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.
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.
There are bathrooms at either end of each car, but they are pretty crude. Gross alert for toilet picture below!
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
Happy New Year!
Next post: Russian New Year and Orthodox Christmas (January 7)