Yekaterinburg (also known as Ekaterinburg)
We really liked this city.
We were met at the train station by an semi-English speaking university student. Because the hotel was across from the station, she was hired just to guide us from one to the other. However after dragging our bags up and down a million stairs and trundling over uneven pavement for half a kilometre, we were once again knackered when we reached the Marins Park Hotel. Lonely Planet says this hotel used to be a Soviet era disaster zone. However, the hotel is being remodelled and is reinventing itself as a modern congress hotel.
Our room looked like a student dorm with a small single bed but did have a smashing bathroom with a curved shower stall and bright red tiles on the floor. There was even a bidet hose but that did not work. I thought it would be fun as a water pistol, but no luck.
All the hotels have had towel warmers; this is great when Grammar is drying clothes she has washed. She does all her own laundry and is already getting tired of her clothes. Just imagine what she will feel after six weeks!
In the morning, we tried to figure out the subway with desk clerk. She recommended the trolly buses and gave us vague directions. We stood where we thought there was a stop but many, many buses sailed by. Intermittently, a young man in an unmarked car offered us "taxi". Eventually a pedestrian stopped to try to help and he also recommended the taxi. Grammar negotiated a price: in fact she wrote down a price and the young man wrote down a cheaper one! Listening to lovely classical music, we drove downtown and were deposited at the tourist office.
There were no general English tours, so we booked a three hour tour with a guide and driver for the afternoon. We arranged to meet the guide at a "female monastery" (convent). It took us a long time to get to the appointed spot as we kept approaching it from the wrong direction and could not get in.
We had a very good tour with the Russian woman who also teaches tourism at a local university. Some highlights:
- This is the fourth largest city in Russia and it is in the centre of the Eurasian continent, at the border or Europe and Asia.
- The city was established in 1773, as an industrial location within a fortress. There was ample water, so machinery was driven by water power. There are good minerals and metals in the area. To enhance the water, a dam was built of larch, which apparently becomes very strong when submerged. The original dam still exists, is clad in stone and has a major road running over it.
- There were lots of Dutch and Scottish industrialists involved in the early town. To this day, Scottish pubs are popular!
- Industry has continued to be important in this city throughout its life. During the Second World War, over 50 war-related factories were moved here from further west to protect them from Hitler. We saw a train with armoured cars on it.
- Because the city has been so important for industry, it was closed to foreigners until 1992. The girl who guided us back to the train station ( by taxi this time) said that her parents work in the nuclear industry in a town that is still closed to pretty well everybody. Permits for her to visit her parents are complicated. Furthermore, her parents are not allowed to travel outside of Russia. Upon retirement, they have to wait five years before they can leave the country. By then, their knowledge would not be current.
- We had dinner one evening in a nifty building that had been part of an iron foundry. It had great metal work all around.
- The Fine Arts Gallery has a monumental iron show-off piece that was made for a Paris exhibition. It also has some very fine iron sculptures. I cannot get any of the grown-ups here to tell me whether these were "cast" or "wrought". The paintings in the gallery were dismal. The only painted things we liked were sketches on the ends of two drawers.
- A prominent statue of Lenin has pride of place in Yekaterinburg although many such statues were pulled down in the past;
- Boris Yeltsin, who overthrew Gorbachov in1992, rose to power in Yekaterinburg as a very able administrator. While Russian views of him are mixed, there is an impressive centre and statue being completed to honour him.
- The city is lovely and green with parks and trees and walkways all running along the lake and river.
- In the west, Yekaterinburg is best known as the place where the royal Romanov Tsar Nicolas II, Queen Alexandra (who was Queen Victoria 's granddaughter), and their four children were killed by the Red Army in 1918, just before the White Army reached the city. The house they were killed in was demolished under Yeltsin in 1977 in order to prevent the site from becoming a rallying site for monarchists. Yeltsin had a swimming pool built there. The Tsar was given a state funeral in 1998 that Yeltsin, as President attended. Recently, the huge "Church on the Blood" was built on the site and it is very popular.
Finally, from Wikipedia: "Yekaterinburg" also has a circus building and one of the tallest incomplete architectural structures in the world, the Yekaterinburg TV Tower. There are also a number of unusual monuments: a popular keyboard monument and a monument to Michael Jackson.