Travels in Russia: Yekaterinburg

If “trains” are one of the things that come to mind when you think of Russia, it is a true perception.  Recently we traveled by overnight train to the capital city of the Ural Mountains, Yekaterinburg.  Owing to Russia’s immense size, travel is usually by plane or train, but because the latter is much less expensive, it is far more popular, despite the long hours.   We were told that our trip was “only” 14 hours, so that gives you some indication of how Russians view time and distance.

Like everything else in Kazan, the train station is undergoing a facelift.  It is, however, a beautiful brick building.

A closer look at the facade detail of the train station.

Inside the train station are immense chandeliers like this one. Despite the impression that Russian architecture, especially from the Soviet era, is drab and uninteresting, there are many examples like Kazan’s train station, inside and out, that are architecturally impressive.

There are three options for Russian train travel: 3rd class is school bus style seating with 30 or so people per car, a tough way to travel long distances, but very inexpensive.  Second class compartments are limited to 4 people with fold-down beds (our choice) while 1st class is a private compartment for 2 people with beds and other amenities.  Because the trains vary considerably in age, the comfort level and general atmosphere runs the gamut.  Our train was toward the “vintage” end of the spectrum.

Sandra is sitting on the lower berth.  Each berth comes with a bed roll that serves as a mattress, two sheets, a heavy wool blanket, and a pillow.

A bed made ready for the night.

There are bathrooms at either end of each car, but they are pretty crude.  Gross alert for toilet picture below!

We didn’t know why the bathrooms are locked when stopped at a train station until we flushed the toilet–right out the bottom of the train!

Each car has a samovar (hot water dispenser) for making your own tea, coffee, or hot-water convenience food.

The overnight train trip was of course mostly in the dark, but in the morning as we rolled through the snowy Siberian countryside my thoughts turned to Dr. Zhivago, as he and his family made their way through the Urals to escape the ravages of the post-communist revolution civil war.

Snowy Siberia from the train.

Yekaterinburg is most (in)famous as the place where in 1918 the 300+ year Romanov dynasty of Russian tsars came to an end.  Tsar Nicholas, Tsarina Alexandra, and their five children were executed in the basement of a private residence by the Bolsheviks (communists).  Today, the site is a Russian Orthodox Cathedral, aptly named “Church on the Blood.”

The “Church on the Blood” memorializes the end of the Romanov dynasty.

The last of the Russian Romanovs. This outdoor portrait greets visitors to the church (just to the left of the cross on the church photo above).

The altar of the recently completed church (2003) is located over the execution site. Note the young woman in the center of the picture venerating a Russian Orthodox icon.

Just to the right of the altar area is a special memorial wing commemorating each of the Romanov family members.

Yekaterinburg, like every large Russian city, boasts a number of theatres, concert halls, and museums.  Russians take great pride in their high culture achievements, especially classical music, literature, and poetry.  We attended a performance of the ballet, Giselle, at a beautifully intimate theatre.

Magnificent ballet and opera theatres, like this one, can be found in all major Russian cities.

The resplendent chandelier arrangement adorning the theatre ceiling.

The Urals are a mineral-rich region of Russia.  We toured two museums related to its geology:  a “rock” museum and a finished iron arts museum.

Not sure what this rock is (quartz?), but it was the one we could take a picture of without getting into trouble!

While admiring these wooly mammoth bones, a man came up to me and asked if I wanted to buy some! He goes out into the Siberian forest and finds them, apparently with relative ease.

This pagoda is made from forged iron. The size and detail (see picture below) are impressive examples of Russia’s skilled metalwork artisans.

Metallurgy craftsmanship of the highest order.

The Ural Mountains are considered the geographic boundary between Europe and Asia.  Outside of Yekaterinburg there is an official marker where you can put one foot in Asia and one in Europe.

Sandra astride the boundary between Asia and Europe.

Happy New Year!

Next post:  Russian New Year and Orthodox Christmas (January 7)

14 thoughts on “Travels in Russia: Yekaterinburg

    • I don’t know about Rick Steves, Randy, but I know it’s been quite an experience thus far. We are incredibly fortunate to have this opportunity, one we are trying to take full advantage of…while leaving the kids’ inheritance here in Russia!

  1. Wow…thanks for sharing your travels. This is so great to live vicariously through you! Have a very Happy New Year! Miss ya!

    • You’re always sweet to write, Lorna! While walking home last night from New Year’s festivities at the Kremlin (2 a.m.), I again had to pinch myself that we are in Russia. Five thousand miles away hugs!

  2. It doesn’t look like the trains look any different since we took them 10 years ago. Actually I don’t think thee trains have changed any since the ’40′s. I got such a kick out of the bathroom when I went to use it, hit the little flush flapper the trap door opened and “clickity clack clickity clack” you could see the railroad ties going by. Then I realized why the sign on the door (in Russian) said “Do not use in station”. :- )

    • Fun to hear your Russian train story, Allen. Hoping to take the bullet train from Moscow to St. Petersburg and check out the other end of the train spectrum. I suspect, however, that most of our train travels will be of this variety.

    • Thanks, Robin, for your note…and reminder to stay out of trouble! I wasn’t supposed to take photos in the rock museum where the mammoth bones were located, but the guy who offered to sell me some was taking pictures so I thought I’d sneak one in, too! Same for the Church on the Blood. Some of the docents say no photos while others say without flash. Let’s just say I always try to be discrete! Happy New Year to you, too!

  3. Reading your blog reminds me to always keep something new in life – to keep learning and exploring. Books are one thing, but adventures are another. I also love all the photos:) Keep up the great “work”!

    • I am extraordinarily fortunate to be able to have this adventure, so I’m trying to take full advantage of the opportunity. But books are a great escape and window into the world, and have provided much inspiration for me to explore other cultures.

      As for “work”(!), I was asked to speak at a conference on diversifying the Russian economy, so that’s how we ended up in Yekaterinburg. The best part of the proceedings was the opportunity to listen and respond to student presentations. Their English language proficiency, especially on such a sophisticated topic as economic diversification, was really impressive.

      Thanks (again) for your note, Janet.

  4. I am trying to remember the book I read about the Romanovs. It was one of those historical fiction books. Wonderful to see pictures of items I have only read about.

    • Nice to hear from you, Peggy! There remains a great deal of interest in the Romanovs. You can even get your picture taken with Tsar Nicholas on Red Square (along with Stalin, Lenin, and other historical figure impersonators)!

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