Today will be a busy day indeed with tours in the morning and afternoon, followed by the late night start of the next long haul train trip.
Day 31 Planned:
- Morning 2.5 hour city tour
- Afternoon 3 hours “Romanov Graves” (both by car with guide)
- Depart Yekaterinburg, car transfer hotel/station
- Train #71 Yekaterinburg to St Petersburg – dep 2303 hrs / arr 0838 hrs + 2 days
(I told you I probably needed a quiet afternoon yesterday).
Day 31 Actual:
A decent breakfast was followed by meeting our guide for the day Dmitri. Dmitri took us on a guided tour of the centre of Yekaterinburg and showed how it has changed over the centuries. When initially founded in 1613 it was intended as an imperial manufactory and the town design reflected this.
The weather today was possibly the coldest yet – windy and we got some snow (albeit that it didn’t last on the ground). I didn’t have my final under layer (the jumper) or the cashmere scarf I bought in Ulaanbaatar, but I was mostly fine with out them.
Yekaterinburg was essentially built around a dam to power factories via water wheels. As a result any tour of Yekaterinburg will feature the river, and there’s some quite pretty photos to be had.
I believe this was taken from the bridge seen above and looking back towards the sun. I quite like the light effects in this:
The walk took us past an area where there’s a bit of a shrine to the Beatles, as well as some Doctor Who street art.
I believe, but I’m not certain, that there’s now a hydroelectric plant installed on the dam instead. So the centerline of the city was the central runoff from the dam (to control the water level), the side runoffs that drove the water wheels, and the factories using those water wheels. Although we didn’t visit it, there’s a museum to the early factories there with some steam age machinery on display outside:
This lasted until about the 1970s when the factories were banished to the outskirts and the large river plaza seen in the photos was established.
One of the side runoffs is now sealed and used for infrastructure, the central runoff remains the river, and the other side runoff is now a pedestrian tunnel.
The tour highlighted several aspects of the imperial, mercantile, and soviet style architecture in the central, and quite compact city. This section of the tour included the military headquarters built in the 50s/60s featuring a statue of Marshal Zhukov who apparently spent some time in internal exile in Yekaterinburg:
It included a visit to the site of the (now long gone) house where the Romanovs were held and killed. However what’s there now is a quite openly touristy Orthodox Church with substantial tourist shops (I believe it’s called the Church on the Blood).
There is a much older blue church a block away which is apparently where the religious population of Yekaterinburg are much more likely to attend. I don’t remember the context for these two, but the contrast of the old wooden church and the much newer construction appeals to me:
On a more modern level there’s also a museum/cultural center dedicated to the late Boris Yeltsin who came from Yekaterinburg. This cultural center does feature an, um, unfortunately shaped statue of Boris Yeltsin that may have given rise to a saying in the group of giving someone the Yeltsin…
Sweeping views of the city are available from there.
Standing in the shadows of a new(ish) apartment block was this rather well preserved merchant’s house from the 19th century.
The next stop was a drive out to the abandoned copper mine where the bodies of the Romanovs were initially buried. This site is now an Orthodox Monastery, and the church version of the story is that the bodies were always here, end of story.
Like the previous church this is quite touristy. There’s a decent museum to the Romanovs, including some fair assessments of what they were trying to achieve at the end of their reign, but the whole thing seems quite cynical overall. There was one glaring exception though in the museum (see below).
From there we drove to another site, lonely and abandoned in the forests of the Urals, which (in the government version) is where the bodies were moved by the Bolsheviks to prevent discovery. It seems that almost no one comes here, that most Russians don’t know about this version of the story, or that two of the bodies were only discovered here in 2007. Apparently DNA tests have positively accounted for the entire family by this stage.
(According to the church the bodies were moved here by Boris Yeltsin in the 70s so that they could be discovered away from the holy site in the 90s)
I don’t know which version is correct but I’m leaning towards the government version. It seems, oddly perhaps, less cynical than the canonisation of the entire family by the Orthodox Church, and certainly less commercial than the monastery with the huge pilgrims hostel nearby.
The lonely and abandoned site in the forests also seems more in tune with Ozymandias.
“Nothing beside remains” indeed.
No, seriously, that’s apparently the attitude of the Orthodox Church to Rasputin these days.
They are doing their level best to not ever talk about him. That was the one glaring, obvious, exception to the museum: there are no photos or mentions of Rasputin at all.
This was part of a fairly wide ranging discussion with Dmitri after we left both sites and were driving back to Yekaterinburg.
All in all a pleasant enough day.
Next Up: St Petersburg
Back in Yekaterinburg we had a light (and lateish) lunch then hit the nearest supermarket for supplies for the next train journey. As mentioned above, next stop: St Petersburg. After that we retired to the hotel to relax. The nearest mall had a vending machine that Japan would envy I think:
It also had some impressive sculptures – a Sherlock Holmes & Watson, an Alice in Wonderland tableaux, and I quite liked this globe:
Flower Travel booked a very late check out for us, essentially another half day in the hotel, so we can have dinner and then be picked up from the hotel at about 9:45PM.
Getting on to the train was slightly complicated by the condition (or lack thereof) of the station (I believe I mentioned that it’s being reconstructed for the World Cup next year). Other than that we basically crashed as soon as the train pulled out.
Here’s the Day 31 photo album.