A Trip to Yekaterinburg
Today I want to tell you about a beautiful city in Russia that not everyone knows. Ekaterinburg, or as they say EKB, is the first place in Russia I lived in. Even thought it is the fourth biggest city in Russia, it is not very famous abroad and even many Russians have never been there. As foreigners, we all study in geography classes in primary school about the Ural Mountains, but never heard of their main city, which is situated about 1600 km east of Moscow.
First, let me tell you some facts about Ekb. it has a population of 1.5 million residents which makes it nu,ber four among the largest cities in Russia, it is the capital of the Sverdlovsk region, it is named after Catherine I, wife of Peter the Great and next year on November 18th it will be 300 years from its foundation.
It takes 2 hours and a half to fly there from Moscow, which is perfect for a long weekend away from the capital, and you can find tickets as cheap as 3500 rubles to up to 6000 rubles roundtrip.
Or if you have more time, for about the same amount of money, you could try the special experience of travelling in a Russian train, the tickets are around 2500 rubles one way, and it takes about 27 hours to get there. In this case you will definitely need more than just a weekend.
The time difference is 2 hours ahead of Moscow time. It is situated more or less in the middle of this huge country, therefore it is also a convenient starting point to travel to other regions, such as Altai Republic or Siberia. It also has an international airport from which you can fly to Kazakhstan, Turkey, Dubai, Armenia and so on.
Well, this city stole my heart. I lived there for almost a year, and I could get to know the city and its surrondings quite well. It is surprising how it changes so much from winter to summer time, but it is a fascinating city in every season. The temperature can reach 35 degrees in summer and -40 degrees in winter, but let me tell you that you will not feel it because the weather is very dry.
If you like the snow, you should probably go in winter, there are even places where you can ski one hour far from the city. But if you just enjoy walking around and like the view of a snow covered city, from November to March it is definitely your time to visit.
There are beautiful parks inside the city, where you can enjoy a walk with a warm take-out coffee in winter or an icecream in summer.
The heart of the city is definitely the Plotinka, the dam. This city was born as an industrial center, it was built on the river Iset, where the mining plants were collecting water from it. With the time it expanded and from an industrial city became a cultural city.
It is considered the Russian capital of street art. There are tours with famous artists who will show you the best graffiti and explain you the stories behind them. But also if you are alone and walk around, just keep your eyes open because you will discover many pieces of art around you.
It is famous for its constructivist architecture, that flourished in the Soviet Union. By some people they are considered quite ugly, but they are a symbol and a memory of the past.
The center of the city is not that big and it is actually ideal to discover it walking around. It is very confortable, as there are many pedestrian streets and boulevards where you can walk safely. As in many cities in Russia, the main street that crosses the city horizontally is called Lenina Street. You can start your walking tour from here. You will find the Opera Theatre, the State University of Urals, Academic Theatre of Musical Comedy and in a side street the Philharmonic. If you keep walking then you will cross the literary quarter with museums about writers and artists of the Ural regions, and you will then arrive to the bank of the river.
From here in the evening there is a beautiful view of the opposite riverbank with the highest skyscrapers of the city, that form the business centre of Ekb. In winter the river is completely frozen and you can cross it on foot without any danger.
Fun fact: geographically Yekaterinburg is already in Asia! If you think about it, it is very funny. Thirty minutes out of the city there is a big monument with the enscriptions “Europe - Asia”. On his left you are in Europe, and on the right of it you are in Asia. And the city is located on the right, so technically it is in Asia!
Walking alongside the riverbank, you will get to the Plotinka and keep going until you reach the Historical Square where there are the Museum of Nature and the Museum of Fine Arts. From there you can come back on the other side of the river and reach the Yeltsin Center. The main cultural and artistic centre, where there is a cinema, a theatre, temporary and permanent exhibitions, shops and restaurants, a bookstore and a great Ural-souvenir shop and the interesting museum about the first President of the Russian Federation, Boris Yeltsin, who was born in the Urals.
Yekaterinburg is a multipurpose cultural centre, it has something like 40 different libraries and 50 museums. You will never get bored!
Among the many theatres in the city, I want to mention the Kolyada-theatre, which is a very special place. An unconventional theatre, as soon as you go through its doors you will feel like in a fairy tail. The hall is full of objects hanging on the walls and all around you, there are antiques, dolls, art sculptures and even living animals. And then you will be completely absorbed by the plays which are performed with great quality and acting skills.
For the football fans, EKB is also home to FC Ural team, which plays in Russia’s premier league and you can watch playing in the big Yekaterinburg Arena.
To conclude your trip in Yekaterinburg you will want to buy some souvenirs to bring home. Besides the typical Russian matryoshkas I would recommend you to buy crystals and precious stones such as the note malachite from the Urals. This precious material has been of inspiration for some folk tales by the Ural writer Bazhov, such as “The malachite box” and “The Stone Flower”, which have also been adapted to movies. There are countless objects made in malachite from jewelry, jewelry boxes, to paperweight, and even furniture. The problem is that the reserves of real Ural malachite from this area have already ended, so you need to pay attention because on the market now it is very easy to encounter malachite from Africa instead of the original one from the Urals.
If you have more days available and a car there are two places outside the city worth a visit. Ural Bali and Ural Mars. They are about 2 hours from the city. And you need to visit both of them in summer. Ural bali is a long lake with a bright blue and green water. It is surrounded by conifers and has even a white sand beach. The peculiarity is the beautiful bluemarine colour of the water which really reminds of the water colour in Indonesia, and which is actually created by the mix of minerals in the argil.
The second unreal place is Ural Mars, which is infact just a set of abandoned clay quarries. It is a huge surface, where there is practically no vegetation. The clay, which can vary in color from white to black, in some places has dried out and the ground has cracked, making it look like the red planet. There are eerie lakes, blue, pink or brown in color which give the landscape a Martian appearance. It is an incredible landscape but the lakes are actually very polluted by industrial waste from the plant. Strictly speaking people are not supposed to come here, but more and more tourists are being attracted by this surreal view.
The last but not least historical fact that deserves to be mentioned is that right in this city the Romanov family was killed by the Bolsheviks. It was the night between the 16th and 17th July 1918, when the last Emperor of Russia, Nicholas II, was executed together with his wife and their five children. This marked the end of the Russian Empire. Today on the site of their death, there is an impressive Orthodox church, called the Church on Blood where the Romanovs are commemorated.
Well, there is much more to say about this city but I will let you discover it by yourself. I am sure you will like it, enjoy your trip!