From Krasnoyarsk to Yekaterinburg
24.05.2017 - 26.05.2017 20 °C
Eventually we headed to the railway station and boarded our train. In an attempt to save some money, I had booked train no. 69 instead of the faster trains no. 1 or no. 19. For the longest segment of our train journey of 2282 km to Yekaterinburg we’d therefore be spending 36 hours in the train instead of 30. The train was just as comfortable as train no. 1 had been. The only difference seemed to be that it lacked the TV screen which we did not miss.
As we left Krasnoyarsk we noticed its size (almost a million inhabitants), as the apartment blocks seemed to continue forever. Once we left the town itself, for the next 40 km we passed lots of datcha colonies – the second homes with garden that many Russian families own. With many people living in rather small apartments without their own garden, this is their place to get away from the city and to grow vegetables and to have a base for outdoor activities. It was a lot of fun observing how people were planting their plots. It was a fairly hot summer day and Sam was quite disappointed that he did not catch some of the beauties with his camera.
A bit later, we crossed the border between Eastern and Western Siberia. Once more we realized that we were getting closer and closer to home and to the end of our journey.
We passed through a hilly area. In regular intervals, we crossed some rivers and here and there a small town. Along the tracks there were endless swamps. We were wondering if potentially some of the ground might still be frozen in May, but were not able to check that theory. If we would have passed through this region in summer, we would have probably been haunted by mosquitoes. We clearly preferred spring time, as this is an experience we would not have been keen on making. Sam was plagued a bit by his allergies and it certainly did not help that along the tracks there were mostly birch trees.
Time passed quickly on the train. Between watching the landscape pass by, playing with Max and eating, we did not get bored. We checked the timetable closely and made sure to get out of the train at all longer stops. Seemingly everyone left the train for the 20-min break In Mariinsk. There were lots of hawkers on the platform trying to sell their goods to the passengers. We also stocked up our supplies with them and then enjoyed the sunshine and the fresh air.
At every wagon, the conductor was standing and making sure that only people with a ticket enter the train. She only checked the tickets of those people joining the train - all other passengers of ‘her’ wagon she knew by sight. That way we felt also safe to leave our compartment alone during our platform outings. Anyhow, we always felt very safe and secure in the trains and the stations.
We had originally considered if we should buy 2nd or 3rd class tickets and decided to go for 2nd class on all segments. This way we have a compartment with a door and potentially one person joining us. In 3rd class there are 54 instead of 36 people per wagon and there are no compartment doors. We were happy about our choice to go with 2nd class, as it was comfortable and we had a space for ourselves. In 3rd class, we would have probably met more people and seen more local culture. Still, whenever we passed through a 3rd class wagon, we agreed that we were not too keen on spending much time there. Due to the heat, most men were only wearing shorts and there was a clearly noticeable smell of alcohol in the air.
Even though we had bought only three of the four berths in our compartment, we had been alone for the whole day. But as we did not know if someone might potentially join us at one of the upcoming stations, we tried not to spread our stuff everywhere.
We slept very well and did not even notice the long stop the train made in Novosibirsk in the middle of the night. It is a bit complicated to tell at which time we woke up: it was 6 am (Moscow time / train time), 8 am (Yekaterinburg time / our destination), 9 am (local time at our current location in Omsk) and 10 am (Krasnoyarsk time / where we entered the train). Maybe we would have slept even longer, but the fourth berth in our compartment finally got occupied. Pasha, an artist from Yaroslavl joined us. He had had a couple of performances in Omsk and was now on his way home.
We spent the whole day on the train. With the help of our guidebook and the km markers along the tracks, we were able to follow all major landmarks and sights. As we approached the town of Ishin, we noticed that here was significant flooding. We were not able to find out the cause of the flooding and also Pasha did not know what had happened here.
As usual, we cherished every opportunity to get out of the train. It was sunny, but fairly cold. That did not stop some other passengers to stand outside in shorts and t-shirts. We got chatting with two Australian ladies. We introduced them to kvass, the Russian beverage we had repeatedly seen and finally tried: it is made by fermenting bread and sold to consumers from large yellow barrels. It reminded us a bit of malt beer with a nice lemon flavor. While it has a slight content of alcohol, it is considered non-alcoholic by Russian standards and the standard summer drink for the whole family.
In the evening at km post 2102 (or 3800km of train travel within Siberia) we eventually passed from Siberia into the Ural region. Thanks to the fact that now the days of Siberian exile and forced labor camps are over, we had found our stay very pleasant and felt sad to leave.
At 10pm local time we reached Yekaterinburg, Russia's fourth largest town. We were picked up at the train station by Julia, the owner of the apartment we stayed that night. We enjoyed that luxury of being picked up and taken to her place. Even though it was still fairly light outside, we were already quite tired and happy not having to search for her place.
Along the way to her very centrally located apartment, we passed many of the key sights and already got a first impression of the town. It was a perfect evening: there was not a single cloud in the sky and from our place on the 10th floor, we had a spectacular view of the town.
When we logged into the wifi at our place, we were stunned by a long WhatsApp from Elena. She’s a friend of Andrey and Angelica (who we had met a couple of weeks earlier in Cambodia) and lives in Yekaterinburg. Andrey had asked her if she’d like to meet us while we’d be there and she agreed. But more than that: she took off a day at work and had sent us a list of at least a dozen potential sightseeing opportunities for tomorrow. It sounded fabulous and we were looking forward to meet her.
We met Elena at 9am at our apartment. Even though we had not even seen a picture of her and she had only seen a picture of us at the pool, we immediately recognized each other. She was very sympathetic and we could not stop thanking her of taking a day off to meet people she never saw before. Our breakfast next door at Paul Bakery was a perfect start into the day. We used that opportunity to talk through the various options she had proposed to us and we decided to start with going in her Mini Cooper to the Asia – Europe Monument. The monument is located in the Ural Mountains some 40 km outside of the town center. Presumably the border of Asia and Europe is along the watershed. But the high Ural Mountains of our imagination turned out to be rather small rolling hills.
In principle Europe and Asia are arguably on the single continent of Eurasia. As there is no real physical separation of the two, the borderline seems to be more of an artificial matter of definition. Still, we had lots of fun, standing at the monument with one foot in Asia and one in Europe. After 392 days of absence, we were officially back in Europe. And it was great being able to stand there at the exact border and to enjoy this event instead of just passing through by train.
And as seen already a couple of times, here they were again: uncountable pieces of cloth tied to the trees, fences and everything around. What a beautiful custom!
Elena had included into her list of potential sights also the local military museum. Sam did not hesitate and soon enough we found ourselves on the premises of UMMC’s Museum of Military Technology. In the large open-air exhibit, there were tanks, fighter jets, submarines, trains, artillery, amphibian vehicles and much more. To Sam’s surprise, there were also a couple of tanks from the USA on display, most notably the Sherman. A bit of research revealed that during World War II, the United States provided to the USSR with more than 7,000 tanks, 400,000 jeeps and 18,000 aircraft under a lend-lease program. Neither Sam nor I had ever heard of such a program and we were stunned about the incredible numbers.
When we headed back into town, Elena suggested taking the metro for part of the way. It was a great idea: for one thing, we did not get stuck in traffic, but even more importantly we got to see the nicely decorated metro stations and the locals using it. For many years, the Yekaterinburg metro system held the official Guinness book entry for the smallest metro system in the world. But since a couple of extensions, they had to give up their record in return for a more efficient public transport system. The trip from ‘Kosmonautilor‘ to the ‘Geologicheskaya’ was indeed much quicker than if we had taken the car. As we emerged from the underground, we were greeted by the impressive circus building.
A couple of minutes later, we felt like being in another world: Elena had suggested to have lunch at ‘Nigora’, an Uzbek restaurant. It was an excellent choice. The food was great and the atmosphere very friendly. With the Uzbek decorations and handicrafts, it seemed like we’d actually be there. And yes indeed: after that great lunch, we agreed that Uzbekistan is rightfully so on our list of places we want to visit someday.
By the time we left the restaurant, we realized that we had perfect timing: we had obviously missed a massive rain shower, as there were puddles of rain all over the place. Max was happy to do some jumping. But the fun did not last for long: as the sun came out, the puddles dried up as quickly as they had appeared and we walked along the pleasant pedestrian zone of Yekaterinburg.
We loved the town: everything was very clean, buildings were nicely renovated, there were lots of statues and monuments. Passing by the museum of illusions we were intrigued and had a look inside. We had no real idea of what was expecting us and soon found ourselves surrounded by fun wall filling pictures that invited us to stage as part of the scene. We had lots of fun.
A bit further we passed a fountain just like the ones we had seen months earlier in St. Louis or Perth. Back then Max had not hesitated a minute to join other kids getting wet in the fountain, this time at about 20 °C it was simply too cold. Still, we considered ourselves very lucky with the weather: two days earlier the daily high in Yekaterinburg had been at 7 °C – while we had been sweating at 27 °C in Krasnoyarsk.
We passed the dam of the Iset river, the beautiful Sevastyanov building and eventually reached the Church on the Blood. The church was built in the location where the last Russian tsar Nicolas II and his family had been killed in 1918. Even though the church is the highlight of many visitors of Yekaterinburg, we were already very saturated by everything we had seen so far. So we resorted to relaxing in a nearby café before heading back to our apartment.
Wow – what a full day. We had so much fun discovering Elena’s beautiful home town. We enjoyed our time with Elena so much. And we’re still stunned by the Russian hospitality: taking a day off for an unknown family and to take them all over town that is very special. We are keeping our fingers crossed that one day we’ll be able to reciprocate and to host Elena (or Andrey and his family who got us in touch with her) at our place.
By the time we reached our apartment, we realized that it was just an hour until Julia would pick us up to take us to our 10pm train. Time was flying and it had been such a fantastic day!
As we left the train station very late, there was not too much landscape to be seen anymore. We rather took our time to chat with Alexeyi who had booked the fourth bunk in our compartment. He is a super friendly lieutenant colonel working for the Russian army. He spoke a bit of English and so we found out that he had been stationed in Germany in the busy times of 1989.
While chatting with him, we realized how tired we were. We were sound asleep already before the train crossed the border into Europe. There was no doubt that we’d be having a good night’s sleep on the train to Kazan.