The train to Yekaterinburg (also spelled Ekaterinburg) from Irkutsk took around 48 hours. This was the Rossiya, the top Russian train, and the one that runs the full Trans Siberian route between Moscow and Vladivostok.
We had a two person, 1st class compartment again. What did we do? Ate. Slept. Read books. Watched TV shows. And learned everything there was to know about the Romanovs – this is highly recommended otherwise the main sights of Yekaterinburg will be kind of boring.
There was actually quite a contingent of tourists on this train. There was a Japanese couple, who we spoke to regularly at train stops. There was a young Australian couple who never spoke to anyone. The father and daughter we’d encountered previously on our way from Mongolia were also on the train. We mainly spoke to people during the stops at various Russian train stations.
They brought us a meal two hours after we got on the train – and because we left early in the morning, this was basically breakfast. It was a plate of chicken and vegetables, plus a pack of snacks. It wasn’t exactly what we wanted, but there didn’t seem to be a way to change the timing of its arrival without better Russian skills! This was the only meal we were given on our two night trip, although there was a lady who walked around selling pastries. We bought a lot from her.
The train itself was a long ride, but pretty uneventful. We got off at several stations and looked around. Some stations were completely empty, while others were filled with people selling food. After hours on the train you will be desperate for the next stop, and will become an absolute expert at knowing how long you’ve got to look around.
We arrived in Yekaterinburg early in the morning, and checked into our hotel, the Doubletree by Hilton (it was brand new, good location, highly recommended). After a quick stop in our rooms we were picked up by our guide, a local history expert. She had put together a combined tour for us – we’d be visiting the local cemetery where a lot of mafia were buried, and then we’d go to the monastery that was built on top of the site where the Romanovs were buried.
Like many Russian cities, Yekaterinburg had a bit of a mafia explosion after the end of the USSR. There were several different gang bosses basically running the city, and this resulted in a lot of deaths. Many of the gangsters are buried in one particular cemetery, where they have some pretty incredible graves. As there were some family members paying their respects, our tour guide warned us not to take any photos.
Next we went to Ganina Yama monastery. As a new Romanov expert, this was very exciting to me. This is where the Romanov family were first buried after they were murdered in 1918. They were thrown into a pit, but a group of Bolsheviks returned soon after and moved the bodies to a different nearby location. It wasn’t until 2007 that all their bodies were formally identified (although the burial site had been known about since the 1970s).
The Romanovs were very religious, and were canonised by the Orthodox Church. The monastery was created to remember them. There is a chapel dedicated to each member of the family, and there is a huge photo display of their lives.
That night we ate dinner in our hotel, which was becoming a recurring theme. Russia is a hard country to get around for an English speaker. Cyrillic is a difficult language to read and decipher, and our hotels always had translated menus and English speaking staff. Sometimes we just found it easier to eat in the hotel. Especially when you’re like me and don’t eat meat. One thing that did make things a little better for me was that we were travelling during Lent, and there were extra vegetarian menus in a lot of restaurants!
For our second day in Yekaterinburg, we took ourselves on a self guided walking tour. Once again we had a painted line to follow – the red line tour. Russian cities love these painted lines.
The main attraction in Yekaterinburg is the Church On The Blood, which was built on the site where the Romanovs was murdered (I’m sure you’ve noticed a theme here). The family was executed in the basement of a local house on this site, a pretty undignified end to the Russian royal family. The church was built in 2000.
We then followed the line further around Yekaterinburg and had a look at the buildings and streets. We stopped at a coffee shop that was basically a Starbucks clone (although there are also real Starbucks in Yekaterinburg), where lots of cool people were working on their laptops. We also took photos of a giant keyboard, which is one of the top non-Romanov attractions in the city.
Eventually we found a giant shopping mall, our favourite sort of place. It was huge. We walked around it for hours. All our favourite international stores were represented. We struggled to find somewhere to eat – it wasn’t that there was no where to eat, but there was very little in the way of English translations. Finally we found ourselves in a restaurant in a different mall where an English speaking staff member translated the menu for us. We ended up with mushroom soup. When in doubt, always ask for mushroom soup in Russia.
We had to be up early the next morning for our short (by our standards) train ride to Perm!