Yekaterinburg, Russian Federation
Ciaran and I slept in. Boy oh boy, how we slept in. Dull, you might say, but for the record-awake at 5 with the light, back to sleep and, good grief, it’s 11.30. I still slotted in a run, too many road crossings for it to be vintage, and a stomach ache which made it a little bit of a slog, but in it went. Katya had offered to show us around but as we were about to set out she postponed until the evening so we were free to wander undirected.
From where we stayed, near Geologiskaya metro stop, Vainera street stretched the length of the high street and it seemed natural to follow it. The first street we had to cross to stay on track had had no obvious subway when we crossed it the day before, nor when I ran, though we spotted now. Right in front of us, what on earth we’d done till then I don’t know. The city centre is very manageable, and Russians were out and about in number, enjoying the cafes, the sun and the parks. There are skyscrapers dotted about-Yekaterinburg is in the top 100 cities for number of skyscrapers, apparently.
We found the church of blood, on the site of the house where the Romanovs were killed. Ornate, icons all over, and portraits of the sainted Romanovs at one end. No pews, and the altar is hidden behind doors, so the whole thing seems smaller than you’d expect. There’s an exhibition of the Romanovs and, um, some other things-without Russian we couldn’t work out the significance of the few pictures of other dead people. I suspected a ‘victims of terror’ tableau, but that may just be my cynicism. From there we mooched, failing to find the park but finding a spot to sit and read. Both fans of the city by now, after dossing down in the hostel for an hour, we met Katy and Katya back at the same restaurant as the night before. Katya has excellent English (and Italian), with five language diplomas and is a sponge for knowledge, just starting a PhD in linguistics. She guided us to old Yekaterinburg, which still has wooden houses in the centre, surrounded by more modern buildings including the grass fronted Hyatt hotel. I’d seen towns/villages filled with wooden houses from the train, bigger cities move on from there to more modern structures, but that gives the wooden ones great charm to go with their incongruity.
Ciaran is also urbane – he and Katya made quite the couple, I was left to hold only age over them, not wisdom. Ciaran reminds me of Eugene, another who could describe the things he’s done and leaving you scratching your head over how he has fitted it into his years-Azerbaijan, Georgia, speaking French, roots Irish, working in Bosnia, primary school teacher bound for the FCO. I drift quite well, I might insert at this point.
After our tour we found dinner. Uzbek, I think, since that’s what we’d aimed to find the evening before when, thankfully, we’d actually ended up in some Georgian/Russian fusion type place and met out new friends. Great, much chat about language and culture (covers a multitude of conversation, that one-high to low). We were interrupted by a man who couldn’t look us in the eye and from whom we waited in vain for a point. “I just wanted to say-you are from England?” and he dashed off back upstairs. Laughter followed, and some faces watching us from the mezzanine. He returned in a while, with a friend, who also “wanted to meet the English” and they all said goodbye in a friendly way, before he dashed back in to spill out “England! … Scotland! My favourite whisky-Ballantynes! Ballantynes!”
It was to become a theme, not repeated overmuch, but repeated – English!? Here!? Fabulous! We can’t be the first, though perhaps we went to slightly unusual places by virtue of having a guide.
That night we were joined in the dorm by a Russian couple and their daughter. They had been there, and asleep, when we popped back at 7. I’d assumed, seeing the bloke on the top bunk, that these were the two Australians we’d been told were arriving, and they were asleep after a hard day. When we got in and went to sleep, then, I was surprised when I heard cat noises in the middle of the night, and a bit freaked out when I looked over to see the little girl standing up and looking around. Not quite as freaked out as Ciaran, who had the bunk next to them, with a nightlight shining in his face which woke him up, at least once to find small girl staring. Still, we had no snorers and it was a comfortable place to stay in a lovely city.