. It’s also become famous all over the country thanks to many prominent graduates including rock musicians, film directors, popular TV hosts, stand-up comedians, a mayor of Yekaterinburg and one Russian president. Thus engineering is certainly not the key discipline of this University.

Other Universities worth mentioning are: Ural State University of Economics considered to be prestige for elite students http://www.usue.ru

Ural Academy of Architecture and Arts is one of the most reputable schools of art. It collaborates with Universities of the UK, Japan, Italy, the USA, France, South Korea and Germany: http://www.usaaa.ru

Ural State Mining University is the oldest in Yekaterinburg. It was founded in 1917 by the last Russian Tsar Nicolas II but never bore his name as the Revolution started the same year. The University is now trying to maintain religious traditions started by Nicolas. It also has interesting Geological Museum of Minerals located in the University building with a large collection of precious stones and Ural gems. You can watch the exhibition here: http://www.ursmu.ru/geological-museum/photogallery.html (also in English, German and French)

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)

8Sep/103

What to see on Europe-Asia border?

The border of Europe and Asia is one of the must-visit sights in the vicinity of Yekateriburg. To get there you will need a car as it's right on the highway. Buses don't stop there and there are no trains.But it's only 17 km west from Yekaterinburg so you can take a taxi even. Beware, taxi drivers may try to charge you more because you are a foreigner so don't agree on more than 500 roubles (12 euro)

The border mark is on the right side of Moskovsky trakt (highway) that used to be Great Siberian Road. Russian Tsars (including the present ones) had a habit to exile their political foes and other convicts as far away from the capital as possible i.e. to Siberia. Hundreds of exiled would pass Yekaterinburg in shackles everyday down the same road that you will go to the border. Think about it when you travel by Trans-Siberian from Moscow to Yekaterinburg. That's only half way the others had to walk!

Back to the border mark. It's relatively new. The monument was erected in 2004 and represents two interwined letters A and E. There you can happily put one foot in Europe and other in Asia while your friend or a driver takes a picture of you.

Is there anything else to see on the border? Yes, there is. Russian weddings! If you go there on Friday or Saturday you are sure to spot many of them. It's a tradition in Russia that newlyweds hire a limo and cruise around the city visiting the sights where they can take nice pictures for their wedding albums. At the same time they continue drinking so don't be surprised to find a lot of empty champagne bottles on the border and locks with newlyweds' names. That's a new wedding tradition that came from Italy, I believe. A bride usually doesn't mind being photographed by everyone so you can easily take some pictures of Russian weddings for your album. And if you are lucky they may even invite you to the evening party. Don't say No. It's quite an experience, a lot of food and drinks guaranteed! Tourists usually wonder what it is that guests chant that causes a newly married couple to kiss in public. They chant Gor'ko! (bitter) meaning life is bitter, show us something sweet.

Now, there is a bitter side of the story. Every second wedding in Russia ends up in a divorce. It's not the case of the couple on the picture though. Those guys are happily married and have a child.

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

28Aug/102

Yekaterinburg or Ekaterinburg? How is it actually spelled?

Yekaterinburg

Many tourists who arrive to . If you correspond with the locals they may write that they live in Ekaterinburg. Why do they miss Y? And how should it actually be spelled and pronounced?

Back in the 90ies I tried to book a direct train ticket from Hamburg to my city. A lady at the desk typed the name and said that her computer didn't have the city named Yekaterinburg. I asked her to type it without Y - no result. Then I asked about Katerinenburg (the Germans call it this way)  - again no information. When I finally tried to book a ticket to Sverdlovsk the lady looked at me curiously and wondered - Do you know what city you are going to at all? - Oh yes, I knew. I knew that it was the city I couldn't get to.

The Russians pronounce it: [Ye ka te rin boork] and write it with Russian letter E [ye]. The name was given to honor Peter the Great's wife Yekaterina. By the way, in the Soviet times the city was called Sverdlovsk after Bolsheviks' leader Yakov Sverdlov. Sverdlovsk was closed to foreigners and nobody really cared how to spell it in English. 

Only in 1991 the city got its old name back and the confusion began. For example, my teacher of English suggested saying Katherinsburg. Many people kept calling it Sverdlovsk (the communists still stick to it)

Finally, if the name of the first Russian President Yeltsin was written with Y then his native city should have Y as well. Thus: Yekaterinburg - now it's official! However, the City Administration seemed to ignore officialisms that's why all the official Internet sites, books and maps printed in Yekaterinburg bear the name Ekatrinburg. 

No matter how you write it with Y or E in your itinerary, just remember that the youngsters in Yekaterinburg like to use the nick name and will tell you that this is Yo-burg.  While some elderly people call the city Sverdlovsk and there is one more Sverdlovsk still exists in Ukraine. So make sure you're not in the wrong city. Well, hope you don't drink that much vodka to mix up the countries!