We spent a couple of days of downtime in Yekaterinburg in the Urals, getting rid of our colds, getting the blog up and running and sorting administration out. So far, we’ve had a lot of our route planned, but now we need to start fixing things like train tickets, car rentals and future hostels on the go.
We also got to see our four dear Germans (Basti, Christoph and Tobias x 2) again, after a first meet-up in Kazan. Apart from two quick encounters in St Petersburg and Moscow, they are the first real backpackers we’ve seen so far, which is a bit of a surprise and a nice change, as the English conversation goes smoothly.
The timing was good, as Yekaterinburg won’t be our favourite Russian city. In many ways it felt like a large version of a random Finnish town, with a few nice spots to visit in between of mostly post-war residential areas. If you do come, why not have a look at the Church upon the Blood, built where Dom Ipatyeva, the house where the Romanov family was murdered, used to stand? Or the Yeltsin memorial centre, to remind yourself of what Russia’s first president used to govern before he took on the entire country? And then there’s the view. Views are always nice.
We also did a trip out to Ganina Yama, a monastery built where the Romanov family’s bodies were discarded. We took an elektrichka out to Shuvakish (first time we didn’t have to show our passports when buying a ticket or boarding a train!), were the only ones to get off and then walked on a small but surprisingly well-trafficked road through the beautiful pine and birch forest for 45 minutes. The monastery was very quiet and pretty, with the occasional Russian family and dark-clad monk wandering around. As the wait for the next train would have been long, we inquired after a bus from some ladies seemingly waiting for a ride. And there we had it, the Russian hospitality we’ve heard so much about. They more or less took us by the hand and led us through a trip consisting of one countryside bus, a marshrutka and one city bus, while inquiring about our trip and telling us of their dacha, kids and travels. At least that’s what I think we were talking about. I need to enlarge my Russian vocabulary.
We’re now in Novosibirsk, after completing our longest train journey so far: Some 23 hours from Yekaterinburg, out of the Urals and into what officially is Siberia. Our last two times in platzkart had not been amazing, but this time we were very lucky with our fellow passengers who ranged from non-annoying to extremely friendly. Evgeniy, who as far as I could tell came from northern Siberia where it had still been snowing on June 1 (he proved this with a video), kept on offering us food – lunch, candy, desert. And by offering I mean gave. He simply picked up ice cream at one of the longer stops and handed it out to the nearest passengers, without asking or expecting anything in return. He got a chess board from the provodnitsa and played dam with us. He literally walked us to our hostel door. Just like that, despite us constantly struggling to communicate in very basic Russian. It was a really nice encounter.
Tomorrow we’re off to rent a car and then drive south to Gorno-Altaisk. If all goes well with our visa registration, we’re then heading into the Altai Republic for a bit more than a week, where I doubt we’ll have much internet. We’re quite excited to see how this will work out and we’ll let you know when we’re back.