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The Travel Journal of Jacqui and Lars

 

Russia - 23 August, 2003

 

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Location Latitude Longitude Elevation

Travel Distance

Start Yekaterinburg (The Academy of Geology Hotel) N5651.492' E06036.357' 287 meters .
-  Tour city . . . .
Finish Yekaterinburg (The Academy of Geology Hotel) N5651.492' E06036.357' 287 meters .

Total (by train):

10,711 km

Total (Mongolia):

2,880 km

Total (Kamchatka):

1,339 km

Total (other):

384 km

Total:

15,314 km

 

Weather: Partly cloudy, sunny and hot.  Cool overnight.

 

 

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We have a full day of exploring ahead of us, so we have a relatively early breakfast at 9 AM in the hotel.  It seems that the hotel is not very full at the moment (maybe as it is still summer), and the table is only set for four people.  The dining room is covered with electric blue wall paper - just what you need early in the morning to wake up and get you in the right mood.  We have our light breakfast and then get ready to head out.

 

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We begin our walking tour down Prospect Lenina passing in front of the local military headquarters - the area in front of the building is kept in very good shape by the dozens of soldiers scattered around tending the gardens and walkways.  At the roundabout, we turn north onto utlitsa Lunacharskogo, where after a short walk we come upon the Military History Museum.  We decide to visit it later today as the weather is good and we want to take advantage of it in case it changes.  Also here is the ploshchad Sovetski Armiii, with a very unusual and moving war memorial.

 

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Unlike most other war memorials in Russia, this one does not glorify war.  It is a very powerful statue of an exhausted, sitting soldier with a downcast head.  It was built to commemorate the lives lost in the Afghanistan conflict.  There are also plaques placed around the soldier remembering the other conflicts that the former Soviet Union was involved in.  The memorial is under renovation - they seem to be adding a new memorial (maybe for the recent losses in Chechnya) - so it is hard to get a good look at it.

 

From here we carry on up to the park that lines the street.  We have to walk all the way around it in order to find an entrance into the park.  We then walk through the park up to the back of the Rastorguev-Kharitonov mansion that belonged to a 19th century gold family.  Now used for after school activities.  Nearby is the recently restored Ascension Church, which we took a quick look into.  From here we cross the square with its statue honoring the Komsomol (Communist Youth League), which overlooks the Romanov Death Site.

 

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The last Tsar, Nicholas II, and his wife and five children were brought to Yekaterinburg after they were captured in St. Petersburg at the start of the revolution.  Here they were held until the night of 16 July, 1918 when the communists feared they may be freed by the approaching White Army.  On that night, they were taken down into the cellar of a house known as Dom Ipateva and murdered.  The house was demolished in 1977 by local governor Boris Yeltsin.

 

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In its place has now been built a huge, multi-level church called the Church of Blood that commemorates the last Tsar and his family.  They have all been elevated to the status of saints by the church and in the church they seem to be glorified as near gods.  On the upper level is a modern, Russian orthodox church which is surprisingly bright and airy.  While we are inside, we are fortunate enough to hear a couple of ladies singing some hymns.  Their beautiful voices fill the vaults with moving hymns - a very impressive performance.

 

We head down to the lower level, which has in effect become a mausoleum and memorial to the last Tsar and his family.  There are countless pictures, paintings and tapestries with images of the Nicholas II and his family with large gold haloes around their heads.  There are countless locals who have come to pay their respects and to wander through the large number of "shrines".  There is a small exhibit, all in Russian, about him and his family.  Finally, there is a large semi-circular area with large marble plaques on the wall that look just like tombs, except the remains had been taken to St. Petersburg to be buried there.

 

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Back outside, we take a look at the huge statue of Nicholas II and his family.  It is a strange statue - not quite sure what to make of the body language and the facial expressions.  How they have been glorified in death.  We are not really sure of his track record as a ruler, but the Communists, by murdering them, have certainly raised them to near-God like status.

 

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We also went to check out the much simpler memorials that had originally been set up to them after the collapse of the Soviet Union.  There is an iron cross set up in 1991 and a marble cross set up in 1998 when the remains were sent to St. Petersburg.  Right here is also the small, wooden Chapel of the Revered Martyr Grand Princess Yelisaveta Fyodorovna.  This pious nun met a horrible death at the hand of the Bolsheviks.  She was thrown, alive, down a mine and when she survived this (they could tell by her wailing prayers for the souls of her attackers), poisonous gas was piped into the mine and then filled with dirt.

 

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From here we headed towards the river, stopping to see a number of the old, wooden buildings that are still preserved.  The most interesting is the Siberian Trakt House, one of the many stations on the mail route across Siberia before the train was built.  It still has out front the post marking off the distance in versts (the ancient Russian measure of distance) to Moscow and St. Petersburg.  This has been turned into a small museum and we have a quick look around.  Around the corner we also come across a very strange statue of Pushkin.

 

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Once we reach the Iset River, forming a pond at this point due to the small dam that was built when the city was first founded, it is time for lunch.  We have some Uzbek food and a beer as we sit at the tables overlooking the pond.  Once we finish lunch, we walk along the river's edge down to the main street - prospect Lenina.  Along the way we take a look at the Nikolai Sevastianof mansion, built to outshine the governor's building right next door.

 

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Once on Lenina, we turn west and head into the park formed by the base of the dam.  This is where the city was founded and the large iron forges sprang up.  We cross over the river and up to the other side, carrying on along Lenina.  We pass ploshchad 1905 Goda, where a statue of Lenin looks across the street at the city hall.  Lenin stands on the spot where one of the city's main cathedrals used to stand.  It was destroyed during the Communist rule.  A small demonstration just seem to be winding up at the base of the statue.  As they seem to be carrying red flags, it may be a group of Communists hoping for a return to the "good old" days.

 

From here we head to the outdoor markets selling all sorts of stuff, from sun glasses to CDs to underwear.  We begin browsing along the stalls, hoping to reach the stands that sell some souvenirs. But we do not make much progress before a policeman stops us and asks us for our documents.  Well, we had left our originals at the hotel and were carrying just photocopies with us.  This certainly did not seem to satisfy him.  He kept on insisting on seeing the registration card and stamps.  Well, we had left this with the passports and, in any case, we had no stamps for this city (this hotel does not seem to cater to foreign tourists, and does not give registration stamps).

 

He then tells us to follow him and so begins a long saga.  We walk for about 10 minutes to what looks like the usual rundown residential apartment building.  Here they take us to a small room that seems to act as the neighborhood police post, but it certainly is very basic with one rickety table and a couple of chairs.  They ask us if we speak Russian and we say no and then ask if we have a Russian-English dictionary.  We have none.  They show us a sample of a registration card and we tell them it is at the hotel and tell them the name of our hotel and where it is.  We offer to take them there - they do not seem to be interested in the 30+ minute walk back to the hotel.

 

They then ask to search all our stuff.  We have nothing to hide.  We empty out our pockets one by one and show them all we have.  They find one of our security pockets and count, with some interest, all the money we have in there.  They also carefully check the $100 bills as if checking for counterfeits, holding them up to the light.  We carefully count all the money before putting it back.  But there search is not that thorough or professional - they miss a number of other security pockets on our shirts and bags.  In Jacqui's small purse they find her mini-phrase book and then act like they have caught us in a lie (we said we have no language dictionary).  We tell them to take a look at it and they are a bit confused - there is nothing in Cyrillic.  It is all romanised and they cannot read a thing.  Not much use in this circumstance.

 

This, of course, is all going on with sign language and other gestures.  They do not speak English and we certainly make sure that we do not use any Russian words.  At one point, they want to send Jacqui off to the hotel to get the passports and we flat out refuse.  We are not going to split up under any circumstances.  So, we have now been here for about an hour and we decide that we have had enough of this game.  They are making threatening signs (like signs of jail bars, etc), so we make a bit it clear that we are settling in for the long haul.  We each grab a place to sit down, have a drink of our water and then just settle back.  We just acted like we were bored of it all and that we were happy to just lay back and relax.   They had a brief chat amongst themselves and then told us that we could leave.  But they warned us that we should not be out on the streets if we do not have a registration stamp for the city.

 

We give a big smile and head on our way.  What a way to treat foreign tourists.  We have our visa giving us entry to their country.  We have our voucher indicating that we can come to Yekaterinburg and that we got the visa on this basis.  They then treat us poorly and like criminals as we quietly walk their streets.  Russia still has a long way to go before they become a major tourist destination (this fascination with documents and stamps is just too much - the stamp they are interested in can be forged by a four year old kid with his ink set).  We think they were mainly interested in a small bribe - this was confirmed later when we told locals about it and based on some letters in newspapers we read later on.  All it takes is a bit of cash to solve your problems - gives you a lot of confidence in the rules really achieving anything.

 

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A bit of an adventure, but they have disrupted our schedule.  We had wanted to get to the Military Museum today as it is closed tomorrow.  We quickly walk back, this time crossing the river on the bridge, admiring the large Order of Lenin given to the city for honorable service during the Second World War.  We head down Lenina and make our way to the museum.  It turns out to have closed already.  We still have half an hour before closing, but our guess is that there were no visitors, so they decided to close early.  We just wanted to see the display on Gary Powers and the downed U2 plane.

 

From here we head back to the hotel where we spend some time relaxing and thinking what we should be doing about these registration stamps.  We talk to a few locals and in the end we discover that you only need a registration stamp if you are in a city for three or more days.  So, all that trouble for nothing.  Also, the locals confirm that they were most likely just trying scare a bribe out of us.

 

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So, we certainly are not going to spend our time holed up in our hotel room.  Out we head.  We wander around a bit, once again passing the Opera and Ballet Theater on our way downtown.  We briefly stop at the internet cafe to check our emails and then it is time for a drink and snack on the river.  We find a nice spot where we can have a beer and some light food for dinner.  While we are here, a local couple at the next table strikes up a conversation with us.  We soon join them at their table and have a very pleasant conversation.  Sergei (who speaks very good English) and Olga tell us all about the city and region and what they do.  We tell them about our travels.  We also tell them about our encounter with the police and they tell us it is common in this city.  They were just looking for a bribe.  We spend over an hour there and then, just before we leave, they ask us if we have been to local night spots.  Well, we really have not been to too many, so when they invite us to join them for the evening, we gladly accept.  We arrange to meet up later, as we need to go back to our hotel room to wash-up and change out of our travel clothes.

 

After we have finished doing some laundry, had our shower and changed into our one set of decent clothes, we head back out.  We have a long walk ahead of us, so we set a good pace.  In any case, the temperature has started to drop, so it is a good way to keep warm.  We meet them back at the City Pond near the Dinamo Stadium at the Eldorado night club.  Even though we are a bit late, they have waited for us.  We head up to the terrace on the top of the building for a quiet drink where we can talk.  We have a great view over the lit-up city and the Church of Blood stands up on the nearby hill.  We spend a couple of hours up there, drinking a couple of bottles of Georgian wine and having good conversation.  In the middle of our conversation, a fireworks display begins.  It lasts for about 10 minutes and puts on quite a good show.

 

At around midnight, we decide that it is time to head down into the nightclub itself.  It is a huge hall that is filled with people, smoke and loud techno music.  We struggle a while to find a table, but in the end we are fortunate to find a spot.  We stick with the Georgian wine - how can we go wrong.  It is good and costs about $12 per bottle.  As we are sitting down, an audience participation contest begins on the dance floor.  Three or four couples have gotten up there and it seems to be a contest to see who can dance the best.  Well, they certainly seem to want to win whatever the price is.  As they gyrate to the music, they begin to strip.  In the end, one couple is down to their underpants (the bra went early on), and another is topless.  The crowd loves it.  It seems the crowd is the judge, so the couple that stripped the most, wins.  Even during the judging, the women do not put their tops back on - they are flaunting their assets as best they can.

 

We spend the next few hours enjoying our wine with the occasional assault on the dance floor.  The women here are certainly dressed to attract the men.  And on the dance floor, they move their bodies to get as much attention as possible.  Just before 3 PM, our sense can no longer take the overwhelming music and smoke and we call it quits for the night.  We walk back to the hotel, taking the longer route that passes along the lit streets.  But it actually does not seem dangerous.  There are plenty of single or groups of women walking along.  We get back to the hotel and crash.

 

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