Arriving in Yekaterinburg on the evening of Tuesday 22nd October, I found the hostel easily, although it was much smaller than I expected. The hostel only opened in May 2013 and is definitely a work in progress. Unfortunately, there was no heating, but the dorm was heated by a small oil radiator, which was enough. I was in a dorm of five which, bizarrely, consisted of one “normal” bunk bed and one bunk bed with a double bed below; this was occupied by a Russian couple and, luckily, I did not have the bed above them!
The hostel is in a standalone building and part of the upstairs was taken by a small tea room, but nothing like a tea room that you’d expect. The business is run by Alice (Olesya) and Yevgeny, a young husband and wife team from Yekaterinburg but who had spent five years in Thailand. On the first evening I was given a detailed and interesting introduction to tea making by Alice, who had the most relaxing and laid back attitude. I was to spend a couple more nights in this tea room, partly out of choice but also, partly because there was really nowhere as comfortable to go.
Rachel and Chris had also left Moscow on the same day as me, but had caught the later train. However, whilst I had booked four nights in Yekaterinburg, they had only booked two nights, which turned out to be more than enough. So, we met up in the middle of Yekaterinburg and boy was it cold! There was a keen breeze and the temperature was well below freezing. However, there were sights to be seen, so off we went following the red line trail.
Actually, the red line trail is a really good idea; the city authorities provide a map with details of the sights and a red line has been painted on the footpaths along the route, so you can’t get lost, which was brilliant as it was so cold we definitely didn’t want to get lost!
Apart from the usual statues and churches, there are two sights definitely worth mentioning. First, there is the monument to the Romanovs. During the Russian Revolution, the Tsar and his family were taken to Yekaterinburg where they were executed in the cellar of a house in the city; this house was finally demolished in the 1977 on the orders of a certain Boris Yeltsin. However, in the early 2000s, this Russian Orthodox Church was built to commemorate the Romanovs and the altar is located over the site of the executions. It is amazingly ornate and, rumour has it, that the church houses the most expensive Russian Orthodox icon ever.
The second sight is somewhat of a personal choice, as it is the Afghan War Memorial. Unfortunately, it is currently being refurbished but we were able to see over the hoarding to the statue. Instead of the normal triumphant memorial, this is a much more poignant and effective memorial; you will have to look at the photos to understand what I mean.
One place not to see, though, is the Mineralogical Museum. Despite the recommendations in the guide books, it was a rather cold (both thermally and atmospherically) and dull display and ranks as one of the worst museums that I’ve ever seen!
The next day brought colder weather and it was time to buy some gloves! I found a warm pair in the local supermarket that were so good even Chris invested in some; at RUB92 (£1.80), he said they were far warmer than the £38 specialist photographer ones he had! So, with warm hands, we ventured out for Chris and Rachel’s last day in a now snowy Yekaterinburg, but there were not many sights left. Following the disappointment of the Mineralogical Museum, we did not wholly trust any more guide book recommendations but decided to try the Photographic Museum because: a) we’re all into photography (these guys far more than me) and b) it was just ridiculously cold! However, the Photography Museum was really an exhibition of some fantastic photos, ranging from orchestra conductors and ballet dancers to scenery; the images were amazing an very powerful…and the building itself was lovely and warm.
So, after warming up, it was back out onto the streets but it wasn’t long before the biting cold sent us indoors again and we spent a delightful couple of hours in my tearoom. Finally it was time to say good-bye to my compadres and it was a chilly walk to the train station (with me doing the Sherpa Tensing impression by carrying the huge amount of food they had purchased for this next and longest part of the Trans-Mongolian) and we would no doubt meet up again in Irkutsk.
So, I had two full days and nights left in Yekaterinburg before I, too, ventured off to Irkutsk but the worst thing was that we had seen pretty much all that there was to see! Strangely, after the bitter cold of the previous two days, Thursday saw a rapid thaw as the temperature rose to a balmy 5C and a good deal of the snow melted. I spent sometime in the tearoom but also managed to find some reasonably priced warm clothes. Now, this may not sound like much but I had been sooo cold that it was fantastic to feel warm again. The key item was the padded football manager’s jacket, complete with hood, that I managed to find at 70% off; if, as feared, the weather is turning colder and colder then this really will be a blessing!
After five pretty cold but, nonetheless, interesting days in Yekaterinburg it was time to move on. I had booked the late (22.17) train and I arrived with plenty of time to spare. This will be the longest part of the Trans-Mongolian as I will spend two full days and three nights on board and cover some 3,370 kms (2,100 miles). Add to thi that I have no idea who, if anyone, will be sharing my kupé!