Friday, 14 September 2012

Ekateringburg and the Romanovs

Paul said at Vladimir that he wished we were travelling straight through to Irkutsk because there wasn’t a lot to see in Ekateringburg.  Well, apart from the fact that I could guarantee there would be a lot of churches (no longer a selling point), I was glad we were splitting our journey and I was interested to see this city, the industrial capital of Russian on the border between Europe and Asia.
Of course Ekateringburg is infamous as a result of it’s connection to the “demise” of the Romanovs but more of that later.
Our journey from Vladimir to Ekateringburg was quite eventful but I won’t deal with that now – suffice to say that Paul is now saying that if never drinks vodka again it will be too soon and the whole episode needs a diary entry all of its own.

Site of the buried time capsule due to be
opened in 2025 (I think)
By the time we arrived in Ekateringburg we were a little bedraggled, to say the least.  Our driver, Constantin met us on the station and delivered us safely to our city apartment.  It was only a short car trip but Ekateringburg already looked like a lovely city, set out in a grid pattern with wide streets, and quite a lot of trees .   Although known as the industrial capital it actually looked like open and green and we were both glad we had arranged to stop here to break the journey.

It was about 9pm by the time we got to the apartment and Paul collapsed into bed immediately while I had a half hearted attempt at some laundry because we seem to have run out of socks (I think Paul went a bit mad on the luggage cull and too many socks were sacrificed but it’s not the end of the world).

The next morning we had a city tour with our guide Helena at 9.30am.  For reasons relating to beer and vodka and a certain Russian soldier, neither of us felt like spending 3 hours walking around a city in the cold but we only had one whole day here and wanted to see as much as we could. 
The cathedral dedicated to the Romanovs
As with all our guides so far, Helena was lovely, spoke perfect English and was a really interesting guide.  Ekateringburg was a closed city in the Soviet era and many changes have been made over the last 20 years or so and Helena told us that much had been done to improve the environmental health of the city. 

However, as I’ve already mentioned, the main reason Ekateringburg is on the tourist map at all is because it is here that the Romanov family were murdered in July 1918.  There are churches, cathedrals, and memorials all over Russia that we have seen so far in their memory and the family have been canonised by the Russian Orthodox Church but as it was here in Ekateringburg and the surrounding area where they were actually kept prisoner and then murdered, it is here that the main cathedral was built in their memory.  Yet another impressive cathedral but with a tragic story attached.
Listening to Helena speak about the Tsar and his family bring it home to you how much this part of their history Russians seem to be ashamed of.  They are by their nature a very patriotic bunch;  they love their country, their history, and their imperial heritage.  

The founders of the city, known
locally as Beavis and Butthead,
because they couldn't stand each other!
Despite the reasons behind the Revolution, the great poverty which existed at that time, and the obscene privilege and wealth enjoyed by the aristocracy, you get the feeling that they miss that part of their culture.  You can’t help but wonder whether this romantic idea of royalty along with the resurgence of the Orthodox Church within Russian isn’t as a result of a country emerging from the grey years of communist rule and the enforced spiritual desert during that time.  

Oddly enough, when you speak to them about those years, they appear torn to criticise everything that communism represented.  For example, they proudly tell you that buildings were built to last in Stalin’s era because if you didn’t do your job properly, there would be hell to pay!  Russia, and indeed Russians themselves, are a contradiction and that makes the country and the people all the more fascinating.
The walk around Ekateringburg helped with the hangovers but after about 4 hours we were tired and ready to get back to our apartment – we had an early start the following morning as our train was leaving just before 4am Moscow time (6am local time). 

The time is another thing that is confusing – all trains run on Moscow time and show Moscow time on the information boards on stations and inside trains.  This is very confusing and disorientating to say the least so I have kept my watch on Moscow time because the one thing we can’t do is miss a train!
Despite only having one full day in Ekateringburg, we enjoyed our short time there, and hope to return one day to explore some more but now we were looking forward to Irkutsk and Lake Baikal.



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