Friday 29 May 2015
Having wound my watch back one hour last night and another one hour this morning, I was now only 2 hours behind Moscow time. This got me a little excited as it meant that I was getting closer to Moscow itself and St Petersburg. I had cross three time zones on this 48 hour Trans-Siberian Railway journey. That in itself is an amazing thing to have ticked off the bucket list. As I ponder life, I help myself to a noodle breakfast that I picked up in Ulaanbaatar.
The train pulled into Yekaterinburg station at 11:15am Moscow time (1:15pm local time) where I was greeted to what must have been 30C sunshine. The transfer to the Park Inn Hotel was about 10 minutes. As soon as I checked in, the heavens opened. The street was suddenly hit by “chubby” rain accompanied by loud thunder. After showering and freshening up inside from a 48 hour train journey, I was taken on an orientation walk. With a hotel umbrella in hand, I was shown some key landmarks before stopping at St Catherine’s Church by a Fountain. This, I think, set the tone of the city for me.
The rain stopped at around 3:30pm as the tour group walked toward The Beatles memorial. I’m not sure what the fascination is with the The Beatles but I concede that the graffiti alongside the memorial made it worth the visit.
Dinner was booked for 5pm at a ‘pectopaH’ (restaurant) for 10 of us called Pate, named after the resident cat. I chose to try the homemade pepper vodka for starters along with a light Russian beer to follow. The food on the menu certainly looked appetising as I selected the crayfish and Russian salad for my food starter and beef for my main. Cooked perfectly rare, it was the first bit of proper beef I had eaten since leaving the UK.
After washing down my meal with more homemade vodka of varying flavour, the group then moved onto a bar called James. The decor inside was basically an English traditional pub and it appeared that all the good bars are western in appearance. I tried some Russian “champagne” which tasted nice if slightly sweeter than I usually drink.
It was in James pub that I met the city tour guide who would be taking us all on a 3 hour walk tomorrow. This evening was a chance to meet and for the groups tour leaders to let their hair down a bit. After a couple more beers and vodka, 5 of us dropped in for a nightcap at The Legends before walking back to the hotel at midnight…
Saturday 30 May 2015
At 9am, I met Natalia our city tour guide for the morning. After packing in a hearty breakfast, I was ready for a walk.
First stop was the Black Tulip memorial dedicated to the fallen during the Afghan War and following battles. It showed a soldier hanging his head in sadness as a remembrance to Russian soldiers who lost their lives.
By this time around 10am, the heat was reaching 31C as the pace of the walking your group resembled that of a funeral procession! Next point of interest was the Church upon the Blood which was built in 2007. It was here that the Royal Family was murdered in the basement of a house by the Bolsheviks in 1918. In 1978, Boris Yeltsin ordered the house to be demolished for fear of royalists laying flowers on the anniversary of their deaths. In commemoration, an Orthodox Church was built in its place.
Whilst a service was going on inside the church, I got a brief tour and history lesson on the Romanovs in the museum adjoining it. It was actually nice to get out of the direct sunshine which felt like it was reaching it’s peak. Leaving the religious area and having a brief walk through the literature area, the tour ended up by the city pond and the Governors residence (Vladimir Putins). It was only fitting that I bought a Russian ice cream on a recommendation for 30 roubles (30p). It was plain and creamy if anything.
I waved Natalia off, our city guide, and decided to wander over to the pedestrian street where it was lined with bronze statues. The statues themselves were not anything particularly related to Russian as there was a Michael Jackson one there!
Once I got to the end of statue street, I had a quick browse through the flea market before heading back to the hotel. I met some of the tour group for dinner at a Ukrainian restaurant where the speciality was a selection of lard and borsch (meat soup). The lard was ok but there was rather a lot of it. It was like eating slightly more textured butter in a way and did have flavour as the dish had salted lard, spicy lard, smoked lard, garlic lard, lard lard and more lard. Accompanying my meal for both dishes was homemade Ukrainian Vodka and a live band doing a circuit of the restaurant singing with accordions, banjo and double bass type instruments.
The meal itself was tasty and filling, as was the atmosphere. The service let the restaurant down which was disappointing as meals came out at different times. At one point, I had both my dishes and finished before my fellow traveller opposite got her Chicken Kiev! Feeling like my patience ran out, I went back to the hotel to pack…
Sunday 31 May 2015
Up for breakfast at 6:30am today before checking out of the hotel at 7:30am. I jumped into the minibus that was transferring the GAdventures group to Yekaterinburg station to catch the 6:40am Moscow time (8:40am local time) train to Moscow itself. As I waited in the 30C sunshine (even at that time of the morning) for the train to pull into the the station on platform 8, railway line 25, I was already beginning to sweat. Instantly, it reminded me of my time back in Indochina.
I boarded the train after showing my passport and along with everyone else, began to feel the heat and stuffiness in the carriage. My experience that the Trans-Siberian railway is pleasant still remains but no one warned me that travelling second class on a Russian train in May would be hot! Travelling first class wouldn’t have made a difference as it only meant that the cabin would have two beds rather than four. Besides, I find it more sociable to be in a bigger cabin sharing with other like minded travellers.
After making several stops and watching Fury starring Brad Pitt (he dies in the end!), the temperature dropped only slightly as the sun set in the distance.
To my surprise, both lunch and dinner was provided on the journey. Had I’d of known, I would have not bothered about taking a container load of food from the buffet breakfast at the hotel this morning. After the last lengthy stop for the evening was made, I climb into my bunk and went to sleep to hopefully wake up in a new place…