I Am Back and blogging again! After a longer than planned stay in the UK, I am finally back in Russia! On the first day of freedom from my 2-week quarantine we got on a plane and flew to Yekaterinburg (also spelt Ekaterinburg). The city is the 4th largest in Russia and sits in the Urals just east of the dividing line between Europe and Asia. It is a 2-and-a-half hour flight from Moscow and 2 hours ahead.
Yekaterinburg was founded by Tsar Peter the Great in 1723 as a mining town. The Ural region has a wealth of stones, gems, and minerals. The grand, stone buildings in the city were all formerly owned by the mining companies before becoming schools and other civic buildings. During WWII hundreds of factories were relocated here and it became a closed city until 1990 because of its many defence plants. During the 1970s a local boy, Boris Yeltsin, began to make his political mark here and in 1991 became the first ever President of the Russian Federation. Of course the city is most notorious for the murder of Tsar Nicholas II and his family by the Bolsheviks in July 1918.
We arrived on a sunny spring day. There was still lots of snow and the City Pond was frozen but the sun was out and the temp +9C. We downloaded the English language audioguide from Izi.travel which took us on a 2-hour walk through Yekaterinburg. The number one sight is appealingly labeled in our book as “Romanov Death Site”! Here the massive Church upon the Blood stands on the site of the house in whose basement they were executed. The house was demolished in the 70’s by the then governor Boris Yeltsin who feared it would attract monarchist sympathisers. To my protestant tastes the veneration of the Tsar and his family, who have all been declared saints, sits rather uneasily in my mind. The church was beautifully decorated in true Orthodox fashion but with frescos of the Royal family all dressed in white in bucolic idolised scenes.
Next to this enormous church is the simple wooden Chapel of the Revered martyr Grand Princess Yelizaveta Fyodorovna. A nun and a member of the Royal Family, she was thrown down a mine shaft as deep as the Church of the Blood is high! She survived and was reportedly heard singing before grenades were thrown down after her. You can read a little more about her in my blog Moscow Staycation. In the tiny wooden chapel one of the custodians gave us an interesting and detailed history of the Grand Duchess, her life, death and the chapel – all in Russian – of which I understood nothing! Luckily my husband was able to do some translating when she paused long enough! Next door there was the church museum, worth a quick visit, containing items that had belonged to various members of the family and other artefacts connected with them.
Moving on we walked through the old literary quarter containing several picturesque old wooden houses some of which contain museums about local writers and on around the frozen City Pond, past the fabulous Art Deco Dynamo sports complex and the Cosmos cinema until we got to the Boris Yeltsin Presidential Centre.
The Boris Yeltsin Presidential Centre was opened in 2015 and contains offices and a conference centre as well as the exceptionally good museum that depicts the late President’s life through seven interactive zones designed to represent seven historical days during his political life. There is quite a lot of english signage but there is also an excellent english language audioguide that we used. I would thoroughly recommend a visit here.
The next day we did the Urban tour on our Izi app which took us a little off piste to see some of the street art dotted around the city as well as giving us the chance to see some more of the intermingling of different architectural styles: old wooden houses, modern churches, constructivism (Russian art deco) municipal buildings and the Norman Foster designed “Pineapple” housing the Headquarters of the Russian Copper Company. As well as passing through a fabulous market where we stopped to buy some lime honey. (The bees feed on the pollen of lime flowers and it gives the honey a strong lime flavour popular here in Russia.)
We stayed in the aptly named Hotel Tsentralny a 1920’s art nouveau building in the centre of town. The room was large and clean, the breakfast decent and the price excellent! It cost about £30 a night for two! We had some great meals in a variety of styles – excellent beef in a British Pub (The Rosy Jane), excellent Chinese in an asian restaurant (Druzhba) – we were in Asia after all and European food with a Russian twist in a trendy tucked away Russian bistro (Gorozhane). Look out for a food blog in the future. And then we headed to the train station for an overnight train to Kazan. Blog to follow shortly!