Yekaterinburg – where civilians drive Volgas with bears as passengers and where the last Tsar of Russia was brought to be murdered. Sounds great, huh?
Surprisingly (or not, maybe) Yekaterinburg just wasn’t on my list of things to see and do. Not like Tobolsk, which I had a yearning to visit from before I even set foot past the Urals. Yekaterinburg is a bigger city than that of my humble Tyumen, and is likened to Manchester thanks to its industrial roots. I’ve only been to Manchester once and it was cool but really, cities just aren’t my bag.
Nevertheless, when a friend of mine suggested visiting Yekaterinburg to apply for her American visa, I couldn’t refuse the opportunity to get my tourist on. Even if there wasn’t a whole bundle of stuff that was jumping out at me from my trip advisor app.
Fast forward a couple of weeks and I’m stoked that I got to see the Big Y, not just because it was one of the most surreal 48 hours of my life but because I got to experience a completely different side of the country I’ve called home for the last 7 months. A side which is somewhat inaccessible to me whilst living among the comforts of the ‘happiest town in Russia.’
We travelled there by train which took a long and agonising 5ish hours.
Long and agonising? But how so, Zoe? You’ve travelled much longer on a train!
Indeed I have, my pet. But I haven’t travelled for so long, trapped under the reeking blood sack of a really, really drunk Russian dude. A really, really, REALLY drunk Russian dude, who professed his love for me within the first hour whilst continually shoulder nudging me into the corner of my bunk. He was pretty harmless, but after a full day at work I was in no mood to play games and in broken Russian I (maybe a little too) abruptly told him I was tired. He got the hint that I didn’t want to talk but it didn’t stop him hovering around our beds like some kind of unwanted genie.
We arrived in Yekaterinburg at about 2.30AM and caught a cab to our apartment. The hotel we intended to stay in was fully booked and so they offered us an apartment that ‘isn’t as nice but is clean and tidy.’
We hit the jackpot. We had three large rooms with double beds, a jacuzzi shower hybrid thing, a kitchen and a balcony that bent around the whole outer wall of our apartment. We watched the sunrise over the city, and from here we could see most of the main attractions. It was just so blindingly superb.
We couldn’t sleep, so we showered and went out for breakfast at no later than 6AM on a Sunday morning. The cafe we picked was still quite busy, with groups continuing their Saturday night shenanigans and a girl in a black dress cackling over a hookah pipe.
I had broccoli pasta and a cappuccino.
After having sachets of sugar pelted at the back of my head, by the teenagers behind me, we tackled our sight seeing quest. We never made it to the Church on Spilled Blood by foot but we did pass it a few times in taxis and on buses. To me… It was just another church. And the landmark as the death place of Nicholas Romanov and his family might have been more exciting had it still been the house of which they were murdered in. I know, I know… so demanding.
Everywhere we went, people approached us asking for change, spewing tales of getting way too drunk the night before and spending their metro money on beer/drugs/novelty t-shirts. As strong independent ladies, we uttered apologies and scuttled away.
Here, there and everywhere people were asleep; passed out on benches, in flower beds and across the pavement. These weren’t typical homeless men, this was just the result of some banging Saturday night out in Yeketamineburg. At around 9AM we made the mistake of standing way to close to a street corner and within seconds a car full of smoke and lechy 25-30 year olds pulled up to take us for the ride of our lives. LOL, ahem.
In the afternoon I visited Ganina Yama, the place where the Romanovs were found after multiple wounds and gunshots. Now a religious site stands there, commemorating the family with some very beautiful wooden architecture and a fully functioning monastery. The entrance to the monastery was free with my tour, which I joined from the train station at 3PM.
The tour itself was 1100 rubles (about £11 at the time of writing). The guide couldn’t speak much English and my Russian is still somewhere between nonexistent and piss poor so he let me do my own thing, taking photos, wandering around and just sitting quietly in corners.
It is requested that women cover their heads and wear a long skirt but they provide these at the entrance.
Following the tour to Ganina Yama was a visit to the ‘new’ Europe/Asia border. The old border, a little further away from the city seems to be a much bigger and more impressive feature, however this border point was enough for my tired eyes. I was beginning to feel the lack of sleep I’d had. So I was grateful.
One of the guys that was also on my tour (there were 5 of us in total) had travelled from Moscow but was born in a city not far from Yekaterinburg. I’d not heard of his home town before (I don’t know why that’s surprising to me) but he told me that it is still a closed city; only residents and natives of this city are permitted to enter and are issued special ID cards that are to be treated with the same respect and care as a passport.
The next day we visited the zoo. Zoos are a controversial subject, I know. One part of me finds the whole situation of animals in enclosed spaces so sad. But another part of me understands the studies and conservation that zoos make possible.
The zoo was quite large and the animals were fed well… Constantly, even. I was beyond thrilled to see my first ever real life sloth (though it could have been a toy given its characteristic slothenliness) and I came across animals that I never knew existed. This was a first for me in my adult life. As an animal fanatic I was pretty shocked to find myself being educated once again by enclosure plaques at a zoo (handily written in English and Russian).
Our day ended with my first Pizza Mia (not as good as Dodos and charges extra for takeaway boxes; WTF Pizza Mia?) and the train journey back to Tyumen. I was absolutely shattered but our rendezvous with Yekaterinburg was worth the few pennies I spent and the fatigue I experienced for the next seven days.
If you’re after a more detailed summary of opening times, tour operators and costs then please drop a comment below or email me via the contact page 🙂 Don’t forget to like and share to help a sister out!