Yekaterinburg has a number of claims to fame, for the Trans-Siberian traveller the most considered point is that it straddles the imaginary line demarking Europe and Asia. Crossing the vastness of Russia it seemed a good place to pause, to break up the train journey, to see a city that wasn’t Moscow or St Petersburg.
We took a detour off the main Trans-Siberian route and took the 016 Ural Express from Moscow, this train travels to Yekaterinburg via Kazan. It was a smart, clean train and we got a four berth Kupe cabin to ourselves, peaceful bliss. We glided through forest which opened out into scrubland, passing small villages of low wooden houses, insubstantial and untidy yet colourful and charming. Many of the houses had decorative window frames and panels, weatherbeaten and bleached. The occasional agricultural scene and some low-key oil extraction. The world beyond the window was icy, frozen ponds and snow-dusted ground, completely at odds with the stuffy carriage.
Yekaterinburg was surprisingly tourist-friendly, a red line painted on the pavement guided the visitor around all the main city sights in conjunction with a tourist map. We began this self-guided walk at a large computer keyboard monument set into the river bank, we passed through the gridlocked 1905 Square, the historical public garden behind the dam, the delightful Sevastianov’s House before stopping at the Cathedral on the Blood. Consecrated in 2003, this church stands on the site of the house where the last Tsar, Nicholas II and his family were executed in the basement by the Bolsheviks in 1918.
It was very cold and we decided to follow our guidebook’s advice and visit the ‘remarkable’ Mineralogical Museum, step out of the wintery air and wander around a warm space. How wrong could we be! The one large room was unheated, the ‘remarkable’ stones and exhibits were displayed in poorly lit cabinets. Many of the precious stones were superb however, it was just a shame they weren’t shown off to their full potential as treasures.
The following day we had time to kill before our train, we visited the Metenkov’s House Photography Museum which was excellent. It was deliciously warm inside, there were a number of small photographic exhibitions which were well displayed as well as some old photographs taken by Metenkov, who was a prominent photographer and this building was his home and studio.
That evening, under snow-leaden clouds we departed Yekaterinburg on the 002 Rossiya train bound for Irkutsk, it would be two nights, three days and many miles….