Hello! My name is Luba. I can show you my Yekaterinburg and Middle Urals in Russia!


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



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!


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!


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)


Culinary adventures in the Soviet Urals

A new delicious exposition is opened now in the Museum of History of Yekaterinburg. It's called The Journey of Sverdlovsk Gourmet: culinary adventures in the Soviet Urals. The word gourmet sounded somewhat ironic in the Soviet times of food shortages. Still Soviet cafes and restaurants were interesting and exotic places in terms of ideology and red propaganda.

Factories in the Urals had no canteens until 1930s. Workers went home for a dinner break.      - A good communist must spend all his day working for Mother Russia! - the government said and established a new institution - a canteen where a worker spent 2 minutes of his working time instead of 2 hours. If you think it's impossible to finish a borsch, chicken Kiev and a glass of juice within 2 minutes, you'd better believe it. There was special person who timed you break. At the beginning the factory canteens in Yekaterinburg (Sverdlovsk those days) were very fancy. They had fountains and even libraries with endless volumes of Marx and Lenin works. After Nikita Khrushchev visited the Uralmash factory, all the canteens lost their glamorous touch - Khrushchev was very stingy with government money and despised luxury. Thus canteens were turned into regular fast food cafes in an American self-service manner with typically unfriendly Soviet service.

Dishes in a canteen neither looked nor smelled delicious but tasted good

Everyone who lived in the USSR remembers that Thursday was a fish day. Fish was cooked in all canteens, cafes and restaurants all over the country. This way the government tried to support and develop fish industry. Thursday was not randomly chosen. Factory workers who never opted for dieting  weren't at all happy about fish days and preferred more substantial meat. Thursday (and that was proved by a careful scientific anlysis) was the least irritating day for serving fish - one day until Friday and the weekend mood was already there.   

Caviar wasn't included into Thursday fish menue but it was easier to buy than today. At the moment Russia doesn't produce black caviar. Black caviar can only be bought from black market

Soviet children enjoyed visiting ice-cream cafes, again thanks to the USA. The first equipment for making ice-cream was bought by the Bolsheviks in America in 1932. Since that time the USSR has been the major ice-cream producer making 25 tons a day!

Ice-cream is tasty and healthy in summer and in winter! - the advertisment says

A restaurant was a dream place for many Soviet citizens. Ordinary people couldn't afford it, but once in a life time a relative of a high rank would invite you to a wedding or birthday celebration. Getting there you got into a different world. Yekaterinburg restaurants like Big Ural or Cosmos were known for a special Unsoviet atmosphere, i.e. no self-service, waitresses in shamelessly short skirts were ready to serve you, a music band could play your favourite song for 3 rubles, more than that some male customers paid a certain some of money to certain people and all of a sudden beautiful women came in and joined their table! 

The exhibition of culinary adventures to the Soviet past is opened until 3d April 2011. Every visitor gets a free icecream - the most popular and delicious plombir! The Museum of History of Yekaterinburg 0n Karla Libknekhta st. 26 open daily from 10:00 to 18:00 except Mondays.  


Opera and Ballet Theatre in Yekaterinburg

This month Yekaterinburg Opera and Ballet Theatre celebrates its 98th anniversary. The theatre is located in the city center on Lenin Avenue. It has been restored lately and looks just as in 1912 when its first season started with A Life for the Tsar - an opera by Glinka also known as Ivan Susanin. The history of Russian Ballet began in Yekaterinburg in 1914. The first ballet staged in the Urals was The Magic Flute. The ballet is on in Yekaterinburg this season.

The local theatre received international acclaim. It's especially popular in Thailand now. Every winter the theatre performs in Bangkok. The Royal Family of Thailand are huge fans of Russian culture and ballet in particular. My good friends - the violinists of Yekaterinburg Opera and Ballet Theatre like to tell a story how they received a present from the King of Thailand - a vase that they nearly lost in a platskartny train during excessive drinking on their way home (musicians are human too, you know). The parcel kept on falling from the top bunk onto their heads and a provodnitsa in the train nearly threw it away. Only in Yekaterinburg they realised what kind of a present they had got. The jewelers failed to assess the vase stating it was priceless.

Despite the priceless gift from the King of Thailand, the life of Russian ballerinas hasn't changed much since the Soviet times when many of the dancers attempted to fleet to Europe or to the USA. The local ballerinas enjoy very modest salaries of 700 US$, saying however that the sensation of dancing on stage can't be compared to anything else. So they keep on tiptoeing and that is why Opera and Ballet Theatre in Yekaterinburg is always packed. Book your tickets in advance!

A few words about Russian traditions of going to the theatre: a night in an Opera is a festive occasion for the Russians. Theatre goers are dressed up so the foreigners are easily spotted by the jeans and sneakers. During an intermission people rush to the cafe to buy pastry and drinks. Beer is not common in the theatres but vodka and brandy is always available.


Ural Inventions – rewriting world history

Monument to a radio inventor Popov

When foreign tourists get to Russia they may be surprised to learn that the historical events they studied at school were absolutely wrong especially concerning inventions. The Russians will eagerly give you a lesson of history in case you still don't know who invented the first steam locomotive, the first bicycle, radio, lightning rod or periodic table. Well, as for the periodic table, even wikipedia agrees that it was invented by Russian professor Mendeleev. As for the others, guess where they all occured according to the Russians? By a staggering coincidence all the above objects were invented in the Urals and that's what I learnt at school and had firmly believed until I met the first foreign tourists in Yekaterinburg.

The monument to Alexander Popov in Yekaterinburg is right in the center on Lenin Avenue. It's next to the main post office. Every school child knows that Alexander Popov invented radio. Nevermind that the rest of the world believes that Italian inventor Marconi did this. We know for sure, Popov invented his device and tested it in 1896 three month before Marconi. He only didn't apply for a patent - too much fuss and paper work, you know. Meanwhile Marconi introduced his apparatus to the public in London and patented it. All in all 7 May (the date when Popov demonstrated his radio) is known in Russia as Radio Day. Students of Ural Technical University have a tradition. On Radio Day they march 3 km from the University down Lenin Avenue to the monument of Popov and wash it - pigeons like to rest on Popov's head so students have to deal with consequences, then at night an open-air party begins.

The Britons would be surprised to learn that steam locomotive was invented in Russia. The Ural city of Nizhni Tagil has a monument to the Cherepanovs father and son who built the first locomotive. It should be added - that was the first locomotive built in Russia, not in the world but not many people in Russia pay attention to such trifles.
The same story was with the invention of bicycle. A sculpture of local craftsman Aratamonov on his high-wheel bicycle can be found in Yekaterinburg on Vainera st. The legend says he built his iron bicycle and rode to St. Petersburg to see the coronation of the Russian Tsar. It sounds fishy considering the state of Russian roads or better to say the lack of any roads in 18th century. Then again, those crazy Russians are known for diving naked in winter so why not riding a bicycle to St. Petersburg.

Finally, how about the lightning rod invented by Benjamin Franklin in 1749. If you still believe it, visit Nevyansk - a town 90 km from Yekaterinburg. The famous leaning tower of Nevyansk keeps many secrets. We still don't know the name of an architect and the purpose of the tower. But we do know that the top of the tower was crowned with a metal lightning rod. The tower was built somewhere in 1725-1732. It's a historical fact which means the locals created it 25 years before Franklin.

Leaning Tower in Nevyansk

Whether it's the Russian tendency to think we are the first in the world, a lack of communication in the past centuries, Soviet propaganda or sheer genius, it's up to you to decide. But after visiting the Urals you might rewrite history of world inentions.


Ural rock – discovering the local psyche

Last weekend I chatted to Rick, an Englishman in Yekaterinburg. Rick used to work in the music industry in London and now he teaches English in the Urals. Naturally, we talked about music. It turned out that Rick is a huge fan of the Ural rock bands even though they sing in Russian. So he gave me an idea to share the phenomenon of Ural rock with you. This is a story about the bands that had and still enjoy a huge following all over Russia and former Soviet territories. What's more important, they made Sverdlovsk-Yekaterinburg a leading music scene in 1980s - early 1990s

Rock music in the USSR was a protest against the regime and mainly became a prerogative of engineering intelligentsia. With a large number of technical engineering institutions in Yekaterinburg (those days Sverdlovsk) no wonder so many rock bands sprang up here before Perestroika. Nautilus Pampilius was one of the most prominent bands of that time. Though often criticised for being too pop, this band formed the core of the Soviet rock phenomenon due to their unusual unsoviet style and their lyrics targeted at social problems. A charismatic front man Vyacheslav Butusov disbanded Nautilus in 1997 when the era of Perestroika turmoils came to an end. He moved to St Petersburg and formed a new band there U-Peter. However, the piercing songs of Nautilus Pampilius are still very popular and sound very much up to date. I particularly love their hit Goodbye America. Butusov is singing about the place behind an iron curtain he will never be able to see. In 1988 it seemed a very true imposibility. 

Yekaterinburg music scene of the 90s is connected with the name of Agatha Christie. The post punk band had nothing to do with English detectives though. It was formed by the Samoylovs brothers, the students of the Ural State Technical University (now named after its famous graduate Boris Yeltsin). The brothers didn't get much into politics and sang about love and deception in a gloomy murky manner so natural to the lost generation of the new Russian country. Agatha Christie proved to be a long lasting project. The Samoylovs brothers started in 1988 and broke up only this year. Here is their top hit of 1993 Kak na Voyne (Like at War)

The real dinosaurs or veterans of the Ural rock are Chaif. The name is a combination of the words chai - tea and kaif - feeling high. The thing is that during the rehearsals the Soviet rockers in the Ural Rock Club were drinking liters of ... tea (those were innocent times) Probably, that was the reason why the band formed in 1985 still works in full swing. Chaif are the best representative of the Ural rock as unlike other bands they didn't move to Moscow or St. Petersburg for better career prospects. They live in Yekaterinburg and regularly take part in charities and activities of the local community: volunteer to clean the city parks and speak against the authorities' decision to tear down wooden houses of the last centuries in the city centre, that has recently become a burning issue in Yekateriburg. Chaif plays a mix of rock and roll and blues sometimes with reggae influence as in their son Argentina - Jamaica 5:0 written after World Cup 1998. They can easily gather a crowd of 20 thousand fans as it was in Moscow at their 20th Anniversary. Chaif 1991 hit Oy-yo Nikto ne Uslyshit (Oy-yo, No one will hear) is definitely their trademark song about existential crisis of a Post-Soviet man.


What to eat in Yekaterinburg?

 Ural cuisine is not something special, firstly because Middle Urals is a multinational place, secondly because of the harsh climate (it's the so-called territory of risky farming) the number of products is limited. Overall, local cuisine is nourishing and substantial just like everywhere in Russia.

Uralskie pelmeni - Ural dumplings or ravioli usually with meat are supposed to be a local speciality although they don't differ from Siberian pelmeni and you can eat them in any Russian place. Besides, the Chinese state that they invented dumplings (like everything else in the world) and of course, it's difficult to disagree with them.

Autumn is a lovely season for all types of mushroom dishes. Russians love mushrooms, more than that they like to pick them up in the woods. Early in the morning on a bright autumn day you can see how gribnyaki (mushroom pickers) queue on the bus or train station with large plastic buckets. Rummaging about in the Ural forests can be fun especially if you find eventually a few mushrooms. Every babushka can instruct you what mushrooms are safe for eating. Usually they are easy to differentiate. Poisonous mushrooms smell nasty and grow big. If you don't like the idea of walking in the woods possibly meeting up with a bear, there are long lines of gribnyakis with buckets full of mushrooms along the roads. Now I should explain a very important thing: the mushrooms I'm talking about are not the ones sold in Amsterdam. So the Russians who sell their mushrooms on the roadsides are not some kind of drug dealers, they sell tasty things. Then you can fry them with potatoes or cook a mushroom soup or preserve in marinade, the letter is good with vodka.

As for other little specialities, Russians like to put mayo in every dish, so Yekaterinburg mayonnaise manufacture Provansal' is considered the best. Don't be afraid of mayo that much because in general Russian mayo is much lighter that the western versions and is a good cold dressing for salads. If you have a sweet tooth you should definitely buy some chocolate candies made in Yekaterinburg confectionery SladKo. They are delicious and it's not an advert, that's what my friends from Siberia and western part of Russia say when they get here. These candies are slightly more expensive than other brands because contain more chocolate. 

Sometimes it's hard to predict what foreign visitors may take a liking to. My ex boyfriend from the UK bought here packs of smoked salty cheese to take home on the ground that it was good with beer and there was nothing like that in the UK. May be you should try it too. The cheese is called Kosynka means a plait for it looks like thing stripes done in a form of a plait and it's really good with beer.    

When I was little, when Yekaterinburg was still called Sverdlovsk, there was such thing as pyshki - a Soviet version of donuts. The Soviet donuts were only glazed with powdery sugar, no jam, no chocolate. They were something to die for. When my family moved to the north to Nizhni Tagil, we sometimes drove 140 km to Yekaterinburg to buy hot pyshki. Unfortunately, the last cafeteria that sold pyshki on Sverdlova Street was closed down a few years ago. It gave place to another shiny mobile shop.

Anyway, there are many nice cafes and restaurants in Yekaterinburg some of them are very unique. I'll tell you about them in my next posts. Meanwhile, Priyatnava apetita! (bon appetit!)

Russian mayo is a dressing for each and every dish and can be found in every Russian house.


Drinking in Russia

September 11 is an official Day of Sobriety in the Urals and all over Russia. The 1st day of Sobriety was initiated in 1911 by Russian Orthodox Church. The Church still encourages people to stop drinking. Obviously one day a year is not enough to change long lasting drinking traditions in Russia.

Vodka is extremely cheap and beer is even cheaper. That's why you can see public intoxication all over starting early in the morning. Men and women drinking beer at 8 a.m. on their way home after a night shift at the factory is a common thing in Yekaterinburg, especially in Uralmash (a residential district inhabited by the workers of large Uralmash plant) More than that, two travellers from France Alicia and Julien whom I met today, told me that they had seen an astonishing picture: a young woman was sharing a bottle of beer with her two year old child. I still have a slight hope that the woman was resourceful enough as to use an empty beer bottle for milk to feed her her child. It's a lame excuse though, I know...

Interestingly, my city Yekaterinburg used to have a very good reputation alcohol-wise. Back in 1733 a professor of sciences from St. Petersburg wrote about the Ural city - It's possible here to keep people from drinking without beating them! Quite a surprise, indeed. But how did it work? The head of Yekaterinburg and one of the city founders was General de Gennin. He was German and thanks to him the city got its German name Yekaterin-burg and the European shapes (for example all streets are straight like in NY going from north to south and from east to west) And it seems that only the Germans knew how to keep the Russians sober without violence. The solution is simple and it was used much later by Mrs. Thatcher in the UK in a less strict way. General de Gening ordered that vodka could be sold in Yekaterinburg only Sundays afternoon. The present government of the Ural Region has just banned selling alcohol after 22 p.m. Not that it helps much, probably will just teach people to buy in advance.

I'm sure you know how to drink moderately and for you I do recommend to buy a bottle of Russian vodka as a present. I happened to taste it in many different countries and my samplings proved that the best stuff is made in Russia. Just don't buy very cheap sorts for less than 300 roubles. And remember how to drink in Russian style: do not sip vodka, don't mix it with other drinks (by the way Russian vodka is never flavoured), drink with everyone after a toast is proposed. For some strange reason all the foreigners think that the Russians when drinking say Na zdorovye! (to your health) Please, tell me where it came from if you know because in reality the first toast is usually Za znakomstvo! (to our meeting! meaning it's nice to meet you) the second will be Za nas (to us!). Finally, Russian women in a romantic frame of mind tend to have the third toast Za lyubov (to love!) What comes after that will not really matter anymore...just don't forget zakusyvat - to eat something after each shot to be able to remember something.